Thursday’s session of the Chamber of Deputies was briefly interrupted when the minister of justice, Daniela Kovářová, collapsed. Former health minister David Rath and MP Boris Šťastný, both doctors, offered her medical assistance before she was helped from the lower house. The speaker ordered that camera crews not record the incident, as it would be unethical.
US Vice-President Joe Biden is due to arrive in Prague on Thursday evening ahead of talks with Czech political leaders. Mr Biden’s visit follows the cancellation of plans for a US radar base on Czech territory that would have been part of an anti-missile shield. As well as that topic, he is expected to discuss efforts by the American company Westinghouse to win a tender to supply reactors for nuclear power stations in the Czech Republic. On Friday Mr Biden will hold talks with Czech Prime Minister Jan Fischer and President Václav Klaus. He will also meet important figures from the worlds of politics, business and culture at the US ambassador’s residence in Prague.
Professor Václav Hampl will stay on as president of Prague’s Charles University for another four-year term. He was the only candidate for the post, and received the backing of 12 of the university’s 17 faculties in a vote on Wednesday. Professor Hampl, who is 47, originally specialised in physiology. Charles University, which was founded in the mid 14th century, has over 50,000 students.
The right of centre Civic Democrats have hit out at the Social Democrats’ refusal to back their choice as the Czech Republic’s European commissioner, Alexandr Vondra. Civic Democrats’ leader Mirek Topolánek said it would make sense for the two biggest parties to agree on a candidate. Otherwise, he said, whoever wins elections next spring might seek to replace the Czech commissioner. The Social Democrats are putting forward Vladimír Špidla, who is currently the commissioner for social affairs. Originally EU states were due to put forward their choices at a summit in Brussels next week. However, the fact the Czech Republic has yet not ratified the Lisbon treaty means the matter has been postponed until a later EU meeting.
Another consequential point of the Prime Minister’s policy statement was that the government can no longer postpone the privatisation of the national carrier, Czech Airlines. Pilots’ labour unions have been at loggerheads with the company’s management for months over the means by which to save the airline from economic ruin, and the latest agreement saw the unions submit to the key issue of wage cuts, on the condition however that the company remains in state hands. With the exception of Czech Airlines and a major tender for environmental waste removal, the Prime Minister said that the government does not intend to begin any new privatisation.
The EU President, Swedish Prime Minister Frederik Reinfeldt has said he
feels confident that Czech President Václav Klaus will complete
ratification of the Lisbon treaty if he receives his desired opt-out from
the Charter of Fundamental Rights. Speaking at a news briefing, Mr
Reinfeldt said that he was currently working with Czechs at various levels
to see that the exemption is made. Swedish media reported on Wednesday that
the statement was based on a recent conversation between Mr Reinfelt and Mr
Klaus. The Czech President at the weekend admitted for the first time that
Lisbon ratification was probably unstoppable.
In order for the EU reform treaty to take effect if must be ratified by each of the 27 EU states. The eurosceptic Czech President not yet signed it, and recently conditioned his endorsement on an exemption similar to the ones received by Poland and the UK. Mr Klaus says he is concerned that without such an exemption, the post-WWII Beneš Decrees expelling German property owners from Czechoslovakia could be ruled on by EU courts.
The polling agency CVVM estimates that the Social Democratic Party would have won early elections had they been held in October as previously planned. The results of a model compiled by the agency show the Social Democrats 6 points ahead of their closest rivals, the Civic Democrats, with 32% to 26% of the vote, respectively. The Communist Party comes in third place with 15%, closely followed by the fledgling centre-right party TOP 09 (14%), and the Christian Democratic Party ekes out a place in parliament with 5.5% of the estimated vote. CVVM conducted the poll from October 5 to 12, during the period in which early elections were to be held. The Constitutional Court suspended the elections due to a complaint from an MP which stated that they violated his constitutional right to complete his term of office.
Police carried out raids on right-wing radicals in three or more cities early Wednesday morning and may have arrested at least seven individuals. The Czech Police have provided little information on the raids, stating only that the operations were underway in Prague, České Budějovice and Hodonín and were the result of long-term investigations. A lawyer for some of the alleged arrestees claimed that up to 14 may have been detained in house searches stemming from concerts organised by extremist groups. In his opinion, the police are searching for links between fascist groups and the extreme right-wing Workers’ Party, which the government is requesting be banned by the Supreme Administrative Court.
Prime Minister Jan Fischer has presented his government’s policy
statement to the Chamber of Deputies, laying out the priorities for the
remainder of the interim government’s tenure. Key among those is bridging
the economic crisis, which the PM said is not yet a thing of the past. The
prime minister said that in the current economic climate no fundamental
changes would be made to the ministries, cost-cutting measures will
continue across the board, however no additional austerity package will be
put forward, unless some unforeseen economic crash occurs. Mr Fischer
emphasised that his cabinet had managed its first five months in office
well, and had met the priorities set forth in its first policy statement.
Gaining better access to EU funds, he said, would be a priority across the
ministries. Mr Fischer strongly emphasised that his is a pro-EU government,
committed to ratifying the Lisbon treaty by the end of 2009; attempts he
said were underway to negotiate the exemption from the EU Charter of
Fundamental Rights requested by President Václav Klaus.
Prime Minister Fischer’s government was originally intended as a provisional “summer government” after the elected centre-right government lost a vote of confidence in the spring. Early elections were suspended by the Constitutional Court however, and the key parliamentary parties have agreed that the government may continue its mandate without a vote of confidence until regular elections are held next year.
The raids point to a growing police crackdown on right-wing extremists. Over the course of 2009 police have made arrests connected with the Czech Republic’s relatively strict anti-fascism laws on nine occasions. Only two incidents involving extremists resulted in arrests in 2008. Most recently police detained 14 individuals in connection with a brutal arson attack on a Roma family last spring, and 26 were arrested in separate incidents during early June. The charge of promoting a movement for the suppression of human rights and hate speech in the Czech Republic can carry up to eight years in prison.
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