The Freedom Union, the smallest of the three parties in the Czech governing coalition debated its election strategy at a party conference in Prague over the weekend. Pavel Nemec, who was re-elected party leader, said the Freedom Union would enter into negotiations with the European Democrats on a joint list of candidates for the 2006 general elections. Alone the party is unlikely to win seats in Parliament. Its public support rating now stands at 0,5 percent.
Following talks on the EU budget in Budapest, Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek said Britain's proposal to slash spending should affect all member states equally, not just the newcomers. He said that Britain now expected the newcomers to bear the greater part of the burden, an estimated 73 percent of the proposed cuts would be made at their expense. The leaders of Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia indicated during Friday's talks that they would be prepared to accept a small cut in the aid they receive from EU coffers in return for easier access to funding. However, the concessions they are prepared to make fall short of the cuts proposed by Britain. Money for regional development is considered essential for the newcomers to catch up with the old EU members.
Thousands of people have converged on Slavkov, in the southeast of the Czech Republic, for a re-enactment of the battle of the Three Emperors, Napoleon's great victory at Austerlitz. On December 2th 1805, Napoleon's army of around 75,000 crushed a superior force of Russians and Austrians in a battle that historians describe as a masterpiece of military strategy. The re-enactment of the Battle of Three Emperors, on its bicentenary, is said to be the biggest re-enactment of a Napoleonic battle in Europe. Participants from around the world are taking part -Napoleon himself is played by an American - and the event has attracted government officials, military buffs and historians from across Europe. Hotels in the area have been booked for up to two years in advance. Czech television is screening the event live.
The Senate has definitively rejected a government proposed bill on referendum which would have enabled the public to have a say in fundamental decisions regarding domestic and foreign policy. Opponents of the bill said that it failed to clearly define what matters could be decided by referendum. Senators also pointed out that the proposed bill did not determine the minimal turnout for a referendum to be valid. Since this was a constitutional bill, the lower house cannot override the Senate's veto.
The lower house of Parliament on Friday approved the government proposed state budget for 2006. It envisages a deficit of 74,4 billion crowns, with expenditures at 958 billion and an income of 884 billion crowns. As expected the budget was approved with the votes of the three coalition parties. The opposition Civic Democratic Party opposed it while the Communists abstained from the vote.
Former prime minister Stanislav Gross has told a parliamentary commission he accepted no bribes in the 2004 sale of the Czech chemicals giant Unipetrol. Mr Gross also told the commission that businessman Andrej Babis in no way influenced the government in the sale. Allegations over improprieties in the sale of Unipetrol have been under investigation ever since a Polish lobbyist went public with videotape claiming a government aide had asked him for a five million crown bribe. The former prime minister and others flatly denied the corruption charges.
During talks with the British Prime Minister Tony Blair in Budapest, EU newcomer states on Friday signalled they were prepared to accept a small cut in the aid they receive from EU coffers in order to allow a breakthrough in the bloc's tough budget negotiations. The leaders of Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia said they could agree to a small cut if it was offset by easier access to funding. The newcomers first reacted with stiff opposition to Britain's proposal to cut regional aid but diplomats said that the talks in Budapest had been useful and some compromise ideas were beginning to gain currency. Britain is due to announce its detailed proposals on Monday.
Czech police have charged a 37-year-old representative of the Japanese investment bank Nomura with insider trading, in the so-called "Czech beer operation", in which the bank is said to have used shareholdings in the Plzensky Prazdroj brewery to support its investment in the now defunct Czech IPB bank. According to the anti-corruption office, bank funds were used to pay for the brewery's acquisition. The illegal use of property as 'insurance' then allegedly helped the investment bank illegally gain seven billion crowns, the equivalent of more than 280 million USD. If found guilty of insider dealings the bank official could face up to twelve years in prison.
A Central Bohemian court is considering whether or not to reopen the case of Rostislav Roztocil, a Czech convict recaptured in Germany after a brief prison break. The convict, found guilty of murdering an Egyptian student in Czechoslovakia in the 1980s, has maintained his innocence and has been asking for a retrial. The court is now looking to interview Mr Roztocil, as well as new witnesses, before ruling on whether or not to reopen his case.
The Health Minister David Rath has claimed that the chairman of the right-of-centre Civic Democrats, Mirek Topolanek, may have been involved in corruption. On Thursday the health minister suggested to journalists that an association founded by Mr Topolanek had received financial donations from a metal works company, with connections to private hospitals. They, Mr Rath said, had been given above-standard contracts with the state-owned insurance company, the VZP - now under forced administration. The Civic Democrats have denied the allegations and Civic Democrat chairman Mirek Topolanek is said to be considering legal action. Since taking office, the health minister and the Civic Democrats have clashed on several occasions, with the Civic Democrats calling on the health minister to resign.