The leader of Britain's opposition Conservatives has unveiled his party's vision of Europe during a visit to Prague. Conservative leader Ian Duncan Smith signed a declaration in the Czech capital on Thursday calling for the strengthening of national democracies to resist the formation of what he called a European superstate. Mr Duncan Smith, speaking to reporters after meeting President Vaclav Klaus, said his party supported European integration, but opposed unification and excessive bureaucracy. The declaration was also signed by the party Mr Klaus led until last year - the opposition Civic Democrats. The Czech Republic will be one of 10 new countries to join the EU next year.
The Information Technology Ministry has released the first stamp bearing the portrait of President Vaclav Klaus, who was elected in February this year. The stamp will be available in post offices as of July 30 and will cost six crowns 40 hellers. The authors of the green, orange and pink-purple stamp are painter Oldrich Kulhanek and graphic designer and engraver Milos Ondracek.
The 38th Karlovy Vary International Film Festival, which opened last weekend, is hosting film stars, film directors and cinema-goers from around the world. Among the VIPs present are: British film director Steven Frears, American actor Morgan Freeman and Canadian actress Deborah Kary Unger. On Monday visitors to the festival could take their pick from 63 screenings, among them the Norwegian film Buddy directed by Morten Tyldum, and the American film The Cooler directed by Wyan Kramer, both serious contestants for the Crystal Globe award. The organizers report record attendance. Over 40,000 tickets have been sold in the first three days of the festival, alone.
The Czech government has approved a series of proposed tax amendments within its budget reform plan. This includes a gradual corporate tax reduction from the present 31 percent to 24 percent in 2006. The medium-term reform plan aims to cut the public finance deficit to four percent of GDP by 2006 and envisages sweeping changes in the pension and social systems, tax adjustments and a reduction of 30,000 posts in state administration. The government has stuck firmly to its outlined goals, in spite of widespread trade union protests, and the proposed reform is to be presented to Parliament later this month.
The Finance Ministry is not planning to reserve money in the state budget, for emergency cases when an already completed project is not covered by the EU, mainly for the reasons of having violated EU rules and regulations. According to Finance Ministry spokesperson, Eva Novakova, the ministry's decision was made to force individual Czech ministries into processing and approving only the best projects that will guarantee EU funding. Should a project fail to get EU support, it will be up to the ministry responsible to cover the costs involved.
The 38th Karlovy International Film Festival got underway over the weekend, welcoming visitors and film stars from around the world, among them British director Stephen Frears, American actor Morgan Freeman, and Canadian actress Deborah Kary Unger. Czech notables at the festival included Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla and Culture Minister Pavel Dostal, who applauded 10 years of festival stewardship by Czech producers Jiri Bartoska and Eva Zaoralova. Two awards for lifetime contribution to cinematography have already been given. The recipients: Stephen Frears, the director of such renowned films as The Grifters and Dangerous Liasons, and Jiri Menzel, the Czech director who won an Oscar in 1968 for his film Closely-Watched Trains.
President Vaclav Klaus has returned from an official trip to Athens, Greece. Mr Klaus attended the Athens Seminar 2003 conference at which he gave a lecture on the relations between the European Union and the United States. On Friday, the Czech president met with his Greek counterpart Costantine Stephanopoulos to discuss bilateral relations as well as the future of the European Union.
The Vatican is expecting an official statement from the Czech government on how it sees future relations between the Holy See and the Czech Republic, the spokesman for the Czech Bishops' Conference Daniel Herman said. In May, the lower house of Parliament failed to ratify an already signed agreement on bilateral relations, due to a large majority of votes against the document from the Social Democrats as well as the opposition Communists and Civic Democrats. The Vatican has officially voiced surprise at the rejection of the long-prepared document. But Czech deputies point out the agreement does not resolve controversial issues such as property restitutions and the funding of churches. According to deputy Prime Minister Petr Mares, the government will try to persuade the Chamber of Deputies to approve the agreement between the Czech Republic and the Vatican. With the Czech Republic being one of the last post-communist countries which has not passed an agreement regulating its relations with the Catholic Church, Mr Mares, said it is practically unthinkable not to have relations with the Vatican settled.
The Polish Catholic conservative party, the League of Polish Families (LPR), has said it fully supports the Czech Republic's stand on the Benes decrees, which sanctioned the expulsion and confiscation of property of millions of ethnic Germans from Czechoslovakia in the years following WWII. According to LPR Chairman Roman Giertych, the party will propose to pass a resolution expressing solidarity to the Czech Republic's decision not to abolish the decrees at the next session of the Sejm, the Polish parliament. The party's initiative follows calls from Bavarian Prime Minister Edmund Stoiber for financial compensation for some Sudeten Germans expelled from Czechoslovakia after World War II.
The foreign ministers of six central European countries met in the south-eastern town of Buchlovice on Friday to discuss regional cooperation and the results of the European Union summit that was held in June. At the summit in Greece, a draft constitution was presented as an attempt to form a legislative backbone for an enlarged EU after the current fifteen members welcome ten new mainly east European states next May. Fearing the larger states would become more powerful, the representatives of the Czech Republic, Austria, Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and Slovenia met to find ways of jointly pushing for changes to the first draft constitution. At issue was a proposal for a simpler voting system in which a decision would pass if supported by at least half of all member states, representing at least 60 percent of the EU's population, a departure from the current system that favours small states.
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