Czech Interior Minister Ivan Langer will visit Washington in March to discuss ways for the EU to help the United States close Guantanamo jail, it was announced on Wednesday. Mr Langer will represent the Czech EU presidency at the meeting, and will be accompanied by Justice Commissioner Jacques Barrot. EU member states welcomed last week President Barack Obama’s decision to close the detention centre at the US naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and are keen to help Washington do so. A minority of EU countries - France, Italy, Portugal and Spain – have said they may be ready to accept former prisoners.
On Wednesday evening, it was also announced that Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg would visit the United States next week. Mr Schwarzenberg is expected to meet American Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Tuesday. According to a Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Mr Schwarzenberg’s visit is yet to be fully planned and further details of the trip will be revealed on Friday.
The Chamber of Deputies voted on Wednesday to postpone a debate on whether to approve a US radar base on Czech soil. The opposition Social Democrats and coalition members the Greens voted together to have the base scratched from the agenda of this month’s parliamentary session. The Greens said that they did not want to discuss the proposed radar base when it was no longer certain that the project had the White House’s support. An article published by British paper the Times on Wednesday suggested that the new American President Barack Obama may sacrifice plans for an anti-missile defence system in Central Europe if Russia agrees to enter into talks about downscaling its nuclear arsenal. Czech prime minister Mirek Topolánek, who wanted parliament to discuss the radar on Wednesday, said that the Times’ report was just speculation, and that what was important was what Mr Obama had to say.
The Chamber of Deputies has postponed a vote on ratifying the European Union’s Lisbon treaty until February 17 at the earliest. The ruling centre-right Civic Democrats, backed by the Communists, pushed through the postponement with 115 votes in the 200-seat lower house. The Czech Republic, which currently heads the EU, is the last country in the bloc to vote on the Lisbon treaty. In December, MPs voted to put off any decision until 2009. The Czech ratification process was initially delayed when right-wing senators challenged the Lisbon treaty’s constitutionality at the Czech Constitutional Court in Brno in June.
Even if the Czech Parliament does ratify the EU reform document, the country’s eurosceptic president Václav Klaus has said that he will not sign it unless Ireland does. Irish voters rejected the Lisbon treaty in a referendum last June and are expected to vote on it again this year.
The Chamber of Deputies started debating the Czech Republic’s foreign missions for 2009 on Wednesday. In December, deputies threw out an earlier draft of the bill, which was subsequently reworked. If this draft is not approved then Czech forces could find themselves in an unprecedented situation, all having to return home. The main point of contention in the bill is a plan to raise the number of Czech servicemen in Afghanistan. The opposition Social Democrats were, in the past, opposed to this idea.
President Václav Klaus has said that he is waiting for Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg to address his concerns regarding the Czech Republic’s recognition of the International Criminal Court before he signs the respective bill into force. The Czech Republic has been criticized by the Council of Europe for being one of the last council members to acknowledge the court. On Wednesday, the head of the Czech Green Party Martin Bursík attacked Mr Klaus for delaying the ratification. The Czech Chamber of Deputies and Senate has already voted to recognize the court, the bill now awaits Mr Klaus’s signature. Mr Klaus has said that he has legal concerns about the document that he would like Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg to address before he signs it.
The Finance Ministry is prepared to raise the base capital of the Czech Export Bank by two billion crowns (90.1 million USD), a spokesperson said on Wednesday. In a bid to tackle the ongoing financial crisis, the government will inject 650 million crowns into the bank straight away, with another 300 million crowns at least to follow in the coming months. Last year, the Czech Export Bank offered loans and guarantees worth more than 20.5 billion crowns to Czech exporters and their foreign business partners.
The Czech Interior Ministry is planning to offer workers from non-EU countries, who have lost their jobs because of the global crisis, a ticket and a 500-euro bonus if they return home, Mladá fronta Dnes reported on Wednesday. Minister Ivan Langer will propose to the cabinet next week to spend a total of 55 million crowns (2.5 million USD) to this end. The ministry expects about 2,000 foreign workers to use the incentive, and predicts that some 12,000 foreign workers could lose their jobs in the first quarter of this year because of the global economic downturn.
In more business news, Czech Finance Minister Miroslav Kalousek has said that he plans to lower the rate of VAT that consumers pay in restaurants and pubs from 19 to nine percent. The financial daily Hospodářské noviny reported on Wednesday that Mr Kalousek decided upon the move following consultation with the NERV council, which was established to advise the government how best to weather the current global financial crisis. Mr Kalousek said that the move was not in order to make food cheaper for consumers, but for publicans and restaurateurs to make larger profits, so that lay-offs would not be made necessary. The move will still have to be debated in Brussels before it can come into effect.
Photographer Jan Saudek has lost his court case against his former partner Sara and son Samuel, who have the rights to the firm SAUDEK.com, and much of the photographer’s past work. On Wednesday, a Prague court threw out Mr Saudek’s claim that he never signed any contract with his former partner, and that the documents she produced which entitled her to SAUDEK.com were false. Mr Saudek’s ex partner Sara now lives with the photographer’s son. The 73-year-old artist is famous for his technicolour nude photos in particular. According to the contract which still stands after Wednesday’s ruling, SAUDEK.com is entitled to 15 percent of the profits generated by the sale of his past work.
Over fifty percent of those who voted for the Czech Green Party in the last elections would not do so again, suggests a poll conducted by the STEM agency and released on Wednesday. According to the poll, the Green’s coalition partners, the Civic Democrats, have also lost the support of a quarter of those who voted for them in 2006. The opposition Social Democrats and Communists lost the smallest share of voters, in fact, the poll suggests that they would now garner the support of new voters unhappy with the government coalition.
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