A series of votes across the Czech Republic by regional assemblies of the Civic Democratic Party, appear to be strengthening the position of the incumbent party leader Mirek Topolánek. The votes are taking place ahead of the Civic Democrat party conference to be held in a week’s time, when Prague mayor Pavel Bém will challenge Mr Topolánek for the leadership of the party. Despite the continuing struggles within the Civic Democrats, both opinion polls as well as the results from the regional votes appear to suggest that Mr Bém will have a hard time ousting his incumbent colleague. So far, Mr Topolánek has been endorsed by six regional assemblies, while his opponent has yet to gain a single region-wide endorsement. However, the Prague assembly is widely expected to endorse Mr Bém, where the challenger serves as the city’s major. So far, nine of fourteen such votes have taken place, with Mr Topolánek winning endorsements from party members in the Pardubice, Zlín, Plzeň, Olomouc, Jihlava and southern Moravia regions. Another three regions have voted to endorse neither candidate.
One of the largest meat-processing factories in the Czech Republic, Masokombinát Klatovy, west of Prague, has announced both a cut in production as well as a round of layoffs. According to news sources, 180 of 208 of the company’s worker’s are to be made redundant. Analysts say that the layoffs are unrelated to the global economic slowdown, but rather reflect the long-term financial woes and deep debts of the company, which has existed since before the Velvet Revolution.
A top advisor to the Czech president Václav Klaus has stated that he believes that Mr Klaus should take the matter of the Lisbon Treaty to court himself. Ladislav Jakl also stated that he believes that the EU document, if approved, would signal the end of the Czech Republic as a sovereign country – a view similar to that of the Czech president. It is unclear whether Mr Klaus will heed the advice and argue the matter before the Constitutional Court in person during a full hearing, but in a Czech media interview, Mr Jakl stated that he hopes that others will join the president in an effort to, as he put it, save the sovereignty of the country. The Czech president has previously visited the Court, and argued his case in an informal preliminary hearing last week. Meanwhile, the head of the Czech Constitutional Court Pavel Rychetský has stated that a renewed challenge to the Lisbon Treaty on constitutional grounds would leave the challenger with “very little room for manoeuvre”.
The Green Party Education Minister Ondřej Liška has stated that he intends to push for discussions on the possible impeachment of the Czech President Václav Klaus. The comments were made in an interview with the daily Právo, in which Liška stated that he does not consider Mr Klaus to be his president, and that if impeachment proceeding were seriously discussed, he would be “at the front of the line.” The Education Minister criticized the Czech president for his activities opposing the Lisbon Treaty, which Mr Liška stated were far beyond the purview of the role assigned to Mr Klaus as an apolitical president. Under Czech law, the president can only be removed from office for treason, or if he or she is unable to carry out their function. Commenting on the difficulty of removing the Czech president from his post, Mr Liška stated that: at the point when the head of state starts actively undermining the foreign policy of the government he is supposed to represent, then a serious discussion about impeachment must be undertaken. Most Green Party members have long opposed the Czech president, in particular for his controversial views on man-made climate change.
New figures cited by the website aktualne.cz reveal that Czechs have been wary of the effects of the global financial crisis for far longer than was initially believed. While household spending for 2007 climbed by 15% on the previous year, this year’s figures show a large trail-off to only 2%. When adjusted for inflation, the figures in fact reveal that Czechs bought less goods and services than last year. Despite being more isolated from the effects of the global financial crisis than much of Western Europe, the Czech National Bank has decreased the growth forecast for the Czech Republic for 2009, but so far, talk of an actual recession has been minimal.
The Czech government has revealed a list of priorities as well as a motto for its impending presidency of the European Union, which begins 1 January 2009. Its motto for the presidency will be “Europe without barriers” – while plans include an emphasis on increased free trade, sustainable energy development, a lowering of EU-wide carbon dioxide emissions, and continued discussions about Croatia’s potential EU entry. Other priorities include dealing with the contentious issue of the Lisbon Treaty on a European level, the setting up of an EU conference on human rights in Cuba, and efforts to gain the attendance of then President Barack Obama at an informal EU summit next spring – though the latter goal may be complicated by the president’s attendance at a different summit in London at the same time. The Czech government is reportedly spending more than 3 billion crowns in preparations for its six-month term at the head of the European Union.
The Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek has revealed that he was aware of plans to create a Eurosceptic pro-Klaus splinter party even before the February presidential elections. The comments were made during a television interview, in which the PM added that despite this information, he remained loyal to the president and did everything in his power to secure Mr Klaus’ re-election. Commenting on the plans to create Libertas’cz, based on the Irish lobby group, Mr Topolánek stated that he believed that the Civic Democrats will be able to continue as a strong and unified party. In separate comments, the Czech PM conceded that efforts by the government to ratify the Lisbon Treaty by the end of the year will be difficult.
The spiritual leader of Tibet, the Dalai Lama has arrived in Prague for the first time since 2006. The brief visit includes meetings with Tibetan representatives as well as a lecture on issues relating to the theme of understanding, which is being held at the Prague Congress Centre on Sunday. The Dalai Lama has been a frequent visitor to Prague over the years as well as a regular guest of former president Václav Havel’s annual Forum 2000 conference. However, ill-health forced the Buddhist leader to miss this year’s meeting. After visiting Prague, the Dalai Lama is expected to visit the European parliament as well as meet with the French president Nicolas Sarkozy. The Czech Republic remains a steadfast supporter of the “Tibetan cause,” which has often caused tensions with China.
Large numbers of skiers are expected to head for the Czech mountains during the weekend, as the country begins its skiing season. Snow has reached many of the key resorts in the country including the Špindlerův Mlýn resort in the Krkonoše Mountains. Friday saw many resorts open their skiing facilities for the first time this season, and many are expecting visitors not just from the Czech Republic, but from neighbouring Poland and Germany as well.
A number of Roma representatives from around the country have agreed to call for the ousting of Džamila Stehlíková, the Czech Republic’s Minister for Minorities and Human Rights. The Roma representatives included the noted deputy chairman of the government's Council for Romany Issues Ivan Veselý. The reasons behind the call are said to be Ms Stehlíková’s alleged poor handling of an ongoing situation in the town of Litvínov, north-west of Prague, where far-right groups have marched on Roma housing estates, purportedly calling for a restoration of law and order, but according to Roma, simply terrorising the residents. During the latest event organised by the far-right Workers' Party in Litvinov, about 1000 riot policemen clashed with some 500 far-right radicals, in an incident that was described as some the worst of its kind seen in the Czech Republic for many years. Ms Stehlíková has dismissed the calls, stating that in her view, the time is not right to be apportioning blame.
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