Prague is hosting two European Union summits on jobs and improving ties with six former Soviet states on Thursday as part of its European Union presidency. Representatives of the 27 members of the bloc are set to discuss how to deal with the impacts of the financial crisis on employment and how to help the jobless get back to work at the city’s Congress Centre. The same venue will later host the launch of the EU’s Eastern Partnership initiative, which aims to strengthen ties with, Ukraine, Belarus, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Moldova. Many EU and Eastern leaders have chosen not to attend the second summit.
Police in the far east of the Czech Republic have launched patrols to protect the endangered brown bear in the Beskydy nature reserve. The move follows the discovery last week of the remains of one animal in a bag with the hide and other body parts removed as hunting trophies. The Czech branch of Friends of the Earth have offered a 100,000 crown reward for the capture of the poacher. The brown bear is classified as a critically endangered species in the Czech Republic with the Beskydy area one of the few where it exists.
The Czech Republic’s trade balance in March posted a record surplus of 23.4 billion crowns, or around 1.17 billion dollars, the Czech Statistical Office announced on Thursday. The surplus is the largest ever recorded in the country and represents a 14.1 billion crown improvement on the figure in March 2008. Two of the main factors fuelling the surplus were a lower deficit in oil and other fuels and a higher than expected surplus for manufactured goods. During the first quarter, the Czech trade surplus has improved by 1.4 billion compared with the same period a year earlier.
The head of the eurosceptical party Libertas has welcomed President Václav Klaus’s declaration he will not sign the Lisbon treaty following Wednesday’s vote in favour by the Czech upper house, the Senate. Libertas’s head Declan Ganley said he was pleased by President Klaus’s stance. The Czech head of state said after the Senate vote that he would wait on the outcome of an expected referral of the treaty to the Constitutional Court by a group of Civic Democrat senators. Libertas’s leader said President Klaus was standing by the people of Ireland and would not ratify the treaty without their consent. The Czech President has said in the past that he would not sign the treaty until the Irish people overturned their previous referendum rejection of the package of EU reforms.
In ice hockey, the Czechs face a crunch world championship quarterfinal match against Sweden on Thursday night. The match has been billed as the most important the Czechs have played so far this year. Czech optimism has been riding high that star player Jaromír Jagr can lead them to victory. The team has a point to prove after being bundled out of the world championships without a medal by the Swedes last year.
Two members of the incoming caretaker government of Prime Minister Jan Fischer have come under attack even before they have taken up office. The new Minister of Transport, Gustáv Slamečka, turns out to have Slovak citizenship. The main opposition party, the Social Democrats, says this could pose security problems. Meanwhile the new Minister of Culture Václav Riedlbauch has come under criticism for his active past in the pre-Velvet Revolution Communist Party. According to Thursday’s Lidové noviny, Riedlbauch tried to stop musicians heeding students’ pleas they take part in a protests against the Communist regime in November 1989 which eventually caused it to fall. He was an artistic director at the National Theatre at the time.
In related news, outgoing European Affairs Minister Alexandr Vondra said ahead of the Eastern Partnership summit that it is a way of offering these countries the highest possible relations with the EU given that they were not yet ready for membership. It was not a substitute for joining the EU, he added. The upgrade in relations for some countries could mean that they sign association agreements with the EU. These set out a broad framework for cooperation. EC President Jose Manuel Barroso said at the summit's conclusion that the new agreements would push political and economic reforms which could bring the countries closer to the EU. Separately, Mr Vondra said he would have expected the leaders of large EU countries such as Britain, France, Italy and Spain to have attended the meeting.
Znojmo beer has been given protected status by the European Commission. The Commission announced in Brussels on Thursday that the beer had been given protected geographical indication status, meaning that nowhere from outside the area can use the name. The application for the special status was made several years ago and continued when the Brno-based brewery Starobrno was bought by multinational brewing giant Heineken. But it is not yet clear if the brewer will relaunch the mark. Around 850 products have so far been awarded geographical protection across Europe.
The Czech National Bank cut its main interest rate by a quarter of a percentage point on Thursday. The move reduces the rate to 1.5 percent, the lowest level since the creation of the Czech Republic. Many analysts had expected the cut thanks to the low outlook for inflation and the need to boost the lagging economy. The Czech cut still means its main interest rate is higher than in the eurozone.
An EU-Canada summit was held in Prague on Wednesday as part of the Czech Republic’s presidency of the European Union. The summit saw the official launch of bilateral talks on free trade which would, among other things, allow for the lowering of tariffs and co-operation between the two sides on determining the origin of commodities. The EU and Canada could both gain EUR 20 billion a year from an agreement that should be completed by 2011. One point of contention ahead of the meeting was a European Parliament ban on Canadian seal products, though Canada’s trade minister, Stockwell Day, said the matter should not preclude agreement on a trade deal.