Parliamentary leaders of the Visegrad Four – Slovakia, Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic – have begun a two-day meeting in Prague to discuss the Lisbon Treaty. The Czech Republic has not yet ratified the agreement, which replaces the failed EU constitution. On Thursday Deputy Prime Minister Alexandr Vondra said the Czech government supported the treaty but made clear the cabinet will now wait to see how it is assessed by the Czech Constitutional Court – a decision is expected in the autumn. The Czech Republic is the only Visegrad country that has not ratified the treaty, which has been passed by 15 out of the 27 EU countries overall.
The leader of the opposition Social Democrats Jiří Paroubek met with architect Jan Kaplický on Friday to express support for his avant garde design for the new national library, a building originally planned for Prague’s Letná Plain nicknamed “the Octopus” or “the Blob”. The project came to a standstill after objections were voiced by City Hall, including the mayor, and disputes emerged over funding as well as zoning on the original property. On Friday, Mr Paroubek said that if his party were in government the building would receive the 3 to 4 billion crowns needed for its construction. The topic of the national library is now likely to become a heated ahead of the next elections. The head of the national library, Vlastimil Ježek, will reportedly also meet with Mr Paroubek to try and drum up new support for the stalled project.
The city of Prague is set to join a number of Czech municipalities clamping down on littering and other soiling of city streets. On Thursday legislators at City Hall passed a decree allowing police to fine anyone caught throwing cigarette butts or chewing gum on the street 1,000 crowns. A refusal to pay, leading to administrative proceedings, could see the fine raised to 30,000 (the equivalent of around 1,800 US dollars). The law applies not only to the throwing away of wrappers but also of food scraps. Similarly, anyone failing to pick up after their dog or caught spitting or urinating in public could also be fined. Some have expressed scepticism the legislation will be effective but towns already with experience with such bans have attested to positive results. The changes are to take effect in Prague on July 1.
Czech President Václav Klaus, on a visit to the US this week, told the US newspaper the Washington Times that an American radar base planned in the Czech Republic was a decision for the Czech government and “not Russia’s business”. Russia continues to strongly oppose the project, rejecting claims US missile defence was protection against rogue states. In his interview, the Czech president said there was little chance Russia would drop its objections. Earlier, Mr Klaus met with US vice president Dick Cheney to discuss the radar, which has been proposed as part of a broader US missile defence shield in Europe. The Czech government has agreed on the treaty covering the base, expected to be signed in the coming months. Despite the government’s backing, polls have repeatedly suggested that two-thirds of the public continues to oppose the project.
The Czech Republic’s national football team defeated Scotland 3:1 in a friendly in Prague on Friday evening. The game was the last for the squad before the European Championship, Euro 2008, kicks off on June 7. The Czechs’ Libor Sionko opened the scoring in the 59th minute. His goal was followed by a goal by Kadlec 6 minutes from time. Scotland got one back on a goal by Clarkson, but Sionko then added a 2nd goal. The Czech Republic will play the opening match at Euro 2008 against co-hosts Switzerland.
A unique survey released by the Czech Statistical Office on Friday has suggested that people with some kind of health disability make up 10 percent of the Czech population (around 1 million people). The study took into account random reports from 548 general practitioners and paediatricians. The authors processed information about more than ten thousand patients in making their estimate. Of 1.15 million people suffering a disability 52 percent are men, 48, women. 72 percent, the survey found, were not professionally active, while 79 percent lived off their pension.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy is scheduled to travel to the Czech Republic next month to meet with the prime ministers of the Visegrad Four. The visit has been set for June 16 and is to take place in the Czech Senate. Topics on the agenda will include the upcoming EU presidencies; France is to take up the presidency on July 1, the Czech Republic on the first of January. Among priorities for the French are energy and the climate while the Czech Republic is focussing on the removal of barriers between EU states. Nicolas Sarkozy’s visit to Prague will be the first by a French president since 1997 – excluding Jacques Chirac’s attendance at the NATO summit in 2002.
A new private news and current affairs station, Z1, will launch digital broadcasting this Sunday. Its programme will be available in Prague, Brno, Ostrava and Pilsen for the time being. The new station will feature well-known Czech journalists such as Veronika Sedláčková and the former head of Czech Radio’s Radiožurnál (Radio Journal) Barbora Tachecí. Heads at Z1, which is funded by investors J&T, have acknowledged the aim of trying to capture 3 percent of the market, a goal which some media experts see as long-term and difficult to achieve. Charles University specialist Milan Šmíd has suggested the station will be successful even with less, providing it is able to break through as a serious news source.
A Prague court has ruled that the finance ministry must pay 800,000 crowns in compensation to the Independents and European Democrats for subsidies the ministry failed to pay out after the European Democrats earned mandates in local elections in 2002. Following the parties’ success in the elections they were entitled to an annual state subsidy of 250,000 crowns for each mandate gained. But Bohuslav Sobotka, then finance minister, and his successor Vlastimil Tlustý, both maintained that the subsidies could onlz go to a party or a coalition of parties, not an association comprising a political party and independent candidates. The defence lawyer for the European Democrats and Independents has maintained on the basis of the law the compensation could come directly from the former ministers’ pockets.
Head of the Greens Martin Bursík has said that his party has drafted plans for a referendum which would allow Czechs to decide on how their president should be elected. Currently the president is elected indirectly – by lawmakers in the Czech Senate and Lower House. According to Mr Bursík, the majority of lawmakers favour switching to direct presidential election, which would leave the decision up to the electorate. Mr Bursík said, however, that up until now, parliamentarians have been unable to agree on how to switch from indirect to direct presidential elections. He said that he was raising the issue now so that something could potentially be done before the end of the government’s term in office in 2010.