All victims of Nazism who were slave or forced labourers on Austrian territory during WWII have until the end of the year, instead of September 27, to ask to be compensated, the Austrian embassy in Prague said on Monday. In total, the Austrian government expects to pay out some 15.6 billion Czech crowns to all former slave labourers. Out of this sum, 1.3 billion Czech crowns have been reserved for Czech victims. Any amount of the reserved money that will not be paid out will be used for various health and social projects, allowing Czech former forced or slave labourers to undergo important medical treatment in Austria, for example.
Also during its session on Monday, the government rejected a bill against abortions that was submitted by nine opposition deputies. Under the bill, doctors who perform abortions can face up to five years in prison and can furthermore loose their medical licence. Any other person who advises or helps a woman undergo an abortion can also face up to a year in prison, while the woman herself will not be punished. Abortions are only granted in exceptional cases such as when they can save a woman's life, or when the pregnancy was a result of rape. The authors of the bill have said they did not expect it to be approved by the cabinet, nor by parliament, but hoped it would result in further discussion on the controversial issue. Statistics show that since the fall of Communism in 1989, the number of abortions has been decreasing significantly. While in 1990, some 100,000 were carried out, only a little under double that number were performed in the past five years.
The Czech government expects to decide when to join the Euro in the autumn of this year, after hearing a Central Bank recommendation on what steps to take in the run-up to membership in the currency zone. The timing of euro entry is important for the Czech Republic's budget and monetary policies and for investors who have bet billions on rising asset prices and falling interest rates ahead of the country's adoption of the single currency. Out of all central European candidate countries for EU membership, the Czech Republic has been most hesitant on setting a definite date. Hungary and Slovakia target 2008, while Poland hopes to adopt the euro by the beginning of 2009 at the latest. Czech Finance Minister Bohuslav Sobotka, has said 2010 was a realistic date, adding that a decision would be based on a joint proposal prepared by the Czech Central Bank and the ministries of Finance and Industry and Trade. The Czech Central Bank (CNB) has recommended the Czech Republic stay out of the EU's exchange rate mechanism for some time after EU entry next May, warning of the risks involved in linking the freely floating crown too closely to the euro.
The interior ministers of five EU candidate countries and Austria meeting at the "Salzburg Forum 2003" agreed on Saturday on concerted strategy in pushing for their interests after EU enlargement. The interior ministers of Austria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia agreed on the need for cooperation in the sphere of security. In a joint statement the ministers agreed on the importance of a harmonised European asylum and migration system, an integrated administration of external borders as well coordinated struggle against terrorism and organised crime.
President Vaclav Klaus has vetoed a proposed increase in value added tax. The tax increase would see VAT on some products and services rise from 5 percent to 22 percent and is intended to bring an extra 11 billion crowns into the state coffers. A spokesman for Mr Klaus said on Friday that the president was unhappy the Senate had not ruled on the proposed changes. The bill now returns to the Chamber of Deputies for further debate.
President Vaclav Klaus and his Austrian counterpart Thomas Klestil, who arrived on a one-day visit to the Czech Republic on Thursday, have discussed Czech-Austrian relations and cooperation within the EU. The two presidents also touched upon controversial questions of Czech-Austrian relations. However, according to President Klaus they did not mention the so-called Benes decrees in their conversation and Mr Klaus himself is not preparing any specific gestures, demanded by some Austrian politicians in connection with the Benes decrees, which sanctioned the deportation of ethnic Germans from Czechoslovakia after the Second World War. President Klestil said that Austrian leaders were pleased at the progress in the so-called Melk process, which was designed to assure expert security for the Temelin nuclear power plant. The power station is located close to the Czech-Austrian border and has been the cause of many protests in the nuclear-free Austria.
Czech President Vaclav Klaus has begun a two-day visit in France. He met with his French counterpart Jacques Chirac in Paris on Tuesday, expressing confidence the visit would allow for serious discussion on the future role of the Czech Republic in the European Union. Shortly preceding his visit, however, Mr Klaus gave a somewhat stormy interview to the French daily Le Figaro, expressing scepticism towards the current "Federalist" direction of European integration. In the interview Mr Klaus called the European constitution - put forward in draft form last month by the Convention on the Future of the EU - "unnecessary". He also repeated a statement made last month when Czechs voted on EU accession, that there was real danger that the Czech Republic would dissolve in the European Union. In his words: "like a lump of sugar in a cup of coffee".
Czech President Vaclav Klaus has thanked Constitutional Court judges for their work at a farewell ceremony at Prague Castle on Monday. On July 15, eight of the fifteen judges at the court retire after a ten year term. While President Klaus has already nominated suitable candidates to the constitutional court, their appointment is yet to be approved by the Senate, which is expected to meet on Wednesday.
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