Hello and welcome to the programme. I'm AS and we start with a bulletin of domestic news:
A bill on the 1999 state budget is the only topic discussed on Tuesday by the government at the Kolodeje chateau near Prague. The Social democrat cabinet forecasts the revenues of some 580 billion crowns, while the planned deficit amounts to nearly 27 billion. Before the extraordinary session, the ministers met with Social democratic deputies, including all members of the parliamentary budget committee. But even Social democrat politicians are not united as far as the draft budget with a deficit that high is concerned. Some of them have expressed objections against the cabinet planning to obtain financial means for the state coffers from a higher social insurance and consumer tax, while the respective laws on their increase have yet to be approved by the House of deputies. Minister of Culture Pavel Dostal has told the CTK news agency that if the deficit budget is not approved, he intends to resign, and Health minister Ivan David warned that for his ministry, a ballanced budget would be unacceptable.
Government representatives have informed their social partners - the trade unions and employers - about the way the 1999 draft budget had been drawn up, and have not met with any serious objections. Deputy chairman of the Czech-Moravian confederation of trade unions, Milan Stech, said that the trade unions do not mind a deficit budget, the most important for them is if the proposed budget will fulfill its functions. The employers consider the deficit amounting to some 27 billion crowns a standard solution reflecting the present economic situation. But with the opposition parties voting against the draft, it has only little chance to make it through a 200-member parliament, where the Social democrats hold only 74 seats.
The Czech foreign trade deficit in August, amounting to 4.9 billion crowns, has pleasantly surprised Czech economists, who had predicted a deficit reaching some 8 billion. Radomir Jac from Commerzbank Capital Markets told the CTK news agency that - as expected - the drop in imports was lower than that of exports. The Czech Republic's exports in August fell by 11 percent as compared to July figures, while imports dropped by as much as 15 percent. Economic experts forecast a foreign trade deficit for 1998 between 85 and 100 billion crowns, while the trend in 1999 will mainly depend on the stability of the Czech crown, the pace of economic growth and the demand for Czech goods in Germany, the Czech Republic's biggest trade partner.
On a one-day visit to Austria, his first foreign trip since being in office, Czech premier Milos Zeman met with Austrian top officials. The Czech premier was accompanied by Finance minister Ivo Svoboda and deputy foreign minister Pavel Telicka, who both met with their Austrian counterparts. Minister Svoboda's discussion with Austrian Finance minister Rudolf Edlinger concentrated on cooperation in the privatization of Czech banks - with the aim of making the Czech capital market more transparent - and on social issues. Since Austria now chairs the EU, the Czech politicians were in Vienna mainly to boost its interest in dynamic negotiations with prospected members of the European Union. Chancellor Viktor Klima and president Tomas Klestil have reassured the Czech premier that Austria fully supports the Czech Republic's accession to the EU and that problems in bilateral relations - such as different views on nuclear energy and the expulsion of Sudeten Germans from Czechoslovakia after WWII - are not considered obstacles standing in the way of the Czech Republic's admission to the Union.
Meanwhile, the Czech Republic's planned accession to NATO was discussed at a regular meeting of Defence ministers of the three NATO candidates in Budapest. Czech Defence minister Vladimir Vetchy and his Hungarian colleague Janos Szabo attended these consultations for the first time, as the previous meeting, held in Warsaw last January, was held before parliamentary elections in the Czech Republic and Hungary. The three ministers evaluated their countries' coordinated efforts to join NATO, and discussed the activities of several working groups, where Czech, Polish and Hungarian military experts consult the creation of military doctrines and the process of achieving NATO compatibility.
According to a poll just out, the popularity chart of Czech politicians is led by two Social democrats: deputy speakers of parliament Petra Buzkova, who enjoys the support of 74 percent of respondents, and Stanislav Gross with 69 percent. The Public Opinion Research Insitute also revealed on Monday that president Vaclav Havel placed third - 59 percent of those polled expressed their confidence in him. As compared to last month, the people's trust in the House of deputies went up, where it enjoys support from 30 percent, a surprisingly high number of respondents.
And finally the weather forecast for Tuesday: We expect a bit cloudy skies, with mists in the morning. Daytime highs between 15 and 19 degrees Celsius.
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