The Czech prime minister, Vladimir Spidla, is in Brussels for a summit to decide the shape of the European Union's first constitution. Among the issues to be discussed are voting powers, the number of commissioners and national vetoes on foreign, defence and taxation policy. The Czech Republic is one of ten, mostly ex-communist countries set to join the EU next May, in what will be the biggest enlargement in the Union's history.
Meanwhile, the Chamber of Deputies on Friday passed a bill allowing Czech nurses, midwives and other health workers to work in the European Union. The bill, which has to be approved by the Senate and signed by the president, also allows for health workers from other EU states to work in the Czech Republic.
President Vaclav Klaus granted five presidential pardons on Wednesday, the first time he has done so since he first took office in March. President Klaus's spokesman said they were cases where suspended prison sentences had been imposed or applicants were suffering serious health conditions, or a combination of both. He would not specify any other details on Thursday. The Presidential Office says it has received some 900 pardon applications since March. Mr Klaus' predecessor Vaclav Havel was often criticised for dispensing controversial pardons. Mr Havel's office made public detailed information on every pardon dispensed. Mr Klaus said shortly after his election in late February that he would only grant pardons in exceptional cases.
Czech police say they have broken up a gang responsible for forcing Czech females into prostitution abroad. During a five-day operation named Espana, the police arrested several men who lured over twenty girls abroad under the pretence that they would make a fortune as dancers and singers in bars and clubs in Germany, Austria, and Spain. Upon their arrival in the foreign country, the girls were forced to sell their bodies and pose for pornographic photographs.
The Czech Confederation of Trade Unions (CMKOS) has called onto the government to stop the privatisation process of the Severoceske Doli coal mining company in North Bohemia. Speaking to journalists on Tuesday, the confederation's President Milan Stech said trade unions opposed the way the government had been conduction the public tender for the privatisation and view the process as damaging to future regional development and stable employment. He added that the country's biggest power utility CEZ should also not have been excluded from the sale. The government's privatisation of coal mines was criticised by the European Commission for similar reasons last month.
Some eighty ethnic Germans who have been living in the country all their lives and were not among those expelled from Czechoslovakia after the Second World War, will be spending three weeks in a spa as symbolic compensation for the repression they faced after the war. According to Alena Einhornova from the Czech-German Fund for the Future, thanks to which the 1.8 million crown spa project will come to being, the ethnic Germans suffered much discrimination despite them being Czech citizens who never had a fascist history.
The Senate approved a bill on domestic violence on Wednesday that hopes to see offenders much more severely punished in the future. According to the new law, which should come into effect some time next year, offenders can receive prison sentences of up to eight years. The government and NGOs have made a concerted effort in past months to address the problem of domestic violence, helping victims to recognise the first signs and seek professional help as well as training police offers how to deal with the problem when they are called to the scene.
Czech President Vaclav Klaus said on Monday he hoped the proposed European Union constitution would not be accepted. Mr Klaus was speaking to journalists after a meeting with Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla who was at Prague castle to inform Mr Klaus about the government's position on the matter. Mr Klaus reiterated that the constitution could threaten the sovereignty of the Czech Republic, which will join the EU with nine other countries in May. A Czech delegation is leaving for Brussels this week to take part in an EU summit aimed at finishing talks on the EU document.
The Czech Republic hopes to continue providing health care to Iraqis after its army field hospital pulls out of Basra. According to interior ministry spokeswoman Marie Masarikova future assistance would probably be limited to treating seriously ill Iraqi children at Prague hospitals. In recent months the government paid to have 18 Iraqi children flown to Prague and treated for heart disease and other ailments. The seven million crowns earmarked for the project by the interior ministry have almost run out but the authorities are now looking for a way to continue bringing seriously ill Iraqi children to the Czech Republic for treatment.
The junior coalition Freedom Union-DEU says it would consider 12 percent of the vote in the June 2004 European Parliament elections a success. At the end of the two-day conference, party delegates said they did not allow for the possibility of failing in the first European Parliament election in which the Czech Republic will take part even though their voter support is currently very low. The elections will be held one month after the Czech Republic's admission to the European Union next year.