Czech Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda confirmed on Thursday that European conservative leaders picked EU External Relations Commissioner Chris Patten as their candidate to become the next head of the European Commission. Mr Svoboda is currently at the EU summit in Brussels, where the European constitution and a successor to Commission President Romano Prodi in November are the main topics on the agenda.
Czech Deputy Foreign Minister Petr Kolar will not be heading the United Nations mission in Kosovo, as proposed by the Czech Republic. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has named Danish official Soren Jessen-Petersen as chief of the UN mission instead. Mr Jessen-Petersen succeeds former Finnish prime minister Harri Holkeri, who resigned for health reasons amid ethnic tensions in the Serbian province administered by the UN for the past five years. The choice of Jessen-Petersen, a lawyer and journalist by training who worked for the UN High Commission for Refugees in Africa in the 1970s, was seen as a surprise.
The lower house of parliament has approved a government proposal to get a loan from the European Investment Bank (EIB) for the completion of the D8 motorway, connecting the Czech Republic with Germany. The 12 billion crown loan would cover sixty percent of the cost of construction and is to be paid back within 25 years' time. The cabinet hopes to sign the loan contract with the EIB in September. The government proposal is yet to be approved by the senate and signed by the president.
The country's public television station, Czech TV, has been fined 100,000 crowns for running commercials longer than granted by state law. According to the law, Czech TV can be fined between 5,000 and 2.5 million crowns if it runs commercials for over one hour a day. The Czech Council for Radio and Television Broadcasting, which imposed the fine, says commercials ran 29 seconds past the limit on February 2.
The centre of the Moravian capital Brno was paralysed on Thursday, after a number of bomb scares caused widespread disruption and saw traffic rerouted for several hours. Police, alerted by concerned passers-by, sealed off two squares in the city centre and called in fire fighters, rescue workers, and bomb disposal experts to investigate two suspicious devices. None of the devices found contained explosives or proved dangerous. Several hours later, an anonymous caller warned of a bomb in the city's Palace of Justice. No bomb was found. Police say they are yet to determine why, how, and by whom the decoys in the city centre were made.
The Health Minister, Jozef Kubinyi, has sacked the heads of the Thomayerova hospital in Prague, and the head of the Olomouc teaching hospital in north Moravia. According to the ministry's press department, the reason for the sackings was that both men failed to manage the deepening economic problems of both hospitals. The head of the General Teaching Hospital in Prague, Pavel Horak, will be charged with running the Thomayerova hospital until a selection process for a new head is decided upon. When he took office several months ago, Minister Kubinyi said he would sack hospital directors where audits showed serious economic problems and mismanagement. Mr Kubinyi has already sacked the head of the Institute for Clinical and Experimental Medicine in Prague, even though the audit of the facility was only partially complete.
Earlier this week, the chairman of the opposition Civic Democrats, Mirek Topolanek, sent letters to the Prague embassies of EU member states saying the coalition government's poor showing in the weekend's European parliamentary election meant it had lost its legitimacy to negotiate on issues such as the EU constitution on behalf of the Czechs. Mr Topolanek said it therefore made no sense for other EU member states to negotiate with the Social Democrat-led government. The ruling coalition sharply criticised the Civic Democrats' letter and diplomats said privately that it had been a faux pas.
President Vaclav Klaus has appointed Roman law expert Michaela Zidlicka as a new constitutional judge, raising the number of the members of the body to 12 and thus enabling the court to debate complex constitutional complaints in a plenum. In all, the Constitutional Court should have 15 members. Constitutional judges are proposed by the president, but their nomination must be approved by the Senate. President Klaus has put forward 15 candidates, one of them twice, since taking office last year. The Senate has rejected five candidates and accepted eight. Earlier this year, the Christian Democrat Senator Zdenek Barta said he would file a constitutional complaint of treason against President Klaus for his delays in naming judges. According to the complaint, Mr Klaus has crippled one branch of power by not naming judges. President Klaus has rejected the allegation.
The lower house of parliament has upheld the government's mandate for talks on the EU Constitution, which are due to take place in Brussels on Thursday and Friday. After a four-hour debate on Wednesday, the lower house of parliament did not approve a proposal by the opposition obliging the government to take the views of the opposition parties into consideration during the talks in Brussels. The defeated proposal also sought to prevent the "reduction" of the Czech Republic's independence in the EU. A week ago, the government supported the proposal that Czech negotiators should advocate equal position of small and big EU members. The cabinet is pushing for one EU commissioner for each EU member state and the establishment of a rotating 18-month EU presidency of three countries in the European Council.
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