European Union leaders meeting in Brussels on Friday night agreed on the draft text of a new European Constitution. Czech Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla and Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda said they were pleased with the final draft, while the main opposition Civic Democrats (ODS) have criticised it saying the voting system spelt out in the text weakens the position of small states like the Czech Republic. Under the new voting scheme spelt out in the draft European Constitution, in order to take decisions, at least 15 of the 25 EU member states, or 60 percent, representing at least 65 percent of the EU population, will have to be in agreement. It will take at least four member states to block a decision.
The right-of-centre Freedom Union and Christian Democrat parties have said they will stay in the coalition government led by the centre-left Social Democrats. The Freedom Union has said, however, that it wants the coalition to set out a clearly defined programme for the next two years, while the Christian Democrat have categorically ruled out cooperating with the Communist party.
The Czechs were to face the Dutch on Saturday evening in both teams' second match of the Group D round of Euro 2004, the football championship now underway in Portugal. The Czech squad is thought to have the psychological advantage going in, having beaten the Netherlands 3-1 in Prague and drawn 1-1 in Amsterdam en route to topping the group and forcing the Dutch into a playoff against Scotland.
Meanwhile, the Social Democrat leadership is expected to bring forward the date of the party's central committee meeting to next weekend, when Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla will likely face a no-confidence motion as party leader. The meeting had been scheduled for the 11th of July. Mr Spidla is expected to lose the party chairmanship and may also be pressured to resign as prime minister. The Social Democrat party was routed in the European Parliament elections last weekend, placing fifth overall and popular support of his coalition government has plummeted in recent months.
The Czech Republic's nuclear power station at Temelin went back on line on Friday after a two week shutdown, power plant officials said. One of the plant's reactors had to be taken off line on the 6th of June due to a fault in an electricity transformer, which caused three cubic metres of radioactive water to leak out of the primary circuit of the second unit. The Czech nuclear safety authority described the leak as a "minor" incident and Temelin officials have protested the subsequent surprise visit of an inspection team dispatched by the European Commission.
A poll conducted by the STEM agency suggests that if Czech parliamentary elections were held tomorrow, the right-of-centre opposition Civic Democrats would win 32 percent of the vote, followed by the Communists with 17 percent, and the senior Coalition Social Democrats with 14 percent of the vote. The fourth party that would make it to the lower house would be the junior coalition Christian Democrats with 8-percent support.
The lower house of parliament has passed a bill on registered
partnerships of same-sex couples in its first reading. The bill,
proposed by deputies, will now be sent on to the committee stage, and
then be put to a full vote in the lower house. Bills on registered
partnerships for homosexuals regularly divide opinion in the lower
house irrespective of party affiliations, with the junior government
Christian Democrats the only one uniformly opposed. Supporters of the
bill argue that public opinion polls have found that most Czechs have
no objections to inscribing registered partnerships in the law.
The bill under discussion would, for instance, ensure partners the right to view information on each other's medical condition, and the chance to be treated as next-of-kin as regards inheritance, enjoying the same rights as married heterosexual couple. However, adoption by homosexual couples would remain illegal. Laws on civil unions for gay and lesbian couples are valid in eight European Union states, as well as in Iceland, Norway, and Switzerland. Such partnerships are also legal in six provinces of Spain and the city of London. Hungary allows homosexual couples the same rights as common-law unions.
The Social Democrat leadership is due to meet on Saturday to discuss Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla's tenure as party chairman just a week after his government was routed in the European Parliament elections. Many of Mr Spidla's own party officials are openly urging him to step down, and say the longer he hangs on, the greater the chances are the party will force him to quit — and ultimately push him out as prime minister as well. If Mr Spidla does not quit as chairman, he will face a vote of confidence in the Central Executive Committee, the highest party organ between congresses. Prime Minister Spidla called the session for July 11. He also faces the threat of the smallest coalition party, the Freedom Union, quitting after poor election showing last week, and a no-confidence vote planned by the main opposition Civic Democrats.
The former Czech President, Vaclav Havel, has said that the United States, the European Union, Japan and South Korea should jointly confront the North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il to compel him to respect basic human rights. Calling Kim Jong Il the "world's worst totalitarian dictator" for being "responsible for the loss of millions of lives," Mr Havel cited accounts of repression by North Korean refugees that had been verified by modern satellite images. In an opinion piece in The Washington Post newspaper, Mr Havel urged the four democratic powers to take a common position and make it clear to Kim Jong Il that "respect for basic human rights is an integral part of any future discussions with Pyongyang". Last week, the Czech Republic reopened its embassy to North Korea. The Czechoslovak embassy to Pyongyang was closed in the early 1990s.
Czech Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda confirmed on Thursday that European conservative leaders picked EU External Relations Commissioner Chris Patten as their candidate to become the next head of the European Commission. Mr Svoboda is currently at the EU summit in Brussels, where the European constitution and a successor to Commission President Romano Prodi in November are the main topics on the agenda.
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