The prime minister’s cautious stand comes in the wake of strong protests from the Green Party, another of the three parties in the coalition government. Greens leader Martin Bursik said that Mr. Cunek’s return to government would be extremely unfortunate. Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg – a minister for the Green Party - said that enabling his return would amount to political suicide on the part of the government and even some Civic Democratic party members have advised caution.
The Czech Republic had a record October trade surplus of 8.6 billion crowns (482.6 million US dollars), the Czech Statistics Office announced on Wednesday. Exports rose to an all-time monthly high of 238.4 billion with imports at a record 229.8 billion. The positive trade balance was fuelled by a 14.4 percent jump in exports of machinery and transport equipment compared with October 2006, a surge in foreign sales of telecoms and sound recording equipment, and strong exports of electrical equipment.
Parliament has approved the 2008 state budget. Of the 200 member lower
house 100 deputies supported the bill, 97 were against. A single coalition
deputy – Vera Jakubkova of the Green Party – refused to support the
budget on the grounds that it fails to address pressing environmental
concerns. She absented herself from the vote. The budget was approved
thanks to two renegade deputies from the Social Democratic Party.
The 2008 budget proposal envisages expenditures of 1,107 billion crowns. With a projected deficit of 70.8 billion crowns the budget meets one of the basic EU criteria for adopting the euro - a deficit below 3 percent of the GDP. According to Finance Minister Miroslav Kalousek the division of funds reflects the government's priorities in the field of science, research, education and infrastructure.
Trade unions in the health sector have declared a strike alert in protest of the Health Ministry’s plan to extend working hours for doctors. Union leader Jiri Sclanger says the move would worsen work conditions and deprive doctors of one fourth of their pay for overtime work. The union said it would take more resolute action if the ministry did not reverse its decision.
Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek has said it was premature to think about Christian Democrat leader Jiri Cunek’s return to government. He advised the Christian Democrats to consider an interim period during which time some other party nominee would head the Local Development Ministry. Mr. Cunek was forced to resign over corruption allegations five weeks ago but state prosecutors have since dropped criminal proceedings against him. His party leadership has now expressed support for his reinstatement.
The Senate has approved an amendment to the foreigners’ law that will make life harder for non EU foreigners seeking residence in the Czech Republic. According to the proposal non-EU foreigners who marry Czech citizens will no longer acquire a residence permit immediately but only after a period of two years. The amendment will also toughen conditions for asylum seekers. Interior Minister Ivan Langer says the tougher rules are necessary in view of the country joining the Schengen border free zone in two weeks time.
The centre-right coalition government on Wednesday survived a no-confidence motion initiated by the opposition Social Democrats. The three-party cabinet, which controls just 100 seats in the 200-seat lower house, has faced a number of crises since its appointment to office but the opposition gathered just 97 votes for its dismissal. This is the second attempt to bring down the government by the Social Democrats.
US intelligence information that Iran is not building a nuclear bomb is unlikely to influence plans to station a US radar base in the Czech Republic, Czech Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Vondra told Wednesday’s edition of Mlada Fronta Dnes. Prague and Washington are negotiating the possible stationing of a US tracking radar on the Brdy military site located 90 kilometers southwest of Prague. According to US negotiators the radar would be part of the US missile defense shield designed to protect the US and its allies against “rogue states”, notably Iran.