The right-of-centre Civic Democratic Party, the ODS, has criticised the terms for the Czech Republic's accession to the European Union, negotiated at the EU summit in Copenhagen last week. The summit saw the Czech Republic, along with nine other candidate countries invited to join the European Union in May 2004. On Wednesday ODS deputy chairman Jan Zahradil proposed the Lower House pass a resolution calling the results of the negotiations "unsatisfactory". He called the EU's terms worse than in previous expansion, and added the EU was poorly prepared for expansion in general. During the debate on the issue, the Freedom Union's Pavel Svoboda, the head of the Chamber of Deputies' European integration committee, countered Mr Zahradil by saying it was "a petty debate", adding that the Czech Republic would have missed an historic chance if it hadn't come to an agreement now. Mr Svoboda called on the Lower House to pass a resolution saying EU accession talks had been a success. In the end the Civic Democrats' proposal was voted down, while the government's assessment passed.
Senate chairman Petr Pithart, of the Christian Democrats, and former justice minister Jaroslav Bures supported by the Social Democrats have been officially nominated as candidates in the Czech Republic's upcoming presidential elections. Mr Pithart and Mr Bures join two other candidates nominated earlier, former prime minister Vaclav Klaus, supported by his party, the right-of-centre ODS, and former military prosecutor Miroslav Krizenecky, put forward by the Communists. The first round of presidential elections will take place in January when both houses of parliament will vote in a joint-session, allowing for a maximum of three rounds to decide a successor. The country's current president, playwright and former dissident Vaclav Havel, will step down in February, after having held office for more than 12 years.
A former military prosecutor has become the second candidate to be officially nominated for the post of Czech president. Miroslav Krizenecky, nominated by the Communist Party, was backed by all 41 Communist MPs in the lower house. Mr Krizenecky follows Vaclav Klaus, former leader of the right-of-centre Civic Democrats, who was nominated by his party two weeks ago. A successor to President Vaclav Havel will be elected in a joint session of parliament on January 15th. The parties of the ruling coalition have yet to put forward their candidates.
Defence Minister Jaroslav Tvrdik has said all 250 members of the army's elite anti-chemical unit will remain in Kuwait for the time being, due to the uncertain situation surrounding Iraq. Mr Tvrdik told reporters the unit would not be withdrawn in January as originally planned, because he said this would send the wrong signal to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
Austrian opposition parties have accused Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel and Foreign Minister Benita Ferrero-Waldner of not lobbying hard enough for the interests of Austria during the EU summit in Copenhagen. Referring to the EU's refusal to have a relevant clause on the Temelin nuclear power plant included in the Czech Republic's EU membership agreement, the Deputy Leader of the Green Party, Eva Glawischnig said on Monday that Mr Schuessel had "led Austrians up the garden path". She added that the Austrian strategy had "utterly failed" as Chancellor Schuessel's conservative People's Party had always claimed that a bilateral accord with the Czech Republic on safety at the South Bohemian nuclear power station would be subject to European Court jurisdiction once the Czechs joined the EU.
A public opinion poll conducted by the STEM agency this month suggests that the senior government coalition party, the Social Democratic Party has become the most popular party in the country. Supported by 27.2 percent of Czechs, its support has increased by one percent since than last month. On the other hand, the opposition right-of-centre Civic Democrats who had been enjoying rising support for several months saw a three-percent fall in voter support with 25.6 percent. The Communist Party remained third but recorded a slight increase of 1.5 percent to 14.6 percent.
Leaders from the fifteen European Union states and ten mainly ex-communist candidates agreed on final entry terms on Friday at the EU summit in Copenhagen, ending years of negotiation and decades of division. The Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who steered the milestone summit to its successful conclusion despite last-minute snags and bickering over funding for future members, said that "one of the darkest and bloodiest chapters in European history" had been closed. The new members, expected to join the bloc in 2004, will be Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia, and Slovenia.
The Czech Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla said on Saturday that the Czech Republic could join the single European currency, the euro, in 2009-2010, although no date had been set and the Czech Republic did not want to force the matter. Mr Spidla also said accession to the euro would be very complex, but he added that the country must not stay in isolation as the Czech currency was fragile and vulnerable, and if alone it would not be capable of standing speculators' attacks.
The Christian Democratic Party, the junior partner in the ruling coalition, has nominated Senate Chairman Petr Pithart as their official candidate for the presidential office. The senior coalition partner, the Social Democrats have put forward former Justice Minister Jaroslav Bures. The opposition Civic Democrats' candidate is their long-time leader Vaclav Klaus, and the Communists say they will support former communist-era military prosecutor Miroslav Krizenecky. The presidential election is expected to take place in February, after Vaclav Havel's last term of office ends. It is widely expected that no candidate will get enough support in the parliament to be elected in the first attempt.
In dramatic last minute talks, the Czech Republic negotiated an increase in compensation payment for 2004-2006, which means an additional 83 million euros from the EU for the government budget. During the same time the country will be allowed to transfer 100 million euros from EU structural funds. Moreover, it will be able to increase direct agricultural subsidies from the government budget to 55, 60 and 65 percent of the EU level in 2004-2006.
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