Insight Central Europe News

23-04-2004

The European Commission has invited Croatia to begin talks on joining the European Union. The invitation came after Croatia convinced the EU executive that it was fully cooperating with efforts to bring war criminals to justice. Neighbouring Slovenia has offered to help Croatia in the accession process.

Poland has played down rumours that it is considering withdrawing its troops from Iraq. After conflicting signals from the country in the course of the week, the Polish defence minister said that troops would remain in Iraq till free elections at the beginning of next year.

Austrians go to the polls on Sunday to elect a new president. The two main candidates are Heinz Fischer, a senior Social Democrat, and Benita Ferrero-Waldner the current foreign minister from the governing People's Party. The serving President, Thomas Klestil, has served two terms in office.

The Czech government has won a key vote in parliament. A bill, changing the basic rate of VAT from 22 to 19 percent, to bring it into line with European Union requirements, was passed by the slimmest of margins, after first being vetoed by President Vaclav Klaus. The opposition, including Mr Klaus's own party, the Civic Democrats, had accused the government of trying to introduce unnecessary tax increases on the back of the EU-agreed reforms.

A top German police union official has warned that the opening of Germany's eastern borders after May 1st could lead to a boom in smuggling from Poland and the Czech Republic. The head of the German Police Union, Wolfgang Speck, said he was concerned about everything from cigarettes to nuclear material from former Soviet Republics. When Poland and the Czech Republic join the EU, customs controls at the border will be discontinued.

23-04-2004

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