At their meeting in the Czech Republic on Wednesday, the prime ministers of the Visegrad Four countries agreed to continue cooperating within the grouping even as EU member states. The Visegrad group is a loose economic alliance of four Central European states - the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Poland. It was established thirteen years ago in an effort to strengthen regional contacts and fill the void which emerged after the collapse of the Soviet block. Some commentators say the alliance has become obsolete with the enlargement of the EU, but the prime ministers of the four states said today that maintaining the existing contacts would prove advantageous for all concerned and better enable them to defend their economic interests within the European Union.
Laboratory tests have confirmed an eleventh case of mad cow disease in the Czech Republic. The infected animal came from a farm in the Cesky Krumlov region, southern Bohemia. The head of the State Veterinary Office said all the necessary precautions were being taken. Since in this case the infected animal was a breeding bull there will be no need to slaughter all the cattle from the same herd.
The EU's executive commission has placed six of the newly admitted EU member states, including the Czech Republic, under increased financial surveillance because their public deficits currently exceed EU limits. However the commission said it would be benevolent and was according the six new members several years to bring their deficits in line with the provisions of the 1997 Stability and Growth Pact. The Pact requires members of the European Union to hold their annual deficits to less than three percent of output.
Restaurant owners are planning further protests against a VAT increase which has forced many of them to increase their prices, the daily Mlada fronta Dnes reported on Tuesday. One of the protest organisers said around 2,500 people would hold a demonstration in front of the Office of the Government during the first week of June. Following a recent VAT rise restaurant prices have increased by between five and ten percent.
The police have arrested three more football referees in connection with a bribery scandal which is being described as the worst in the history of Czech football. After a senior official at Synot football club and two referees were arrested last week, on Monday the police arrested three more officials on suspicion of fixing a match in which Synot beat Blsany. The police are looking into the results of every Czech first division game played since the beginning of the season last August.
Reports say the Czech Republic's recent accession to the EU has hit the prostitution business in the border regions; with truck drivers no longer having to queue at the border for hours, fewer of them are availing of the services of prostitutes. The daily Pravo on Tuesday quoted the mayor of Dubi as saying many brothels in the border town had already shut down or were up for sale.
The opposition Communist Party have said they will support the ruling Social Democrats over a constitutional bill on referendums. Social Democrats deputy chairman Zdenek Skromach said on Tuesday his party would accept the support of the Communists. The Social Democrats have submitted several referendum bills in the past, and this time are doing so in connection with a vote on a possible European Union constitution. The opposition Civic Democrats say linking the bill with the EU constitution is blackmail.
The prime ministers of the Visegrad Four countries are due to meet at Komeriz castle in the east of the Czech Republic on Wednesday. It will be the first time the leaders of the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Poland have held formal talks since all four countries joined the European Union on May 1. A spokesman for the Czech government said the main issue at the meeting would be the future role of the regional grouping, 13 years after it was established. Some commentators say the alliance has become obsolete with the enlargement of the EU.
The world-renowned Polish-born architect Daniel Libeskind has unveiled his model of a new Salvador Dali museum for Prague, which should be completed by 1997. If the planned museum goes ahead it will stand where Revolucni Street meets the Vltava River. Mr Libeskind said on Tuesday that in the modern world cities had to compete in various areas, and the Dali museum would allow Prague to compete in the area of culture. The architect is best-known for the Jewish Museum in Berlin and his project for the site of the World Trade Center in New York.
Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda has said US soldiers found guilty of abusing prisoners in Iraq should be brought to justice quickly. However, said Mr Svoboda, the scandal should not threaten the efforts of democrats in the "fight against terrorism". He added that it was important to hand the administration of Iraq over to the Iraqis as soon as possible.