The Czech EU presidency will call an extraordinary EU summit in May on the continuing economic crisis and its impact on unemployment. European Commission President José Manuel Barroso made the announcement after meeting with Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek in Brussels on Wednesday. The Czech prime minister said that the meeting of heads-of-state and government leaders would be held in Prague and would be informal. The aim: to streamline and put into practice measures aimed at buoying employment during the economic downturn. The Czech Republic alone saw more than 40,000 lose jobs in January.
Another extraordinary summit, to discuss the impact of the crisis on the European economy, has been set for March 1 in Brussels. On Wednesday Czech President Václav Klaus repeated earlier criticism that he did not think the summit would prove effective.
The Czech Statistical Office has revealed that industrial output in the Czech Republic fell by 14.6 percent in December – the third straight drop amidst the global economic downturn. The numbers, say analysts, are further confirmation the country is in recession. In December almost all industrial sectors slumped compared to the previous year: car production dropped by more than 20 percent, electronics by 15.5, and metal and steel production by just over 25 percent. Overall, sales in industry fell by 13.7 percent. Analysts do not see improvement as likely in the coming months.
Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg and other EU representatives have held talks with Russian officials to discuss ways of improving relations. The foreign minister travelled to Moscow after meeting with Hillary Rodham Clinton in the US a day earlier, where the future of US missile defence was discussed. Mr Schwarzenberg stressed that the EU and Russia needed to make progress on a new strategic partnership agreement during the Czech EU presidency. The EU agreed to resume talks on the agreement after suspending them over Russia's war with Georgia. EU-Russia relations were also tested this January by Russia’s cutting off of natural gas supplies to Europe.
An amendment to the country’s health bill on Wednesday will mean that health care fees at the doctor's will no longer be mandatory for those under the age of 18. The bill, modified by the Senate, was passed by a majority of coalition lawmakers in the Chamber of Deputies. Until now all Czechs visiting the doctor’s were required to pay 30 crowns per visit, 60 per day in hospital, and 90 crowns for visits to the emergency ward. Minors will only be exempt from the 30 crown fees. The amendment will still have to be signed by the president before coming into law. Health care fees have been a major issue dividing the government and the opposition, which has pledged to strike them down altogether
The Czech Publishers Association and the World Association of Newspapers have appealed to Czech President Václav Klaus not to sign a new amendment to the country’s criminal code. The amendment, approved recently by the lower house, includes a ban on the publishing or broadcasting of police wiretap material. In a letter to the president, the journalists’ and publishers’ organisations write that it is not the state but the media who should make decisions on when to go public with information. They also stressed that the five year sentence for violating the ban was “unacceptable”. Until now, the Czech media relied regularly on police transcripts to point to connections, for example, in organised crime.
The Czech President Václav Klaus has poked fun at his French counterpart Nicolas Sarkozy, saying the French president aspired to be Europe's “permanent chairperson”. The AFP news agency reported that Mr Klaus made the joke on Wednesday during a foreign policy debate in Paris. During France's six-month EU presidency, Mr Sarkozy was seen as highly active on numerous fronts but on occasion the French leader has since raised the ire of Czech officials. Most recently he drew criticism from the Czech Republic – now heading the EU presidency - over his suggestion that French automakers should shut down factories in central Europe and relocate to France. The idea has sparked fears over protectionism.
A new Eurobarometer survey has suggested that 46 percent of Czechs rate EU membership positively. The number is less than the overall EU average of 53 percent. 40 percent are neutral on the issue, while 12 percent hold a negative view. The survey was conducted in the autumn of 2008. In other data, more than three-fourth of Czechs (78 percent) consider their country’s heading of the EU presidency important. Two-thirds of Czechs also said they had registered information on the Czech presidency in the media, the survey showed.
English football club, Chelsea, home to Czech goalkeeper Petr Čech, will be led by Dutch coach Guus Hiddink following the firing of Luiz Felipe Scolari. After the Brazilian’s surprise dismissal this week, speculation emerged that Čech and other key players had had an influence. But the player has reportedly denied any role. British tabloid The Sun has suggested that the star goalkeeper had been at odds with the former manager over key changes in training.
Thursday is expected to be mostly cloudy with a chance of snow in places. Daytime temperatures are expected to remain below zero, at -1 degree Celsius.
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