EU environment ministers are gathered in Prague for a two-day informal meeting. Topping their agenda is the issue of climate change and finding a common EU strategy to take to the Copenhagen Climate Summit at the end of this year. The UN conference will attempt to find a replacement to the Kyoto treaty, setting worldwide targets for cutting emissions of greenhouse gases by 2012. In Prague on Tuesday, ministers are also hoping to discuss whether the EU 27 should be bound by a stricter legal framework for cutting carbon emissions.
Czech industrial output slumped by 23.4 percent on a 12-month basis in February, marking the fifth fall in a row, official data showed on Tuesday. The decline was mostly due to a drop in car production, which is usually the engine of the Czech economy, and which fell in February by 27.9 percent. Metals and machinery production also slumped, the Czech Statistical Office said. Industrial sales dropped by 20.6 percent year-on-year, while the value of new contracts was 24.7 percent lower. Month-on-month, Czech industrial output slid by 0.2 percent in February, statisticians said.
Interim Prime Minister Jan Fischer said on Tuesday that his priority over the next couple of days would be to familiarize himself with the working of the Czech Republic’s various government ministries, especially those whose agenda included the running of the Czech Republic’s EU presidency. On Tuesday, Mr Fischer met outgoing prime minister Mirek Topolánek, and spoke with the leader of the Civic Democrats for around an hour. On Wednesday, Mr Fischer is expected to meet outgoing deputy prime minister for European Affairs Alexandr Vondra and Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg. According to the caretaker prime minister’s spokesman, Roman Prorok, Mr Fischer wants to start discussing the form his interim cabinet should take with party leaders from across the political spectrum in the next couple of days. It is too early yet, however, for Mr Fischer to meet candidates for the individual ministerial positions, Mr Prorok added.
The outgoing Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg is to visit Belarus on Thursday, it has been announced. According to the ministry, this will be the first time a Czech foreign minister has ever visited the ex-Soviet country. It is thought that Mr Schwarzenberg is visiting the country to discuss the EU’s Eastern Partnership scheme, which has been championed by the Czechs during their EU presidency, and which will be unveiled formally in Prague on May 7. Belarus is one of six former Soviet states to be involved in the programme, alongside Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan, but it is not yet certain whether Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko will be invited to Prague to launch the scheme next month. The European Commission has recommended that a decision on Mr Lukashenko’s attendance of the event be postponed until the last minute.
A Polish plane which was alleged to have crashed by accident near the Slovak-Austrian border in 1975 was actually shot down by the Czechoslovak armed forces, the daily Mladá fronta Dnes claimed on Tuesday. The pilot of the civilian plane was attempting to emigrate to Austria, the newspaper writes. A new investigation into the crash, being conducted by the Slovak and Polish authorities, suggests that the Czechoslovak government gunned down the plane, and then covered it up, claiming that the crash was a ‘tragic accident’. According to Mladá fronta Dnes, the firing down of the aircraft was against military directives, and the pilot who carried out the shooting repeatedly asked his superiors whether he was really supposed to do so. The newspaper reports that the Czechoslovak military consulted with Warsaw before shooting the aircraft out of the sky.
The International Monetary Fund predicted on Tuesday that the Czech Republic’s GDP would fall in 2009 by 1.3 percent. The IMF had previously predicted that the Czech economy would grow in 2009 by up to two percent, but on Tuesday, it downscaled its forecast. According to the IMF, the Czech Republic is dealing with the fall-out of the global financial crisis relatively well and the country’s financial sector is in a relatively good state. But, the organization said, as an open economy, the Czech Republic would inevitably suffer from the global financial downturn. The IMF’s revisions follow a prediction made recently by the Czech National Bank, estimating that the country’s GDP would shrink by up to two percent this year.
The majority of Czechs believe that caretaker Prime Minister Jan Fischer will do a better job of running the country than outgoing government head Mirek Topolánek, suggests a poll conducted by the Median agency for Lidové noviny on Tuesday. Some 54 percent of respondents said that they believed the head of the Czech Statistical Office would lead the government more effectively than Mr Topolánek, whose government was toppled at the end of March. The majority of those polled said that it did not bother them that Mr Fischer had been a member of the Communist Party between 1980 and 1989. According to the survey, 63 percent of respondents said that they were unperturbed by Mr Fischer’s communist past, while 36 percent of respondents said that, for them, it was a problem. Jan Fischer is currently in negotiations to form a new cabinet before officially taking over on May 9.
The lower house has approved a constitutional law which cuts short its term and opens the way to early elections in October. The one-off proposal had the backing of the two main parties, the Civic Democrats and opposition Social Democrats. Elections now have to be formally announced by Czech President Václav Klaus. On Tuesday, the law was passed by the two-thirds majority required to make a change to the Czech Constitution.
Czech President Václav Klaus is to visit Tunisia on Wednesday. It has been announced. Mr Klaus is set to meet with supreme state representatives during his time in the country, as well as sign a bilateral agreement on economic cooperation. He will return to Prague on Friday. This will be Mr Klaus’s first official visit to Tunisia. Former prime ministers Jiří Paroubek and Vladimír Špidla have both made official trips to Tunis in the past. Tunisia is a popular destination for Czech tourists; over 216,000 Czechs visited the country in 2007.
After meeting Jan Fischer on Tuesday, outgoing Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek said that his replacement, Mr Fischer, was well aware of the task at hand. Mr Topolánek said that, in their meeting, the two men had discussed the time frame for forming a new government and the main aims that this new government should have. The meeting took place at around 15:00 CET in Prague’s Hrzánský Palace, which is Mr Fischer’s new office for the duration of his premiership. On Wednesday, Mr Fischer will meet the head of the opposition Social Democrats, Jiří Paroubek, to discuss the latter’s views on the formation of a new government.