The Czech government has approved a convergence programme of gradual cuts in public budget deficits and fiscal policy consolidation. The programme is based on a strategy of joining the Euro zone at the end of the decade. The government should submit the programme to the European Commission by mid-May. The Finance Ministry said the programme was a precondition for drawing money from the EU Cohesion Fund.
Also on Thursday: the Chamber of Deputies passed a bill amendment that it will make it easier for Czech couples to adopt newborns by speeding up the adoption process. The amendment, put forward by the Christian Democrats, allows for mothers to consent - shortly after delivery - to their child's adoption. Until now mothers who wanted to put their child up for adoption could only give consent after six weeks, which according to critics caused delays and drew-out court proceedings. By quickening the adoption process the bill's supporters hope that new-borns up for adoption will be able to get to their adoptive families with less delay.
On Thursday the Czech Senate approved a government bill aimed at both lowering unemployment numbers but also improving benefits for those unable to find long-term work. On the one hand the bill, which was approved by 38 out of 70 senators present, will make it difficult for recipients to receive benefits if they refuse, for example, re-qualification training or a medical exam to which they had previously agreed. At the same time, under the new bill, those on unemployment will be allowed to earn up to half the minimum wage without losing unemployment benefits.
In related news: on Thursday the Chamber of Deputies also approved legislation enabling women to give birth in full anonymity, which supporters hope will reduce the number of abortions in the country. If the bill is passed by the Senate and signed by the president, the medical records of women requesting anonymity could be accessed only under a court order; also, their name would not appear on their child's birth certificate. The overall aim of the bill is to deter women pregnant with an unwanted child, from seeking abortions or even abandoning or murdering the child. Every year the Czech Republic sees several cases of newborns, found either abandoned or dead.
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.
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.
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.
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