The Czech Republic has become the first of the EU candidate countries to open an office in Brussels aimed at representing Czech businesses and lobbying specific EU political bodies. On Thursday the Czech Ministry for Trade and Industry signed a contract with the Czechtrade agency and several business associations to take charge of the Brussels office, which is expected to cost 4 to 5 million crowns in its first year. In addition to lobbying the European Union, the three-member Brussels office will also work to provide information on the EU to small and medium-sized Czech companies.
A leading German newspaper has claimed that more than 30 important members of the Taliban and al Qaeda are in hiding in several locations in Central Europe, including the Czech Republic, in order to plan an attack on Britain. Quoting a letter from Interpol to the German police, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung reported that the militants had been smuggled into Europe in the last few months. The warning letter, based on information gathered two months ago by Interpol and Europol, said the militants were now in hiding in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Austria and Bulgaria. German police have declined to comment on the report.
The European Parliament's foreign affairs committee has toned down its criticism of the Czech Republic over the so-called Benes decrees, which sanctioned the expulsion of some two and a half million ethnic Germans after the Second World War. The committee approved a draft resolution on Wednesday saying only that if a legal review of the decrees uncovered any form of discrimination, the decrees should be abolished before the country joins the EU. Politicians in Austria and Germany have called for the decrees to be abolished before the Czech Republic is allowed to join the EU.
Close to 60 Austrian anti-nuclear activists attended a protest against the Temelin nuclear power plant close to the Austrian border crossing Wullowitz on Sunday. The activists made no attempt to disrupt border traffic, gathering outside a local pub and handing out leaflets to passers by. According to reporters the event resembled a happening, with food, drink and an auction intended to raise funds for the anti-nuclear cause. Austrian anti-nuclear activists want the Czech government to close down the Temelin nuclear power plant located some 50 kms from the Austrian border, on the grounds that it is not safe. The Czech government maintains that the plant fully adheres to international safety norms.
The Czech Foreign Ministry has confirmed that 2, 960 Czechs living abroad have registered to vote in general elections in the Czech Republic, set to take place in June. According to the ministry the number is not final and may still undergo minor fluctuations. Nevertheless, original estimates in April suggested that the number of interested Czech voters abroad would be much higher, involving as many as 70, 000. Some Czechs living abroad have criticised the registration system as limiting, especially in such geographically broad countries as Canada and Australia. The system required Czechs living abroad to register at consulates by May 5th at the latest, which some say was not a realistic option; others complained that they had not been made aware it was necessary to register at all.
The Czech Helsinki Committee has released a new survey on human rights, which criticises government efforts to help improve living conditions for the Czech Republic's Roma minority. The Committee also said the number of successful requests for asylum had dropped, and corruption within the Czech police force remained a problem. Domestic violence involving mainly women and the aged has also not received enough attention, the report said. A representative of the Committee said Czech officials were poorly qualified, and claimed many turned a blind eye to human rights violations.
The Senate's Commission for European Integration plans to hold a public hearing on the future of the European Union on Thursday. The Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kavan and Freedom Union Senator Josef Zieleniec, both members of the new EU Convent, are expected to give their opinions on the Czech Republic's role in the union. As well as political parties, Daniel Herman from the Czech Bishops' Conference and Vladimir Vopalka of Charles University's Faculty of Law will also attend the hearing.
The 57th international music festival Prague Spring began on Sunday in Prague. The prestigious festival traditionally opens with Bedrich Smetana's symphonic poems "My Country", this year in a rendition by the Czech Philharmonic conducted by Japan's Ken-Ichiro Kobayashi. Established in 1946, the three-week festival is a showcase of the world's best musicians, symphony orchestras and chamber ensembles and offers 60 concerts of classical music and opera performances.
The Czech economic performance measured by per capita GDP is expected to catch up with the European Union only very slowly. A recent study by leading economic experts from Czech universities suggests that the Czech per capita GDP will grow from the current 60 percent of the EU average to 70 percent by 2010, which is seven years after the country's expected accession. Although the Czech Republic is significantly lagging behind the EU in economic performance, it is the second most advanced candidate country, after Slovinia. Economic performance of most of the other candidates is lower than 50 percent of the EU average. The Czech Republic's economic level is approximately the same as that of Ireland and Greece at the moment of their accession, and much higher than Portugal's, which was only 52 percent of the rest of the EU.