On the sidelines of an EU-Canada summit on Wednesday, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper discussed the issue of Czech asylum seekers in his country with his Czech counterpart, Mirek Topolánek. The latter told reporters that Mr Harper had said the Czech Republic was beginning to breach one of the conditions under which Ottawa had granted Czechs visa free status, namely that the number of asylum applicants was getting too high. The Canadian leader said if there was no improvement in this respect, his country would have to react. In the first three months of this year over 650 Czech citizens, many of them from the country’s Romany minority, have applied for asylum in Canada. Ottawa dropped visa requirements for Czechs in 2007, a decade after introducing them following a wave of asylum seekers.
The left-of-centre Social Democrats are likely to receive the most votes in elections to the European Parliament in June. A poll conducted this month by the STEM agency for Czech Television suggested the party would get 30.9 percent of the vote. The conservative Civic Democrats would come second with a quarter of the vote, the survey indicated, while the Communists would receive 11.4 percent of ballots.
The man set to become finance minister in an interim Czech government is planning a public sector pay freeze next year, according to press reports on Wednesday. Eduard Janota’s proposal contradicts a decision this week by the outgoing government to increase salaries in the state sphere by 3.5 percent in 2010. Mr Janota, who like the rest of a caretaker cabinet should be appointed on Friday, is also planning only a slight increase in old-age pensions, which will rise by only CZK 230 a month.
The Czech president, Václav Klaus, now has to put his signature to ratification in order for it to come into effect. A group of euro-sceptic Civic Democrat senators have proposed sending the treaty to the Czech Constitutional Court; Mr Klaus said after Wednesday’s vote that if they do so, he will not put his signature to Lisbon until the court rules on whether the document is in line with the Czech constitution. A request last year from Civic Democrat senators for the court to consider the treaty put the matter on ice for some months and is one reason the Czech Republic is among the last states to deal with its ratification. President Klaus also said he would not sign ratification until Lisbon has been approved by Ireland. He reiterated his view that Ireland's no vote in a referendum last year rendered the treaty a dead document.
A large new commercial development is set to go up near the bottom of Prague’s main thoroughfare Wenceslas Square, the Czech News Agency reported. Construction work will begin in March 2011 on a large shopping and office centre on a site between the square and the Na Příkopě, Jindřišská and Panská streets. It is expected to house up to 3,000 office workers and employ another 11,500 in shops, restaurants and other businesses.
Czech teenagers are among the world’s leaders in smoking cigarettes, according to an OECD report quoted by the newspaper Lidové noviny. The latest OECD figures, for the years 2005 and 2006, indicate that 23 percent of 15-year-old Czech girls regularly smoke, the second highest percentage recorded in the international survey. Twenty percent of Czech boys of that age are also regular smokers, putting them fourth in the world rankings.
An EU-Canada summit was held in Prague on Wednesday as part of the Czech Republic’s presidency of the European Union. The summit saw the official launch of bilateral talks on free trade which would, among other things, allow for the lowering of tariffs and co-operation between the two sides on determining the origin of commodities. The EU and Canada could both gain EUR 20 billion a year from an agreement that should be completed by 2011. One point of contention ahead of the meeting was a European Parliament ban on Canadian seal products, though Canada’s trade minister, Stockwell Day, said the matter should not preclude agreement on a trade deal.
The Czech Senate has voted to ratify the European Union’s Lisbon treaty, two and a half months after it was approved by the lower house. The motion was passed when 54 out of 79 senators present raised their hands for Lisbon ratification in Wednesday afternoon’s vote. It was effectively decided by members of the Civic Democratic Party, which had previously been opposed to Lisbon: twelve of the party’s senators voted in favour of its ratification.
Czechs have insufficient access to information from state authorities, the ombudsman, Otakar Motejl, said on Wednesday. Mr Motejl said officials often refused to provide requested information without offering any reason why. This led, he said, to citizens not having an equal position, and not being able to defend themselves effectively. The ombudsman was particularly critical of the ministries of the interior and health.
The editors of several Czech newspapers and news websites have written to prime minister designate Jan Fischer asking him to amend or support the amendment of a law they regard as an attack on the freedom of the press. The so-called muzzling law, which came into effect at the start of April, prevents the media from naming the victims of crimes and publishing or broadcasting police wire-taps.