The Senate has passed an amendment to the election law allowing Czechs living in the United States to vote in June's elections a day earlier than voters in the Czech Republic. The amendment overcomes the delay which would have been caused by the time difference between the two countries, and means election results can be released at 2 in the afternoon on July 15.
The cabinet has approved the setting up of special pre-school classes for Roma children in a bid to eradicate the large gap between them and other pupils. Under the Education Ministry proposal nurseries and primary schools with large numbers of Roma children will provide pre-school classes. Critics say Roma children are at an automatic disadvantage when they enter the Czech school system, because of language, cultural and social differences. Many end up in special schools for the mentally handicapped. The cabinet also approved the establishment of special educational facilities for children of asylum seekers.
Amidst continuing controversy over the post-war Benes decrees , the EU's ambassador to Prague Ramiro Cibrian has said that the possibility of compensating ethnic Germans expelled from Czechoslovakia after the SWW must be resolved on bilateral level. He repeated that the EU did not consider the controversial Benes decrees an obstacle to Czech EU membership and suggested that the states involved resolve the matter between them. Sudeten German groups in Austria have been pushing for an international platform where they could present their property claims. One is the EU, another the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. The Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schussel does not approve of either of those proposals. In a related development, a delegation of Czech parliament deputies led by Foreign Minister Jan Kavan on Tuesday presented the Czech Republic's stand on the controversial Benes decrees to the European Parliament.
The Czech Republic has vowed to push for a fair allocation of seats in the European Parliament. The Czech Republic was allotted 20 seats under the terms of the Nice Treaty signed in December 2000, but it feels short-changed since other EU states with a similar sized population such as Belgium have more seats. The Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kavan said in Brussles on Tuesday it was important for the Czech Republic to join the Union on an equal footing and that his country would push for an adjustment. Hungary is in a similar position.
Austrian politicians have protested against EU Enlargement Commissioner Gunter Verheugen's statement that the post-war Benes decrees were no obstacle to the Czech Republic's EU membership. The Austrian Foreign Minister Benita Ferrero Waldner said the Commissioner's attitude was " a bit strange". On the television programme Press Hour she said the Czech side was also aware that something needed to be done and that she was confident that "a good solution" could be found. Attacks on Mr. Verheugen also came from the Freedom Party. Peter Westenthaler, Freedom Party leader in Parliament, described Mr. Verheugen's words as " a monstrous provocation to Austria". The Benes decrees sanctioned the expulsion of 2.5 million ethnic Germans from Czechoslovakia at the end of the SWW and some Austrian and German politicians insist that they must be revoked before the Czech Republic joins the EU .
A team of French experts has ascertained that certain regions in the Czech Republic are not properly prepared to receive EU funding. The five member team spent a week on a fact finding mission in several Czech regions and concluded that three regions in the north-eastern part of the country the Pardubice, Hradec Kralove and Liberec regions need more time and know- how before they can be trusted to make good use of EU funds.
The European Commission and the Czech Republic are discussing measures which should ensure that, upon admission, the country's annual contribution to EU coffers is not higher than the amount received in EU subsidies. EU officials agree that this might happen since the annual contribution to EU coffers is paid as a lump sum while the various EU subsidies are paid gradually. This would violate the EU solidarity principle with poorer countries. In order to avoid this the Czech Republic has asked for a transitional period during which it would pay lower annual contributions. The European Commission is against the idea and has suggested a special EU fund from which any sustained losses could be covered.
The Temelin nuclear power plant in South Bohemia is expected to restart operation of its first reactor in mid-next week - almost two months after it was shut down due to technical problems. The plant's staff will finish tests on the first reactor and prepare the second reactor for launching later next week. Meanwhile, a team from the International Atomic Energy Agency has carried out an inspection of the plant. The team's leader, David Rex Ek said after the inspection that Temelin's safety system was modern, well maintained and comparable to similar systems in Western Europe.
The commissioner for European Union enlargement, Guenter Verheugen, has confirmed that the debate over the controversial Benes Decrees will have no impact on the Czech Republic's accession to the EU. In a joint statement drafted with Czech Prime Minister Milos Zeman on Thursday the comissioner said that the decrees were no longer legally effective, adding that property restitution was not a European matter, but a matter for the Czech Republic. In recent months the Benes Decrees, which sanctioned the expulsion of some 2.5 million ethnic Germans from Czechoslovakia after the Second World War, had been the subject of renewed discontent among Austrian, German, and Hungarian politicians. Some had called for the annulment of the Benes decrees as a pre-EU accession requirement for the Czech Republic.
President Vaclav Havel has said Czech citizens will not lose their identity after the Czech Republic joins the European Union. Speaking during a visit to fellow EU candidate Malta, the Czech president said he was convinced that nations would maintain their identity within a strong European Union. Mr Havel has decided to stay in Malta for an extra 10 days as a guest of his Maltese counterpart Guido de Marco. The president decided to prolong his stay because doctors said the climate would be good for his health. Mr Havel suffers from chronic bronchitis, and underwent surgery for lung cancer in 1996.
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