European commissioners and senior Czech politicians were among the guests at a special gala event at Prague’s National Theatre to launch the Czech presidency of the EU on Wednesday evening. The event began with Czech Deputy Prime Minister for European Affairs Alexandr Vondra taking over a symbolic “EU baton” from his French counterpart, Bruno Le Maire, in the foyer of the theatre. Among those who performed later were the veteran Czech entertainer Jiří Suchý and the Forman brothers, the twin sons of film director Miloš Forman.
A report by the German television station ARD has claimed that a DC-9 plane that crashed in the Děčínsko area in 1972 was accidentally shot down by the Czechoslovak army. 27 people died in the crash, with only a flight stewardess surviving. The flight was flying from Belgrade in former Yugoslavia to Stockholm, Sweden and the official version was that a bomb planted by Croatian nationalists had led to the crash. The plane was flying at 10,000 metres when it disappeared from radar screens. It is believed to have broken in two before impact. The new findings based on an investigation by ARD strongly contradict the official version released by the communist authorities at the time. There has been no formal response from the current Czech authorities to the allegations.
The Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek has publicly apologized to his Social Democrat opposition counterpart Jiří Paroubek for disparaging comments made by Interior Minister Ivan Langer. The comments relate to a recent failure of the government to extend the military missions of Czech forces overseas, something that resulted because the Social Democrat opposition failed to vote for the measure. Mr Langer then called the Social Democrat leader a “murderer” for allowing what many viewed as the crucial missions of Czech forces in Afghanistan and Iraq to be jeopardized. Later, Mr Paroubek made any further discussions on the toleration of the current coalition government conditional on an apology from the PM. Mr Paroubek has accepted the apology and stated that it would no doubt contribute to the political discourse in the country. Czech forces overseas are currently functioning under a provisional extension order, with a new mandate to be negotiated by the government and opposition next week.
The Polish president, Lech Kaczynski is to hold talks with his Czech counterpart, Václav Klaus, in Prague on Thursday evening. The two heads of state are expected to discuss the Russian-Ukrainian dispute over gas deliveries, among other issues. Mr Kaczynski and Mr Klaus have similar outlooks on several issues, with both men cool on further European integration.
The Czech prime minister has set up a National Economic Council to help fight the effects of the global economic crisis, it has been announced. The council is made up of a number of economic specialists, among them the former ministers Vladimír Dlouhý, Martin Jahn and Jiří Rusnok. The council members have extensive experience in government and also the private sector. The council is viewed as being a non-partisan, advisory entity with no formal powers.
A columnist writing a blog on the Financial Times website has compared the current Czech president to the tragic-comical and iconic fictional character of the Good Soldier Švejk. In the article, the columnist sought to frame the Czech president's mindset, dismissing comparisons with figures such as Jan Hus, Jan Palach or Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk. Instead, the writer argued “…in his quirky defiance of authority, in his sense of solidarity with little players against big, and even in the shape of his head, Klaus is really a 21st century version of the Good Soldier Svejk.” The author was specifically relating to the Czech president’s approach to the EU.
The Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek had a telephone conversation with the US President-elect Barack Obama on Wednesday night, according to a press release issued by the Czech government. The conversation between Mr Topolánek and Mr Obama was under the auspices of the Czech presidency of the EU, and was likely designed for Mr Obama to collect information and convey his interest in the six-month long chairing of the EU by the Czech Republic. According to media reports, Mr Obama sought to learn about Czech priorities during the EU presidency and also conveyed appreciation for Czech engagement during the Israel-Gaza conflict. President-elect Obama has repeatedly stated that there is “only one president at a time” and that he does not represent US foreign policy until he is sworn in on January 20, thus it is unlikely that any foreign policy issues such as the Israeli-Gaza conflict or Russian gas crisis were discussed in great detail.
Prague is hosting an informal meeting of EU ministers, foreign ministers and senior representatives for European affairs on Thursday, chaired by the Czech deputy prime minister for European affairs, Alexandr Vondra. The talks follow the first ever meeting of the European Commission in the Czech capital on Wednesday, the real launch of the six-month Czech presidency of the European Union at the political level. Thursday’s talks are also expected to be dominated by the natural gas supply crisis sparked when Russia shut off pipelines to Ukraine and the current conflict in the Middle East.
The Czech Senate has postponed debating ratification of the EU’s Lisbon treaty until the middle of February. A proposal to that end was submitted by Senators from the Civic Democrats and approved by the upper house’s foreign affairs committee on Wednesday. The Czech Republic’s lower house, the Chamber of Deputies, is due to begin debating Lisbon in a session beginning on February 3, with that issue expected to be linked to a vote on a planned US radar base in central Bohemia. The Senate has already given its approval for the building of the US base, which would be part of a global missile defence shield.
Members of the European Commission have visited Prague for the first major events of the six-month Czech presidency of the EU. The commissioners held meetings with Czech ministers, while the president of the European Commission, Jose Barroso, has been holding talks with the Czech prime minister, Mirek Topolánek, and the Czech president, Václav Klaus. The gas crisis and the conflict in the Middle East were among the main subjects discussed at Wednesday’s meetings, several of which took place at venues on Prague’s Kampa Island
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