13-06-2001

The news that Hungary has become the first ex-communist country to conclude the sensitive movement of labour chapter with the EU has not met with a great deal of enthusiasm in the Czech Republic. According to Lidove noviny, sparks are flying over the matter between Budapest and Prague, since Czech foreign ministry officials feel Hungary's willingness to accept Brussels' demands has damaged Prague's chances of thrashing out a better deal.

"Prague is in no hurry. We'll focus on getting the best possible deal," foreign ministry officials have told the paper. Sweden's decision to dispense with a transition period is welcome news, that has, unfortunately, been overshadowed by a petty scandal involving the Czech Prime Minister, the EU enlargement commissioner Gunter Verheugen and Civic Democratic Party leader Vaclav Klaus.

What an appropriate and thoroughly Czech way to start the election campaign , says Jíri Hanak of Pravo. Whether the Czech Prime Minister disclosed the contents of a private conversation with EU commissioner Gunter Verheugen - reportedly that the Czech Republic could not hope to join the EU with Mr. Klaus at the helm- intentionally or on a rash impulse is hard to say. But it clearly backfired, says Hanak.

The Czech public is sensitive to taking orders from Brussels, and the Czech Republic's leading Euro-sceptic will have no trouble portraying this as a foretaste of things to come, he says. If the governing Social Democrats want to prepare the country for early admission to the EU then they would be better advised to explain why the Czechs cannot afford to remain on the sidelines -and let the country's Euro sceptics work on their own agenda, Hanak concludes.

Many more Czechs have stopped buying beef following confirmation of the first case of BSE in the country. Changing lifelong habits is hard though and the papers report that while butchers complain of dropping sales, people are still ordering the popular national beef dishes at pubs and restaurants.

Mlada fronta Dnes warns readers about the risks of buying minced meat, sausages, salami and meat spreads - saying that there have been cases of beef being secretly smuggled into these products with no sign of it on the label. Zemske noviny warns Czechs who are leaving the country to leave all meat products at home - you would be forced to throw them away at border check points, the paper says.

It may be hard to smuggle a stick of salami across the border nowadays but paradoxically it has proved fairly simple to smuggle millions of litres of petrol across the Czech-German border. Pravo reports that police have cracked down on a smugglers' ring which engaged in this for months, smuggling millions of litres of tax-free petrol into the country via several checkpoints at which they had bribed customs officers . One has admitted his part in the racket, the others still claim they have no idea how the trucks could have crossed the border unnoticed.

Tuesday night's concert in Prague of the Australian rock band AC/DC is reported to have attracted 50,000 people and many of today's front pages carry snapshots of guitar player Angus Young in action wearing his trademark school uniform. The band's latest CD Stiff Upper Lip has sold 10,000 copies in the Czech Republic.

13-06-2001