The Czech government has revealed a list of priorities as well as a motto for its impending presidency of the European Union, which begins 1 January 2009. Its motto for the presidency will be “Europe without barriers” – while plans include an emphasis on increased free trade, sustainable energy development, a lowering of EU-wide carbon dioxide emissions, and continued discussions about Croatia’s potential EU entry. Other priorities include dealing with the contentious issue of the Lisbon Treaty on a European level, the setting up of an EU conference on human rights in Cuba, and efforts to gain the attendance of then President Barack Obama at an informal EU summit next spring – though the latter goal may be complicated by the president’s attendance at a different summit in London at the same time. The Czech government is reportedly spending more than 3 billion crowns in preparations for its six-month term at the head of the European Union.
The Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek has revealed that he was aware of plans to create a Eurosceptic pro-Klaus splinter party even before the February presidential elections. The comments were made during a television interview, in which the PM added that despite this information, he remained loyal to the president and did everything in his power to secure Mr Klaus’ re-election. Commenting on the plans to create Libertas’cz, based on the Irish lobby group, Mr Topolánek stated that he believed that the Civic Democrats will be able to continue as a strong and unified party. In separate comments, the Czech PM conceded that efforts by the government to ratify the Lisbon Treaty by the end of the year will be difficult.
A series of votes across the Czech Republic by regional assemblies of the Civic Democratic Party, appear to be strengthening the position of the incumbent party leader Mirek Topolánek. The votes are taking place ahead of the Civic Democrat party conference to be held in a week’s time, when Prague mayor Pavel Bém will challenge Mr Topolánek for the leadership of the party. Despite the continuing struggles within the Civic Democrats, both opinion polls as well as the results from the regional votes appear to suggest that Mr Bém will have a hard time ousting his incumbent colleague. So far, Mr Topolánek has been endorsed by six regional assemblies, while his opponent has yet to gain a single region-wide endorsement. However, the Prague assembly is widely expected to endorse Mr Bém, where the challenger serves as the city’s major. So far, nine of fourteen such votes have taken place, with Mr Topolánek winning endorsements from party members in the Pardubice, Zlín, Plzeň, Olomouc, Jihlava and southern Moravia regions. Another three regions have voted to endorse neither candidate.
One of the largest meat-processing factories in the Czech Republic, Masokombinát Klatovy, west of Prague, has announced both a cut in production as well as a round of layoffs. According to news sources, 180 of 208 of the company’s worker’s are to be made redundant. Analysts say that the layoffs are unrelated to the global economic slowdown, but rather reflect the long-term financial woes and deep debts of the company, which has existed since before the Velvet Revolution.
A top advisor to the Czech president Václav Klaus has stated that he believes that Mr Klaus should take the matter of the Lisbon Treaty to court himself. Ladislav Jakl also stated that he believes that the EU document, if approved, would signal the end of the Czech Republic as a sovereign country – a view similar to that of the Czech president. It is unclear whether Mr Klaus will heed the advice and argue the matter before the Constitutional Court in person during a full hearing, but in a Czech media interview, Mr Jakl stated that he hopes that others will join the president in an effort to, as he put it, save the sovereignty of the country. The Czech president has previously visited the Court, and argued his case in an informal preliminary hearing last week. Meanwhile, the head of the Czech Constitutional Court Pavel Rychetský has stated that a renewed challenge to the Lisbon Treaty on constitutional grounds would leave the challenger with “very little room for manoeuvre”.
The Green Party Education Minister Ondřej Liška has stated that he intends to push for discussions on the possible impeachment of the Czech President Václav Klaus. The comments were made in an interview with the daily Právo, in which Liška stated that he does not consider Mr Klaus to be his president, and that if impeachment proceeding were seriously discussed, he would be “at the front of the line.” The Education Minister criticized the Czech president for his activities opposing the Lisbon Treaty, which Mr Liška stated were far beyond the purview of the role assigned to Mr Klaus as an apolitical president. Under Czech law, the president can only be removed from office for treason, or if he or she is unable to carry out their function. Commenting on the difficulty of removing the Czech president from his post, Mr Liška stated that: at the point when the head of state starts actively undermining the foreign policy of the government he is supposed to represent, then a serious discussion about impeachment must be undertaken. Most Green Party members have long opposed the Czech president, in particular for his controversial views on man-made climate change.
New figures cited by the website aktualne.cz reveal that Czechs have been wary of the effects of the global financial crisis for far longer than was initially believed. While household spending for 2007 climbed by 15% on the previous year, this year’s figures show a large trail-off to only 2%. When adjusted for inflation, the figures in fact reveal that Czechs bought less goods and services than last year. Despite being more isolated from the effects of the global financial crisis than much of Western Europe, the Czech National Bank has decreased the growth forecast for the Czech Republic for 2009, but so far, talk of an actual recession has been minimal.
A top-secret new anti-terrorist centre in Prague is close to completion, according to a report from the Czech daily Právo. The centre, which is due to begin functioning next year, is reportedly housed within the Czech police’s anti-organised crime unit building in southern Prague, while details surrounding much of its operations are being kept secret. The creation of such a centre was a key stipulation by the United States, in negotiations for eliminating Visa requirements for Czech citizens entering the US. According to a police spokesperson, the centre will focus on collecting, collating and analysing intelligence relating to suspected terrorist activities. The Czech Interior Ministry has added that the new centre will be fully under Czech civilian jurisdiction and will closely co-operate with the existing Czech security apparatus.
Czech petrol has fallen to its lowest price in three and a half years, according to a new survey. The average price of a litre of Czech petrol is now 24.9 crowns, and has fallen in price by almost one crown in just the last week. According to analysts, the low prices could last for a number of months, while opinions differ on whether prices could still continue to drop further. The cause for the fall in Czech petrol prices is attributed to the world-wide fall in prices spurred by the global economic slowdown.