10-10-2002

"The Czech Republic - Europe awaits you" reads the top headline in MLADA FRONTA DNES this Thursday and that's more or less the story in all the Czech media, a day after the European Commission released a key progress report rating EU candidate countries; in the report the Czech Republic fared better almost than ever before. Now, the first wave of an historic ten-country expansion has gained full momentum, and the future of the Czech Republic within the EU seems assured if the country's citizens say yes in a referendum on integration early next year.

But what can Czechs expect after joining? According to MLADA FRONTA DNES there will be more possibilities for study and work abroad: the paper writes that Czech students will suddenly be able to decide between studying at Prague's Charles University and Paris's Sorbonne. Employment opportunities will also open up in countries like Holland, Sweden, Ireland, and Denmark, though not yet in Germany and Austria, which will be exempt for the first few years. Czech driver's licenses will be accepted throughout the union, and eventually Czechs will receive EU passports of their own.

As for the down side? For one, Czechs can expect prices to go up, says MLADA FRONTA DNES. But, the daily adds, the shock for consumers will be nothing like the transformation to a free-market economy that took place in the early 90s, after the fall of communism.

"I don't remember, I can't explain, I don't know" - typical answers, writes HOSPODARSKE NOVINY, that were heard during the first two weeks of the trial of the former managers of H-System. When the housing development company went bankrupt in 1997 dozens of customers lost hundreds of thousands of crowns in deposits on apartments that were never built.

HOSPODARSKE NOVINY writes that the first two weeks of the trial have revealed that although all those charged have insisted on the legality of their operations, and stressed they had only the best intentions, case Judge Kamil Kydalka has been asking pointed questions, questions which have unravelled information about dubious meetings with H-system managers and former Finance Minister Ivan Kocarnik.

The daily says that one witness stated that one of the business managers charged used to drink with Mr Kocarnik, a banker from Komercni banka, which granted H-system loans that were never repaid. There is also the question of huge sums transferred from H-system to other companies; it has come to light that at one point 360 million crowns disappeared from company coffers without a trace.

President Vaclav Havel addressed the lower house of the Czech Republic for the last time on Wednesday as head of state; PRAVO reports that Havel's short speech was greeted by applause from all parties in the house except for the communists. Vaclav Havel has continually ignored the communists largely because the party has failed to reform itself since giving up power after the so called Velvet revolution in 1989.

As President Vaclav Havel's term comes to an end next February the debate over who should replace him has been heating up. A number of potential candidates including former Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus and current ombudsman Otakar Motejl are seen as frontrunners.

Luxembourg is to provide 12 million crowns - or 400, 000 US dollars - to help fix a school in Prague's Karlin district which was damaged during floods in August. The grand duke of Luxembourg made the announcement while evaluating damages at the school. LIDOVE NOVINY reports that another 20 to 30 million crowns will be needed to complete the repairs.

Finally, for this Press Review, action film hero Vin Diesel was in Prague Wednesday evening for the premiere of his action thriller XXX. PRAVO writes that the film's distributor held a gala evening, from which 100, 000 crowns in proceeds will go to the People in Need Foundation to distribute to victims of this year's floods. The paper also quotes Mr Diesel as saying he felt he had to come to Prague to do what he could for the city that had grown so close to his heart.

10-10-2002