President Vaclav Klaus appointed Miroslav Kostelka as new Czech defence minister on Monday. Mr Kostelka is replacing Jaroslav Tvrdik who stepped down ten days ago in protest at planned cuts in defence spending. A former Czech Army general and until now deputy defence minister, Mr Kostelka is expected to redraft the reform of the Czech military.
Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda has denied statements calling the Czech Republic a Euro-sceptic country. Speaking after Monday's meeting with his Slovak counterpart Eduard Kukan in Bratislava, Minister Svoboda said he hoped Czechs would confirm that in the upcoming referendum. Mr Svoboda also denied accusations that the Foreign Ministry's information campaign ahead of the referendum was a failure. The Czech and Slovak foreign ministers agreed that the cooperation of the four Visegrad countries, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland and Hungary, should continue after EU accession.
President Vaclav Klaus has called on Czech citizens to take part in the upcoming referendum on the Czech Republic's EU accession. Speaking on Czech Radio on Monday afternoon, President Klaus called the referendum a historically unrepeatable moment. Mr Klaus did not suggest how people should vote but he said he believed Czechs would follow their own reason and decide cautiously.
Czech politicians should express their clear regret over the Benes decrees, Otto von Habsburg, the oldest son of the last Austrian emperor and former European Parliament member, said on Sunday. Speaking at the 54th Sudeten German meeting, which took place in Augsburg this weekend, he objected to the couple of paragraphs in the decrees, which sanctioned the expulsion of ethnic Germans and Hungarians from Czechoslovakia after World War II. However, Mr von Habsburg rejected calls to keep the Czech Republic from becoming an EU member, adding that he had always promoted EU enlargement during the 20-years he was an EP member. "I am interested in Czechs playing a role in the European Union and if possible, a positive one," he said.
With less than a week before the referendum on EU membership is held in
the Czech Republic, activists used the week-end to make a number of
last-minute attempts at convincing Czechs to go to the polls. While pro-EU
gatherings, attracted numerous passers-by, only a small group of people
held protests against EU membership in Prague on Saturday and a similar
event planned for Sunday in the town of Havlickuv Brod was only attended
by two protesters with information leaflets and a group of journalists.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla said on Sunday that it was not certain whether the cabinet would be dissolved if Czechs vote "no" in the referendum. Speaking in a TV discussion programme on the commercial station Nova, Mr Spidla said his cabinet would first have to evaluate the consequences of a "no" vote. The leader of the opposition Civic Democrats, Mirek Topolanek, said in the same programme that a government call for a vote of confidence in Parliament would be appropriate in such a situation. Mr Spidla also agreed to a propsal from the Civic Democrats in which Czechs should approve the European Union constitutional treaty in a referendum if they say "yes" to EU membership.
The Czech Republic goes to the polls on Friday in a two-day referendum on joining the European Union. Unlike in neighbouring Poland or Slovakia, the result will be binding. Should Czechs say "no" to EU membership, the country will have to wait two years before a new referendum can be held.
Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla has called a meeting with Health Minister Marie Souckova, to take place on Monday, in order to discuss the financial situation in the health sector. On Friday, the board of directors of the national health insurance company, Vseobecna Zdravotni Pojistovna, which covers some seventy percent of Czechs, said hospitals around the country will have to pay back money owed, totalling 836 million Czech crowns. This radical step is expected to leave the hospitals affected in serious financial trouble. In most cases, insurance coverage will not be paid for the next two months and hospitals will have to cut staff bonuses and hold off payments to suppliers.
On Monday, university professors will go on strike in the town of Olomouc in northern Moravia for the first time since the fall of the Communist regime. Teachers at Palacky University's Philosophical Faculty will stop work for one hour in protest at what they call an "unsystematic approach to the education system's development". Numerous state universities are in debt, totalling some fifteen billion Czech crowns. The lack of money in the education sector has triggered numerous protests in the past few years. Since 1989, the number of students in universities has doubled while the money allocated out of the state budget has not increased accordingly.
The opposition Civic Democrats' shadow foreign minister Jan Zahradil has criticised the Czech government's EU accession campaign. In a Czech TV discussion programme on Saturday, he said the ongoing campaign lacks objectivity and leaves citizens misinformed. However, according to Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda, who was also a guest in the programme, the campaign hides nothing from Czech citizens. He added that all open queries on EU membership are furthermore attended to by the ministry; in May alone, it replied to 40,000 telephone calls and one million e-mails.
NATO Secretary-General George Robertson has criticised European members of the alliance for failing to devote enough resources to defence spending. In a commentary to appear in the German Bild am Sonntag newspaper on Sunday, Robertson said it was wrong for European nations in NATO to accuse the United States of taking unilateral action if they are unable to improve their military capabilities. Despite there being a lot of talk about modernising, governments are buttoned up when it comes time to pay, he said. As a result, the trans-Atlantic capabilities gap is growing larger and larger. One such example is that the United States has over 200 strategic transport aircraft, while Europe has four. The Czech Republic has been a NATO member since March 12 1999. A new government plan to decrease the state budget deficit has significantly reduced the defence ministry's budget, leading to the resignation of Defence Minister Jaroslav Tvrdik.
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