The Czech Republic has been criticized by the Council of Europe for failing to acknowledge the International Criminal Court. Eight of the Council of Europe’s 47 members are yet to acknowledge the court; they include Russia, Turkey, Ukraine and the Czech Republic. The International Criminal Court was set up in 2002 to try individuals on charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. It has been recognised by 108 countries around the world. The Czech Senate signed a bill acknowledging the court in July last year, which was subsequently approved by the lower house in October. The bill is now pending the signature of President Václav Klaus, who is refusing to sign it, saying it is unconstitutional.
At a meeting chaired by Czech foreign minister Karel Schwarzenberg on Wednesday, the European Union pledged to help Afghanistan hold transparent and safe elections. Afghan foreign minister Rangin Dadfar Spanta was in Prague to discuss the current situation in Afghanistan and the country’s relations with the EU. At the meeting, Czech foreign minister Karel Schwarzenberg also said that the EU planned to extend its mission training Afghan policemen. Mr Spanta then went on to meet Czech prime minister Mirek Topolánek to discuss Czech involvement in military and humanitarian activities in Afghanistan. The Czech Republic is taking part in the US-led operation Enduring Freedom against the Taliban and has a reconstruction team in the province of Logar.
The Czech Senate approved a bill abolishing healthcare fees for the under-18s on Wednesday. The bill also halves the maximum amount that pensioners will have to pay for their healthcare each year to 2,500 crowns (120 USD). The paper will now be handed to the lower house for approval. Healthcare fees have been controversial since their adoption at the start of 2008. Czechs must now pay 30 crowns each time they visit the doctor and 60 crowns per night spent in hospital.
The majority of Czechs would like their Parliament ratify the EU’s Lisbon treaty, a poll conducted by the STEM agency and released on Wednesday suggests. A total of 64 percent of respondents said that they were for the ratification of the EU reform document, a 19 percent increase on last October’s results. Some 70 percent of those questioned, however, said that they did not understand exactly what the Lisbon treaty was for. Neither the Czech Parliament nor the Senate have voted yet on Lisbon’s ratification. The Czech Republic is, as such, the only country in the EU yet to make a decision upon the treaty. On Tuesday, MPs decided to postpone a debate on the Lisbon treaty until February 15 at the earliest.
Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek has said that EU member states need to work together to overcome the current global financial crisis. After a meeting with the head of the European Trade Union Confederation, John Monks, on Wednesday, the Czech prime minister said that Europe’s governments and unions had agreed that a ‘common solution’ was the only solution to the current economic turmoil. At the meeting on Wednesday morning, Mr Monks called on Mr Topolánek to take drastic action to secure European markets during his time at the helm of the European Union. Mr Monks said that it was agreed that protectionism was not the answer to the economic crisis being felt around the continent.
Former Czech president Václav Havel will be released from hospital on Thursday more than two weeks after he was admitted with severe breathing problems, a hospital spokesperson has said. Eva Jurinová from Prague’s Motol hospital said on Wednesday that Mr Havel’s condition had improved considerably and that doctors had therefore decided to release him the following day. The former head of state underwent surgery on January 12, after complaining of problems breathing and swallowing, the operation was followed by complications which left Mr Havel in intensive care. The former president suffers from chronic bronchitis and had part of his right lung removed when he was diagnosed with cancer in 1996.
In related news, sales of plane tickets shot up in the Czech Republic last year by almost ten percent. According to data released by the International Air Transport Association, Czechs bought over 790,000 plane tickets in 2008, and spent a sum worth more than ten billion crowns on flights. According to the news website iDnes.cz which released the figures, sales could in fact be even higher, as no low-cost airlines have been counted in this survey. The study found that the average cost of a plane ticket fell by 400 crowns to 10,242 crowns (nearly 500 USD) in 2008.
The Czech justice minister Jiří Pospíšil met Pope Benedict XVI on Wednesday, and confirmed that the head of the Catholic Church would be visiting the Czech Republic in September this year. At the meeting, the Pope said he was looking forward to his visit, but that the actual dates of the trip still had to be discussed. Mr Pospíšil was visiting the Vatican as a representative of the European Union, over which the Czech Republic currently presides.
The Czech prime minister, Mirek Topolánek, says if the EU does not draw energy from a variety of sources its freedom and independence will be threatened. Speaking at a meeting in Budapest to discuss the planned Nabucco natural gas pipeline, he said he regarded the project as a test of European integration; it would only be successful if the EU made it a top priority, he said. The Nabucco line would transport gas from Turkey to Austria, via Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary. Many countries in Europe were left without heating when a row between Russia and Ukraine led to a halt in gas supplies earlier this month.
The Russian airline Aeroflot has officially voiced its interest in the purchase of Czech state-owned carrier ČSA. On Thursday, the general director of Aeroflot, Valerij Okulov, promised that if his firm’s bid was successful, then Aeroflot would ‘widen and improve’ ČSA’s services and that Prague’s Ruzyně airport would continue to be a hub. The Czech government announced the sale of ČSA on January 19 this year. The state currently owns 92 percent of the airline, which is considered one of its biggest assets. Analysts are expecting the airline to sell for as much as 5 billion crowns (242.6 million USD). The opposition Social Democrats are questioning the timing of the sale in the current financial climate. The government plans to announce the new owner of ČSA in September 2009.
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