The European Commission has published its annual progress report on 10 EU candidate countries, the last before they are due to join the union in May of 2004. The report says that although the "newcomers" have made great progress in implementing EU norms and regulations there are serious concerns in 39 specific sectors relating to movement of people, farm payments and health and sanitation standards. The Czech Republic has been urged to speed up the approval of laws relating to recognition of diplomas, road transport and farm aid systems. The EC is also unhappy with the steep deficit in public finances and the high level of corruption in the Czech Republic.
The response from Prague to the EC's report has been generally optimistic. Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla said the report had been more or less what the Cabinet expected. He said that the government was aware of the country's shortcomings and that everything was being done to resolve the outlined problems before the country's joins the EU next May. Czech Foreign ministry officials have likewise stated that the Czech Republic is ready to meet its remaining obligations within the set time limit.
Liechtenstein has said it will sign the agreement on an expanded European Economic Area despite its earlier refusal to do so because of open disputes with the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Lichtenstein threw a damper on hopes of creating a large area of free trade, finance and travel in Europe, when it walked away from the agreement a few weeks ago. Norway and Iceland also refused to sign in a show of solidarity. The refusal came after the Czech Republic and Liechtenstein crossed swords over sensitive SWW issues. Liechtenstein demanded that the Czech Republic open the door to property claims by its citizens relating to past confiscation of land and property - a demand that Prague refused to comply with. Liechtenstein said on Wednesday that it did not want to block progress on European integration and would sign the agreement, along with Norway and Iceland. Its officials have stressed however that this does not signify any change in position regarding the unresolved SWW issues.
The police say they have detained a blackmailer who threatened to explode a shopping centre in Prague if he did not receive 50 million crowns from the state. The money was to be placed in a bag and tossed from an express train going from the West Bohemian town of Cheb to the Czech-German border. The police say they are confident they have the right man and will be pressing charges. No further details have been released. The police have had to deal with a growing number of extortionist cases this year, with blackmailers threatening to blow up rail tracks, hospitals or shopping centres.
Thursday is expected to be partly cloudy with intervals of rain and shine and day temperatures between 6 and 10 degrees Celsius.
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