The Czech government has unanimously approved Prime Minister Jan Fischer’s mandate for the upcoming European summit in Brussels this Thursday and Friday. The meeting of the European Council, which will be chaired by Mr Fischer, is the last major event of the Czech Republic’s EU presidency, which ends on June 30. Items on the agenda at the European Council meeting are thought to include proposals for Ireland’s ratification of the Lisbon treaty, the appointment of the next head of the European Commission and regulation of the bloc’s financial markets. Mr Fischer is also to discuss the role of the Czech Republic’s next European commissioner, even though he said on Tuesday that it would be up to the next government to decide who should fill this post.
Some 44 percent of Czechs believe that Miroslav Kalousek’s new centre-right political party TOP 09 will succeed in making it into Parliament in October’s early elections, while 48 percent of those polled said they thought it would fail. The poll was conducted by the Factum Invenio agency and published in the daily Právo on Wednesday. Former Foreign Minsiter Karel Schwarzenberg announced last week that he would lead Mr Kalousek’s party. According to the poll, Mr Schwarzenberg’s personal popularity plays a significant role in the party’s support. Almost 50 percent of those polled said they thought Mr Schwarzenberg’s patronage would benefit the party. According to Právo, the former foreign minister enjoys more widespread popularity than former finance minister Miroslav Kalousek.
In more business news, the number of foreign workers in the Czech Republic was down in May for the fifth month running, according to figures released by the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs on Wednesday. The number of foreigners working legally in the Czech Republic was down by over 4000 to nearly 252,100 in May. This is a drop of almost 16,000 compared to the same time last year. The largest group of foreigners working in the Czech Republic is from neighbouring Slovakia, the data says, while Ukrainians and Poles come second and third respectively. So far this year, some 1664 individuals have put themselves forward for the Czech government’s voluntary repatriation scheme, which provides laid-off foreign workers with a free plane ticket home.
Czech diplomats were summoned by the Iranian government on Tuesday in light of the criticism Tehran has faced following last week’s elections. On Saturday, the Czech EU presidency expressed concern about alleged irregularities in Iran’s presidential elections. In a statement, the presidency also said that it was worried about the street violence which erupted after official results were announced. On Tuesday, Czech chargé d’affairs Josef Havlas was summoned by the Iranian government and told that ‘neither the European Union nor other countries are in the position to make interfering remarks against Iran’, especially, said the government, about the country’s recent elections.
A fifth case of swine flu has been confirmed in the Czech Republic this Wednesday. Tests have confirmed that a 49-year-old man who returned to the Czech Republic from America last week is ill with the virus. According to Health Ministry spokesperson Vlastimil Sršeň, the patient is at home and recovering well. Swine flu has been registered in 85 countries around the globe. Last week, the World Health Organisation declared a global swine flu pandemic.
The Senate passed a bill on Wednesday which obliges Czech lawyers to wear gowns when in the courtroom. The practice is already common in many other European countries, but under the previous legislation here only judges, lay judges and state attorneys wore special gowns when in a Czech court. The law must still be signed by Czech President Václav Klaus before it comes into effect. If signed, it will take effect this September. Details are yet to be finalized by the Czech Bar Association, but it is thought that lawyers’ gowns will be black with a blue rim. According to a spokesperson for the association, lawyers will have to cover the cost of the gowns themselves.
The Czech Republic’s top 100 firms registered an overall fall in profits and turnover in 2008, it was revealed on Wednesday. The top 100’s profits fell by 15 percent year-on-year to 212 billion crowns (11 billion USD), while turnover was down by just 0.5 percent, to 2.4 trillion crowns. One third of the Czech Republic’s top 100 firms registered a dip in sales. Last year’s biggest earner was again carmaker Škoda Auto, while energy giant CEZ came in second and RWE Transgas was third. The list of the Czech Republic’s top 100 firms is now in its 15th year.
Meanwhile at a landmark EU-Pakistan summit this Wednesday, chaired by Czech president Václav Klaus, the EU pledged some 124 million euros worth of aid to Pakistan. According to head of the European Commission Jose Manuel Barroso, 72 million euros have been earmarked for humanitarian aid, while the rest will be spent on tackling Islamic fundamentalism. After meeting his Pakistani counterpart, Asif Ali Zardari, Czech President Vaclav Klaus said the talks had proved ‘very important, though not easy’. Mr Klaus added that he was ‘optimistic’ about the path that Pakistan was taking under the governance of Mr Zardari.
A document of guarantees for Ireland that is to be debated at the upcoming EU summit in Brussels and which would then pave the way for Irish ratification of the Lisbon treaty should first be approved by the Czech Parliament, said President Václav Klaus on Wednesday. Mr Klaus, a fierce critic of the Lisbon treaty, said it would not be constitutional to take an ‘international policy document’ to Brussels without first the consent of the Czech Parliament. In response, Minister for European Affairs Štefan Fule said that the document was, in fact, a ‘treaty between governments’ which did not need Parliament’s backing. The document will not, therefore, go to the vote. On Wednesday, Prime Minister Jan Fischer’s mandate for the upcoming Brussels summit was unanimously approved by the government.
The leadership of the Social Democrats and Christian Democrats agreed this Wednesday to cooperate in certain areas ahead of early elections this October. Under Mirek Topolanek’s government which fell in March, the Social Democrats were in opposition in the lower house, while the Christian Democrats formed part of the government coalition. This Wednesday, the parties’ leadership agreed to work together in the fields of gambling regulation, healthcare fees and the merger of this country’s health insurers. After the meeting, head of the Social Democrats Jiří Paroubek said he welcomed changes in the Christian Democrats’ leadership which were brought about at the party congress last month. Mr Paroubek added that the Social Democrats were discussing a ‘strategic partnership’ with the Christian Democrats even after this October’s general elections.
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