President Václav Klaus has branded French President Nicolas Sarkozy as “harmful to the European Union and the whole of Europe”. Referring to Mr Sarkozy’s criticism of the Czech President’s refusal to fly the EU flag over his office at Prague Castle, President Klaus said Mr Sarkozy was anti-European in that he didn’t respect the opinions of others, which, as President Klaus said, was one of Europe’s fundamental values. While the Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg refused to comment on Mr Klaus’ remarks, he appreciated Mr Sarkozy’s role during the outgoing French EU presidency. Other Czech politicians believed the argument between the presidents was personal, and said they hoped both politicians would cooperate during the Czech EU presidency.
Russians citizens with permanent residence in the Czech Republic will no longer be automatically entitled to Czech retirement pension. This year, Czech lawmakers have withdrawn a 1959 agreement between the two countries which allowed Russian nationals to acquire Czech retirement pension without having paid local social insurance. From 2009, Russian citizens permanently residing in the Czech Republic will only be entitled to Czech pensions provided that they are over 65 years of age and that they have been paying Czech social insurance for at least 15 years.
Czech President Václav Klaus met with Albanian head of state Baremir Topi in Prague on Saturday. Mr Topi, who is privately visiting the Czech Republic, discussed with his Czech counterpart Albania’s prospects of joining the European Union and NATO. President Klaus signed Albanian NATO accession protocol on Monday, completing the ratification process of Czech approval with the Albanian membership in NATO.
Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg has criticized the EU for being too benevolent towards Russia. In an interview for the German weekly Welt am Sonntag, Mr Schwarzenberg said he did not call for a confrontation with Russia but rather for both sides – the EU and Russia – to follow certain rules. The Czech foreign minister said that if any country declares “areas of privileged interests” beyond its borders, it is a signal of warning. As long as Moscow does whatever it wants, said Mr Schwarzenberg, the EU has to draw a “red line” beyond which there is no retreat. Czech Foreign Minister Schwarzenberg also emphasised the project of Eastern Partnership as one of the priorities of the upcoming Czech presidency of the European Union.
In a move which counters the plans of the government, President Václav Klaus signed a law which transfers a trauma centre in Brno, southern Moravia, into municipal administration. The law was approved by Parliament earlier this year, and it goes against the government’s plans to close down the hospital. While Health Care Minister Tomáš Julínek had asked the Constitutional Court to review the bill, opposition politicians in Brno, including the Social Democrat Governor of South Moravia, Michal Hašek, welcomed the president’s decision.
Czech Finance Minister Miroslav Kalousek has said that the growth of the Czech GDP in 2009 will not drop below two percent. Mr Kalousek told the daily Mladá fronta Dnes on Friday that he did not expect the unemployment rate to rise by more than one percent next year but that the growth of salaries might be slower. Several Czech economists, including the US-based economist Jan Švejnar, said that any growth in 2009 will be a success as Czech economy depends on the development in Western Europe which has already been struck by recession.
The Czech national team suffered a staggering defeat by the host, and title defender Canada 1:8 on Friday in their first game at the Under-20 Ice Hockey World Championship. The Czechs couldn’t keep up with the home team and only managed to score two minutes before the end of the match with Canada eight goals ahead. The Czech team will next face the United States on Monday.
A 36-year-old female skier died on Friday after being pulled out of an avalanche in the Krkonoše Mountains in northern Bohemia. The avalanche, which occurred in an area of the mountains with restricted access, trapped three people. One of them managed to get out and telephoned for help. Rescuers quickly found another man but it took them three hours before they localized the third person who was trapped under a 1.5 metre-thick layer of snow. The woman was transferred to a hospital but died of hypothermia.
One in four Czechs are planning to attend midnight mass on December 24, suggests a poll conducted by the Median agency and published in Lidové noviny. The newspaper said the expected attendance at midnight mass somewhat contradicted the Czech Republic’s reputation as one of Europe’s most atheistic states. One priest told the daily that the midnight service was often full of “once a year attendees”, rather than regular church-goers. An expert on religion said annual church-goers were either believers who do not normally attend services, or non-believers who view Christmas mainly in cultural terms and enjoy the music.