The German federal government said it would maintain controls on its eastern borders even after the Czech Republic and Poland join the EU in May next year. Germany believes it may be necessary to keep passport controls on the border for up to ten years after the enlargement. Their abolition is conditional on the ability of the new member states to meet the criteria stipulated by the Schengen Treaty on the security of the European Union's external borders.
Social Democrat Prime Minister Vldimir Spidla has asked former education minister and university Professor Jan Sokol to become his party's candidate for the presidential office. Sokol has not rejected the offer and is waiting for the reaction of other political parties. According to the Czech public service television, a junior member in the ruling coalition, the Christian Democrats have expressed support to Mr. Sokol and the opposition Communist party did not rule out their support either. The right-of-centre opposition Civic Democrats have already nominated their former leader Vaclav Klaus as their official candidate. On Friday, the speaker of the Lower House set February 28th as the official date for a third round of Czech presidential elections to try and elect a successor to former president Vaclav Havel, whose term in office ended last Sunday.
On Friday, just a few hours after the speaker of the Lower House Lubomir Zaoralek announced the date for new presidential elections, all 26 Civic Democrat senators in the Upper House voted unanimously to nominate Vaclav Klaus. In the first two sets of elections in January Mr Klaus was nominated first by Civic Democrat MPs.
The speaker of the Lower House, Lubomir Zaoralek, has set February 28th as the official date for a third round of Czech presidential elections to try and elect a successor to former president Vaclav Havel, who stepped down last Sunday. Midnight, on Tuesday, February 25th, will the final deadline for deputies and senators to submit the names of presidential contenders. At the moment the Social Democrats and the Christian Democrats, two parties in the country's governing coalition, are attempting to come up with a joint candidate, while the opposition Civic Democrats are backing former party chairman Vaclav Klaus. Many observers still say, however, that the chances of quickly finding a successor to former president Vaclav Havel remain low. If parliament fails to elect a president on February 28th, the Czech Republic will remain without a figurehead for several months, before changes in the constitution would lead to a direct presidential vote.
The three parties in the governing coalition remain divided over whether the Czech parliament should attempt to elect a new Czech president for a third time or whether the president should be elected in a popular vote. While representatives of the Freedom Union pushed for a direct vote at Thursday's meeting, the Social Democrats and the Christian Democrats are still hoping to find a common candidate who could gather enough votes in both houses of parliament. The senior coalition partner, the Social Democrats propose the vote should take place within the next thirty days.
The chairman of the opposition Civic Democrats Mirek Topolanek has said his party is in favour of direct presidential election but does not oppose a possible third attempt by the Czech parliament to elect a new head of state. The Civic Democrats' candidate, former party leader Vaclav Klaus, won the most support in both inconclusive votes held in January and, according to opinion polls, stands the most chance if a popular vote were to take place.
Mr Rychetsky's announcement came less than 24 hours after two other candidates - both academics with no political background - also withdrew from the race. The ruling coalition has given itself three weeks to find a suitable candidate, ahead of a third attempt by parliament to elect a successor to President Vaclav Havel, who retired on Sunday after 13 years in the post. However, the two junior parties in the ruling coalition say they want to abandon a third attempt and begin moves to introduce a popular vote instead, something supported by a large majority of the public. Changing the Constitution to introduce direct presidential elections would take several months.
Efforts by the ruling coalition to find a candidate for president have run into fresh difficulties, increasingly the likelihood of the current parliamentary system being replaced by a popular vote. The latest setback came on Wednesday, when deputy prime minister Pavel Rychetsky said he would no longer consider standing for the post. Mr Rychetsky said his candidature was conditional on the unanimous support of all three parties in the ruling coalition. A senior cabinet member has said the problem is with Mr Rychetsky's own party, the Social Democrats. He said Mr Rychetsky had failed to gain the support of all the party's 81 MPs and Senators.
The attempt to find a replacement for Mr Havel took a bizarre turn on Wednesday, when the Czech pop singer Karel Gott announced he would stand for president if a direct vote was held. Mr Gott, who first sprung to fame in the 1960s, is known for his sugary ballads and well-publicised love affairs. A group of musicians made the announcement on his behalf at a press conference in Prague. The 63-year-old singer is currently on tour on Germany, where he is massively popular, particularly among older women.
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