Germany, which currently holds the EU presidency, has won the consent of all twenty seven EU member states for the text of its so-called Declaration of Berlin, which is intended to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the Treaty of Rome - the document that paved the way for the establishment of the European Union. Despite initial reservations, the Czech Republic agreed to the Berlin declaration after German chancellor Angela Merkel telephoned Czech president Vaclav Klaus and prime minister Mirek Topolanek. A spokesman for the government said that it had seen the text of the document and believed it was purely symbolic in nature. He also added that the declaration makes no reference to the controversial European constitution. Mr Topolanek had earlier criticised the fact that the Czech Republic only received the text shortly before it was due to be ratified.
The Social Democratic Party's annual congress has begun in Brno. The Social Democrats are holding their conference as an opposition party for the first time in nine years. The main items on this year's agenda include the party's modernisation and its strategy for the upcoming presidential election. Party chairman Jiri Paroubek was re-elected as the Social Democrat leader at the conference on Friday evening. He received sixty percent of the delegates' votes, a total which was significantly less than expected. Mr Paroubek was the only person standing for the post.
The Billa and Julius Meinl supermarket chains have been hit with a record fine by the Czech Office for the Protection of Economic Competition. The retail giants have been ordered to pay a combined total of 43.35 million Czech crowns or just over two million dollars for agreeing to adopt a common approach to their suppliers in order to keep prices down. The decision has prompted calls from suppliers' organisations for even tougher laws to be introduced to prevent large retailers in the Czech Republic from abusing their economic power to put unfair pressure on suppliers to reduce costs.
Zdenek Altner, the lawyer who is suing the Social Democrats for over 19 billion crowns in unpaid fees, has excused himself from giving evidence in a scheduled hearing as part of an investigation into corruption and bribery allegations surrounding the Czech government's agreement to buy Swedish Gripen fighter jets five years ago. Mr Altner declined to attend the hearing because he wanted a legal representative present during questioning and could not engage one in time. He now has to arrange a hearing on an alternative date. The lawyer says it is nonsensical that he should be implicated in the matter and thinks the police only want to question him because - as the then governing Social Democrats' lawyer - he had had some dealings with officials who are now being investigated in connection with the Gripen case.
Interior Minister Ivan Langer has announced that police chief Vladislav Husak - who resigned today - will be replaced by deputy police chief Jan Brázda. Mr Brazda, who previously worked as the deputy director of the west Bohemian police administration, will take up his new post on April 1st. He has been the deputy head of the police since January 2006 and came to the attention of the general public last year when he headed the Czech police team sent to last year's football World Cup to help the competition organisers with security arrangements concerning Czech fans.
According to a new poll, three out of every four Czechs doubt whether their country can attain the same standard of living enjoyed in western European countries within ten years. The survey conducted by the STEM research agency found that forty three percent of respondents don't believe the Czech Republic will reach Western living standards in less than 10 years. A further thirty one percent think the country will never reach these standards. This is a sharp increase from the seventeen percent recorded by STEM in a similar poll conducted in 2003.
Social Democrat leader Jiri Paroubek has said the party will adopt a constructive approach to being on the opposition benches in parliament. In an hour-long opening speech at the party's annual congress in Brno, Mr Paroubek said the Social Democrats were willing to cooperate with the new centre-right coalition government on pension, tax and health reforms as well as on reducing government bureaucracy and improving conditions for business. Nevertheless, he warned that the party could not countenance what he described as the government's "anti-social" fiscal reforms and the removal of the welfare state.
Czech and Austrian police have arrested a gang of suspected weapons smugglers. The twelve member gang (consisting of nine Austrians and three Czechs) based near the Moravian town of Znojmo are thought to have been making decommissioned machine guns usable again for sale on the Austrian market. Police have also recovered 24 machine guns and 55 other firearms in the operation along with some silencers and ammunition. If found guilty, the men could face three to ten years in prison.
Czech Police chief Vladislav Husak announced his resignation on Friday afternoon. "After serious consideration, I have tendered my resignation," he told journalists following a meeting with Interior Minister Ivan Langer. Mr Langer said he respected Mr Husak's decision and added that he hoped that Mr Husak would stay in the police force. Mr Langer has offered him the post of deputy director in the police department responsible for border controls and foreign residents. The head of the police is accused of having warned key suspects in a number of corruption cases ahead of their planned arrest and of leaking sensitive information to a Russian agent. Mr Husak has rejected the allegations and says he is leaving his post because of media pressure rather than because of a bad conscience.
A group of opponents to the Temelin nuclear power plant in South Bohemia have announced that they will file a lawsuit against the power giant CEZ on Friday. The group, which has formed an association, says CEZ is violating the law on atomic energy by operating a plant with a technical system that fails to make nuclear safety a priority. The lawsuit will call for Temelin's immediate closure.
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