As the Copenhagen summit got underway, Czech farmers blocked several key border crossings with the EU in protest of the level of farming aid the country will receive upon entry. Hundreds of farmers used tractors and other equipment to cut off passage to Austria and Germany leaving long lines of cars stranded on both sides of the border for over two hours. The EU has proposed phasing in income support for farmers starting from 25 percent of the level received by farmers in the current EU member states and allowing the candidates to use cash from EU rural development funds and national budgets to top up those payments to 50 percent or more. Czech farmers are unhappy with the proposal expressing the view that the country's ticket to the EU will cost them their livelihood. Farming accounts for only two percent of the Czech Republic's GDP and employs about four percent of the working population.
The European Union and ten candidate countries are engaged in a final round of accession talks at a two day summit in Copenhagen. The negotiations will centre on the candidates' demand to use all 42.5 billion euros earmarked for enlargement by EU leaders back in 1999 in Berlin. The Danish offer, which some EU members find overly generous, is about two billion euros short of that sum. Politicians predict much haggling over the amount of EU aid for the newcomers before a deal is reached, late on Friday or Saturday, on the EU's biggest ever expansion to create the world's largest single market in 2004.
In reaction to farmers' concerns, the head of the EU delegation to the Czech Republic Ramiro Cibrian said on Thursday that he was far more worried about the fate of Czech pensioners after the country's accession to the European Union. Mr. Cibrian noted that the pension system would remain in the competence of the Czech authorities and that, unlike farmers, pensioners have no leverage on the government. The Czech Republic's entry into the EU will bring greater prosperity, Mr Cibrian said, but the question is how those funds will be used. Pensioners may go short in order for the government to satisfy farmers.
Austrian opponents of the Temelin nuclear power station in south Bohemia have said they will hold a one-hour border blockade on Wednesday evening. Anti-nuclear activists have held numerous protests against Temelin since it went on-line in the year 2000. They say it is unsafe, because it combines Soviet design and western technology.
A key farm lobby has announced that Czech farmers who are dissatisfied over the terms of the Czech Republic's entry into the EU in 2004, are planning to block border crossings with Germany and Austria on Thursday. The Czech Agriculture Chamber said on Wednesday that farmers would go on a two-hour strike to block truck lines at four border crossings to the neighbouring countries, after the Czech government by-and-large agreed to EU proposals on farm aid, backing down from an earlier demand on increases to production limits for dairy and breeding cattle, as well as sugar exports. Thursday's blockade will follow a demonstration last week that saw thousands of angry Czech farmers descend on the Czech capital Prague to protest accession terms.
Prime ministers of four Central European countries have urged European Union leaders to offer more generous financial terms to candidates, ahead of this week's crucial EU Summit in Copenhagen. In a joint article published in Britain's Financial Times newspaper on Tuesday, the leaders of Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia called on their colleagues in the EU to ensure enlargement does not get off to a bad start due to a deepening rift over money. The EU is offering the 10 mostly ex-Communist countries around 40 billion euros when they enter the Union, expected in mid-2004. The amount is around two billion euros less than the financial package agreed by EU leaders in 1999. Several candidates, led by Poland, are campaigning hard for a better deal.
With less than two days to go until the start of the summit, EU member countries remain divided over how much money to offer the newcomers. The President of the European Commission, Romano Prodi, has backed the candidates' demands, urging member states not to hold back the financial support originally set aside for enlargement. However Denmark, which holds the rotating presidency of the EU, insists there is no more money available, and some countries, such as Germany, say the offer is too high already. Meanwhile Denmark has warned Poland it risks being left out of the EU altogether if it persists in trying to get a better deal on farm subsidies.
The international terrorist network Al Qaeda is reportedly planning strikes against Israeli targets in Prague. The Reuters news agency and Israeli daily newspaper Jediot Achronot reported that Israeli and Western intelligence services had information about planned attacks on Israeli tourists in the Czech capital. The reports appeared just a week after two attacks on Israeli tourists in Mombasa, Kenya. The Czech interior ministry said no special security measures have been adopted on top those implemented after the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States.
The trade unions in the health sector have threatened to go on strike to support their wage demands. Chairman of the medical trade unions, Jiri Schlanger said at the unions' congress at the weekend that they wanted wages in the health sector to grow appropriately before the country's accession to the EU. They also protest against further cuts in social spending and voiced strong dissatisfaction with wide-spread violations of the labour code in hospitals regarding working overtime.
The government is to discuss an updated national security and defence strategy at its session on Monday. The current defence and security strategy was adopted two years ago. However, since then, the country's security has improved due to its integration into Western political and defence structures, but at the same time it has to react to the changing situation especially as regards the growing threat of international terrorism. The new strategy also takes into consideration the conclusions of the recent NATO summit.
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