The European Commission has earmarked 24 million euros / 720 million Czech crowns/ for flood-relief projects in the Czech Republic. Half of the money is to be used for repairing damage to the country's infra-structure, the rest will be used for environment-related projects. The August floods devastated large parts of the Czech Republic, damaging nine out of thirteen regions. The overall damage estimate is close to 80 billion Czech crowns. Industrial dryers are still working around the clock and town halls are using available finances for the construction of new homes before the onset of winter.
The Russian President Vladimir Putin has said he will not take part in the upcoming NATO summit in Prague, the country will be represented by Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov. Both the former Czech Foreign Minster Jan Kavan and the country's President Vaclav Havel have invited President Putin to the summit. A decision should be made at the summit over whether seven post-communist states, including the three Baltic will be accepted in the Alliance, a scenario which has been opposed by Moscow.
Czech Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda visited Ireland on Thursday, in the hope of gaining support for EU enlargement. Mr Svoboda met with Irish President Mary McAleese, Prime Minister Bertie Ahern and other Irish supporters of the Nice treaty, which is considered a foundation for the enlargement process. Irish voters are currently preparing for a referendum on the treaty, to take place on October 19th. Last year, the people of Ireland rejected it by 54 percent to 46. At the time, however, just one in three Irish citizens bothered to vote. Opinion polls show that the majority of Irish people are in favour of enlargement.
A court in London, on Thursday, rejected a lawsuit filed by members of the Czech Roma community against British immigration controls at Prague's Ruzyne airport. After having been prevented by British customs officials from boarding a plane heading for Britain at Ruzyne airport despite carrying valid travel documents and air tickets, the group of Roma filed the lawsuit against the British authorities in the hope of receiving a court ruling that would find the airport checks discriminatory and therefore illegal. The London-based Liberty human rights organisation, which represented the Roma plaintiffs in court, said it would appeal against the ruling.
The Czech Republic is coping well with preparations for the NATO summit that is to be held in Prague late in November, NATO officials said on Thursday. Speaking to journalists after a meeting with Alexandr Vondra - the Czech government commissioner for the preparation of the summit - the officials praised the country's efforts to restore Prague after devastating floods hit the city and much of the country in August, adding that preparations for the summit were on a very good level. According to Mr Vondra, a solution has been found to the accommodation crisis that followed the floods when water had damaged the Liechtenstein palace that was to house NATO Secretary General George Robertson and his entourage as well as the Four Seasons hotel, in which other summit participants were to stay. The only major problem will be the large number of closed-off roads and metro stations that will not be functional by November 21st when the summit begins.
The European Commission has released an important annual progress report on EU candidate countries, including the Czech Republic, rating ten countries' preparation for EU expansion in 2004, and two countries' preparation for accession in 2007. A thirteenth country, Turkey, was also evaluated, but has not yet been given the green light for accession talks to begin. Overall, in the progress report, the Czech Republic received a positive evaluation and praise for economic stability and reforms in the civil and judicial sectors, although there was serious criticism of corruption, economy-based crime, and discrimination against the Roma population. Wednesday the EU executive announced that member states should now wrap-up accession talks with the Czech Republic and nine other candidate countries in December, to pave the way for EU accession in 2004.
The British deputy interior minister Beverley Hughes has revealed that new measures by British customs officials, aimed at reducing the chance of abuse of the asylum system, will reduce the likeliness of Great Britain reinstating mandatory visas for Czechs travelling to Britain. Mrs Hughes added that random checks of travellers at Prague's Ruzyne airport would continue. Mandatory visas have been applied by Great Britain to curb the flow of asylum seekers, many of them from the Roma community, in neighbouring Slovakia. However, it appears unlikely such measures would be taken in the case of the Czech Republic. British Interior Minister David Blunkett has recommended that ten EUcandidate countries, including the Czech Republic, be given 'safe' status, which would make it impossible for citizens from those countries to apply for political asylum.
The authorities in Great Britain have deported another group of Czech asylum seekers. A plane carrying almost 50 Czechs denied asylum in Britain landed in Prague on Tuesday afternoon; it was the fourth such mass deportation in recent weeks. The number of Czechs seeking asylum in Britain - most of whom are Romanies - is constantly increasing, according to UK authorities. On Monday the British Home Secretary, David Blunkett, said that the Czech Republic was not a dangerous country and the vast majority of its citizens did not qualify for asylum in Britain. For their part, Romanies say they suffer violence and constant discrimination in the Czech Republic.
The European Commission believes that the 10 candidate countries recommended to join the European Union in 2004 will be able to withstand competitive economic pressure in the block. According to a copy of the draft report, made available to journalists, the Czech Republic can expect a generally positive evaluation this year. The European Commission is reportedly happy with the pace of reform, particularly reform of the judiciary and civil service, noting that the country has made excellent progress in making its legislation compatible with that of the EU. However, it is said to be concerned with the still high level of corruption and economic crime. The European Commission's progress report on candidate states is to be approved and published on Wednesday.
The Ministry of Labour and Social affairs is launching a new national plan
to fight long-term unemployment. It includes two new schemes called First
Chance and New Start. While the former will focus on fresh graduates, the
latter is aimed at other jobless people to prevent them from remaining
unemployed for more than 12 months. Other measures will support job creation
and entrepreneurial activities.
Unemployment in the Czech Republic has been growing over the past several months as a result of a slow-down of economic development and continuing restructuring of the industry. Experts say the main problem is high long-term unemployment in former coal-mining and heavily industrialised regions of North-Western Bohemia and North Moravia, and a relatively high unemployment of young people just after school. In 2003, the unemployment rate is expected to reach 9.9 percent.
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