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.
President Klaus came under heavy criticism in the European Parliament on Wednesday over his opt-out condition for signing the Lisbon treaty. German MEP Rebecca Harms called the Czech head of state a troublemaker who should not be accommodated, and she asked the Swedish EU presidency to reject Mr Klaus’ prerequisites at the EU summit later this month. The Parliament was the scene of a debate over the Beneš Decrees. MEPs called the decrees a pretext using an issue that had already been thoroughly discussed before the Czech Republic’s accession to the EU, when it was determined that they could not be affected retroactively. The president was not entirely beleaguered however; Mr Klaus was praised by a British MEP, who said that the Austrian and German retorts were proof that he is defending his country’s interests.
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.
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 Minister of Foreign Affairs Jan Kohout has said that the interim government will take active part in the debate over the form of any new missile defence system. The statement comes a day ahead of the arrival of American Vice President Joe Biden, who will be visiting the Czech Republic to discuss new US plans for the system. Mr Biden is currently in Poland, which was also to host a part of the system. US President Barack Obama definitively cancelled his predecessor’s plan for a missile defence system involving interceptor missiles in Poland and a tracking station in the Czech Republic, and has said his administration is currently looking at a new, more efficient system.
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.
The Workers’ Party organised a demonstration of roughly 100 people Wednesday evening to protest the raids near the Office of the Government in Prague. Some 25 police officers and a public order squad were present to monitor the protestors, who they barred from approaching the building. After a half an hour the demonstration marched under police escort to the police department where some of those detained in the morning raids are being held.
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.
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.
Conditions in the Czech Republic are expected to be overcast over the coming days with scattered showers and highs of around 10° Celsius.
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