A new member of parliament for the junior coalition Freedom Union, Tomas Vrbik, who will replace Hana Marvanova in the Chamber of Deputies, is likely to help the ruling coalition pass its planned fiscal reforms. Ms. Marvanova, who gave birth to her third son last Tuesday, announced on Friday that she was giving up her parliamentary seat. Her motherhood sparked fears that the government would loose its fragile majority in the lower house just days before crucial votes on the package of fiscal reforms take place. Political observers agree that Vrbik represents a certain hope for the ruling coalition to get the public finance reforms pass the Chamber of Deputies.
The government has approved next year's state budget. The final version envisages a deficit of 115 billion crowns, less than the originally proposed figure of 118 billion. The cabinet also allotted an extra 8 billion crowns which the Finance Ministry found in its reserves. The extra money will go towards the education system, agriculture, transport infrastructure and scientific research. Cabinet ministers originally demanded 40 billion on top of the previously approved budget framework. Finance Minister Bohumil Sobotka said the budget was directly linked with a package of fiscal reform proposals and is dependent on those reforms being approved by parliament.
Czech President Vaclav Klaus said he was confident border restrictions could fall within two years after the Czech Republic joins the European Union. Speaking in Passau, Germany, on Wednesday, Mr Klaus said lowering border restrictions had a higher priority than adopting the single European currency. Mr. Klaus was in Passau for a discussion on EU expansion along with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, former Polish President Lech Walesa and Hungarian Parliamentary Speaker Katalin Szili.
The minister of defence, Miroslav Kostelka, said on Wednesday that compulsory military service for young men could end as soon as next year. However, the minister said 2005 was more likely or, at the very latest, 2006. Mr Kostelka, who was appointed in June, on Wednesday presented his ideas for reform of the military to different ministries. On Thursday he is due to put the proposals before the Chamber of Deputies' defence and security committee.
The government has been meeting to debate next year's budget. The final draft of the budget proposal envisages a deficit of 118 billion crowns, a figure opposition parties say is too high. Budgets for individual ministries have already received provisional approval, though ministers are expected to put up a fight for an extra 11 billion crowns which have yet to be allotted.
A Prague taxi driver drove over a police officer's leg on Tuesday when the officer was carrying out a routine patrol, a police spokesman said on Wednesday. When the officer asked the taxi driver for his documents the latter drove at him and then drove over his leg. The incident is being investigated.
Former foreign minister Jan Kavan is ending his term as president of the United Nations General Assembly. The Czech presidency of the body comes to an end at midnight on Monday. Mr Kavan will address the UN on Monday to hand over the presidency to the island of Saint Lucia. Mr Kavan's contract with the Czech Foreign Ministry ends on September 18th. He remains an MP for the ruling Social Democrats, and has expressed interest in standing for the European Parliament.
Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla has repeated that his government will not bow to pressure from trade unions to water down planned public finance reforms. Mr Spidla made the comments on Monday during a visit to Brno, two days after around 15,000 trade union members demonstrated in the centre of Prague against the planned reforms. The government says it is willing to listen to proposals put forward by "its social partners" before submitting the final draft to parliament, but will not abandon the reform package. The government insists the reforms are essential to prepare the Czech economy for eventual adoption of the euro.
There has been another accident involving a Czech bus, this time in Italy. The bus carrying 22 students and their two professors was involved in a multiple collision on the motorway linking Brescia and Milan on Monday morning. A Czech lorry was also involved. None of the bus passengers was seriously hurt. On Saturday a bus driver was killed and 12 passengers seriously injured after their vehicle hit a railway viaduct in East Bohemia. On the same day a bus driver drowned when his empty bus veered off the road and plunged into the River Elbe. At least twenty people died in road accidents over the weekend, one of the blackest on Czech roads in recent months.
Union leaders say the reforms - which include plans to cut sickness benefit and pensions - will hit the poorest members of society. The government insists the reforms must go ahead, saying budget cuts are necessary to prepare the Czech economy for eventual adoption of the single European currency. Analysts, on the other hand, say they don't go far enough towards meeting the Maastrict criteria for adopting the euro. The Czech Republic joins the European Union in May 2004.