Insight Central Europe News

02-12-2005

There was a mixed reception to UK plans to cut European Union funds to new member states when Britain's prime minister, Tony Blair, held talks in Budapest on Friday with the leaders of Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Poland's Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz suggested some progress was being made towards a deal, but Hungary's Ferenc Gyurcsany said they were far from agreement on plans to reduce development aid by 10% in the 2007-13 budget.

The new German Chancellor Angela Merkel made her first official visit to Poland on Friday, against the backdrop of controversy over a planned World War II memorial. The German chancellor has thrown her support behind plans for a centre of remembrance in Berlin for Germans expelled after the war from countries such as Poland and the Czech Republic. But both outgoing Polish president Aleksander Kwasniewski and his successor Lech Kaczynski have warned the project could be divisive.

The lower house of the Czech parliament has approved sweeping changes to the country's legal system. The age of criminal responsibility, and the age of consent, is set to drop from 15 to 14, while sentences for murder and other serious crimes will increase. The new criminal code also makes mercy killing a special offence carrying a maximum of six years in prison; at the moment it is classed as murder.

Right-wing parties won regional elections in Slovakia, although - with just ten months to go before general elections - just 18 percent of the country's voters went to the polls. In five regional parliaments the parties making up the present ruling conservative coalition led by Mikulas Dzurinda won majorities. The regional elections were the second of their type in Slovakia, the first in 2001 attracting turnout of 26 percent.

With a decision on the sell-off of Budapest Airport due on Wednesday, Britain's BAA has tabled the highest bid, a Hungarian daily reported. BAA is said to have offered 1.86 billion US dollars, more than German concerns Hochtief and Fraport. A spokesperson for Hungary's privatisaion agency said, however, that price would not be the only criterion.

02-12-2005