Daily news summary News

01-09-2009

Early elections likely to be postponed by Constitutional Court ruling

The Constitutional Court has ruled that early elections, currently scheduled for October 9-10 and approved by Parliament via a constitutional amendment, may be unconstitional. Technically, the ruling postpones the enforceability of a presidential decree to declare early elections; President Klaus has said the decision’s effect will be to postpone early elections indefinitely.

The ruling was the result of a formal complaint brought by independent MP Miloš Melčák regarding the constitutionality of the amendment, which shorted the tenure of members of Parliament in order to initiate early elections. The complaint, which was filed last week, states that the amendment was a violation of Mr Melčák’s right to be elected and serve out his term of office, and maintains that the constitution provides for early elections only in “extraordinary moments”, such as a national emergency.

The Constitutional Court has emphasised that it will continue to review the case, saying it needs adequate time to reach a final verdict. The court also noted the possibility that the complaint could ultimately be dismissed.

Political figures react to ruling

President Václav Klaus has called the ruling an unprecedented measure that was entirely political and would have a fundamental impact on the political system in the country. The president also stated he will work to find a speedy solution to the crisis caused by Tuesday’s ruling.

Interim Prime Minister Jan Fischer, who has been leading the country since the centre-right government of Mirek Topolánek lost a vote of no confidence in March, said he has taken the decision into account but had no immediate comment.

Civic Democratic chairman Mirek Topolánek spoke of an absurdity of record proportions, adding that the ruling could impact negatively not only on the country’s political development, but also on the current economic crisis.

Jíři Paroubek, head of the Social Democratic Party said that the decision went against the interests of Czech citizens and the country needs a stable government at a time of crisis.

The leader of the Christian Democrats, Cyril Svoboda, has said that doubt over early elections demands the immediate creation of a new political government, as the current caretaker government was only named to see the country through to early elections.

The parties were united in calling for cooperation to resolve the matter swiftly, and have asked the Constitutional Court to do likewise.

SkyEurope goes bankrupt

In other news, the Slovak-owned low-cost carrier SkyEurope, the second largest airline at Prague Airport, has gone bankrupt. Several hundred Czech citizens remain stranded abroad by the sudden closure, which has left another 7,000 clients with non-refundable tickets, as Prague’s Ruzyně Airport said it would no longer dispatch SkyEurope flights due to unsettled payments. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has said it is assisting the stranded travellers, and that most have already purchased return fares at their own expense. SkyEurope operated dozens of flights daily to 21 European cities.

Anti-discrimination law takes effect

The antidiscrimination law passed by the Czech Parliament in June takes effect Tuesday. The law, which defines discriminatory conduct and emphasises equal opportunity, was crafted to bring the Czech Republic into line with EU norms. The Czech Republic was expected to pass an antidiscrimination act in 2004 upon entry to the EU, however it was vetoed by President Klaus, who called it unnecessary as basic rights were already covered by the constitution and other acts. The Czech Republic was the last European state to pass the prescribed antidiscrimination legislation.

Winton Train leaves Prague main station

An historical train left Prague on Tuesday on a four-day journey marking the 70th anniversary of the Winton transports, which brought hundreds of predominantly Jewish children to safety in London at the outset of WWII. On board were a number of the original passengers themselves and their families, and the daughter of Sir Nicholas Winton, who organised and funded the 1939 rescue transport. Sir Winton himself will be meeting the train upon its arrival in London on September 4. The departure ceremony also included an unveiling of a statue of Winton at Prague’s Main Station. Descendants of the 669 children rescued by Nicholas Winton number over 5,000.

2009/2010 school year begins

The 2009/2010 school year began on Tuesday, with 1.3 million students, including 93,000 first-year pupils, in attendance. As is customary, President Václav Klaus and the minister of education, Miroslava Kopicová, visited two primary schools, greeting the students and awarding medallions. The number of students declined this year overall, with only a slight increase of 0.5% among first-year pupils.

New teaching methods intended to promote independent thinking are to be implemented this year for many age groups. Also reforms allowing teachers to create their own curricula will take effect in secondary schools this year.

Government passes measures to curb deficit

The Czech government outlined on Monday a series of cost-cutting measures to curb what looks set to be the biggest deficit in the country’s history. PM Jan Fischer told reporters that the cabinet will debate these bills at its next session on September 9. Mr Fischer said that if these proposals are not approved by the lower house of the Czech Parliament, the government will draft a 2010 budget with a deficit of 230 billion crowns, or nearly 13 billion US dollars.

While the prime minister said the caretaker government felt responsible for curbing the looming record deficit, leaders of the two strongest parties, Social Democrats and Civic Democrats, said earlier their parties would not support the planned measures in the lower house.

Secret service report: Russian spies use Cold War methods

Russian spies in the Czech Republic use methods that were employed by the Soviet intelligence in Western Europe in the 1980s, according to the annual report of the Czech Intelligence Service BIS released on Monday. The report said that last year Russian espionage activities in the country were on the rise, and specifically focused on US plans to build part of an American anti-missile defence shield in the Czech Republic. The Czech secret service said that Russian exponents contacted Czech politicians, particularly MPs, their assistants and the staff of Czech political parties. The report also notes that Russian spies, who are covered as diplomatic staff at Russian embassy and consulates, employ methods used by Soviet espionage in Western Europe in the last decade of the Cold War to influence the peace movement of the time.

Earlier this month the Czech Republic expelled two Russian diplomats for alleged spying. Russia then retaliated by expelling two Czech diplomats from the Czech mission in Moscow.

Former presidential hopeful Švejnar rejects Euro commissioner nomination

Former presidential candidate Jan Švejnar has definitively rejected a nomination by the Christian Democrats to become the new Czech EU commissioner, party leader Cyril Svoboda told reporters on Monday. Although Mr Švejnar originally accepted the nomination, he later changed his mind realizing the controversy that is likely to break out over the post, which must be approved by all parties.

The new Czech EU commissioner, who will replace Vladimír Špidla, will most likely be appointed after the elections. According to some diplomats, this will narrow the negotiation options about the commissioner’s portfolio.

Weather

Conditions around the country are currently clear with highs of 26 to 30° Celsius.

01-09-2009