A historic referendum on the Czech Republic's accession to the European Union has endorsed EU membership. According to a final result published by the Czech Statistical Office 77 percent of voters cast ballots in support of EU entry, 23 percent voted against. The turnout was 55 percent. Support for EU membership reportedly came from all strata of society and from all political parties.
Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla has described this as an excellent result and thanked Czechs for their participation in the country's first ever referendum. He said that the result gave the government, which has a narrow one-vote majority in the Lower House, a strengthened mandate to enact key reforms needed for the eventual adoption of the euro. Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda said the outcome was a success for all Czech citizens. Although no minimum turnout was required, a fairly strong turnout was important for the ruling coalition which has spent 200 million crowns on a campaign promoting EU membership. Joining the European Union has been the country's main foreign policy goal since the fall of communism in 1989.
The European Commission also thanked the Czech electorate for voting "yes". "The Czech Republic takes the place it was always entitled to" said the Commission's chief representative in Prague Mr. Ramiro Cibrian. Congratulations have come from the EU Commissioner for expansion Mr. Gunter Verheugen, from Greece which currently holds the rotating EU presidency and from representatives of the European Parliament.
Both EU members and EU candidates have congratulated the Czech Republic on making "the right decision" and "putting faith in the future of the European Union". A message from the French minister for European Affairs Noelle Lenoir welcomed Czechs in the EU and said that the return of the Czech Republic to Europe was excellent news for all. In Vienna, Foreign Minister Benita Ferrero Waldner welcomed Czechs to the EU with a few sentences in Czech.
The Czech Republic is one of ten predominantly former communist states set to join the European Union next May in a "big bang" eastward expansion. Voters in Poland, Malta, Slovenia, Hungary, Lithuania and Slovakia have already approved accession in national referenda. Estonia and Latvia are to vote in September
Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla has said he will resign from office if a proposed budget reform fails to get approval from Parliament. In an interview for the daily Pravo, Mr. Spidla said that the need for reform was so pressing that if the ruling coalition failed to win approval for its proposal it would be necessary to give someone else a chance to succeed. "Reform is an absolute necessity for the Czech Republic and it must be implemented by this government -or another- as quickly and efficiently as possible" the Prime Minister told the paper. The government's proposal for budget reform has elicited strong protests from trade unions, who claim that the main burden would lie on the socially weaker groups of the population.
Czech Airlines pilots have agreed to continue flying charter flights even if a planned strike goes into effect next Tuesday. Following weeks of controversy with Czech Airlines management over higher wages and improved contracts most of the national carrier's 350 pilots say they will join a planned strike starting next Tuesday afternoon. Following a crisis meeting on Friday, the pilots union said that since they did not want to complicate matters for vacationers pilots would continue flying irregular charter flights. Three such flights are set for the first day of the strike alone. On a regular day, Czech Airlines have an average 160 flights, transporting 10,000 travelers to destinations around the globe. A strike would cost the airlines an estimated 30 million crowns per day.
Sunday is expected to be partly cloudy, with scattered showers and day temperatures between 24 and 28 degrees Celsius.
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