17-06-2003

The news that a planned strike at Czech Airlines had been averted came too late for the papers - but the issue of higher wages and improved contracts for pilots appears on many a front page. "Welcome to the EU and back to reality" reads a front page headline in Lidove Noviny.

Czech pilots are not the only specialists in the country whose wages are significantly lower than those in the EU and there is no doubt that the protests will soon spread to other professions, the paper says.

Not an ideal time to try to push through a radical budget reform, notes Mlada Fronta Dnes. Trade unions are preparing to do battle with the Prime Minister, - the paper says - but will he hear them? Next to this is a large snapshot of the Prime Minister wearing a pair of headphones and looking content.

While most of the papers report on the criticism leveled against President Vaclav Klaus for his allegedly non-committal stand on the country's accession to the EU, Mlada Fronta Dnes has a scoop. The President's Office has responded -and according to the top story splashed across Mlada Fronta's front page - it is accusing Czech public television of not enabling the president to address the nation.

"Czech television rejects President Klaus" reads the lead headline. The President's Office reports that President Klaus had wanted to react to the outcome of the referendum on national television but had been refused a time slot. The paper has asked Czech TV to explain, and its management says that President Klaus had asked for a slot on the prime time news and there were too many hot stories that day for the station to be able to accommodate him. It will be interesting to see what commentators make of that.

The referendum on EU accession has caused a highly publicized rift within the Communist Party. Although the party leadership advised its members to vote against EU entry 37 percent of them cast votes endorsing the country's membership in the EU and made no secret of their preference. Party leader Miroslav Grebenicek now wants them expelled from the party for this display of blatant disobedience.

So will the communist party turn Stalinist and can it afford to expel almost half of its members? A session of the party's executive council next week is expected to be stormy and will set an important precedent, the paper notes. According to party deputy chairman Jiri Dolejs the Communist Party currently faces two dangers: that of becoming a party of hard-core Stalinist radicals and that of becoming too pragmatist and losing face in cooperation with the other opposition party, the centre right Civic Democrats. So has the stand of individual parties with regard to the referendum had any impact on voter sympathy? Mlada Fronta Dnes brings readers a list of what it calls "the winners" and "the losers" of the EU referendum. Under the "winners" are Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla, Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda and Civic Democratic Party leader Mirek Topolanek. The losers are Ivan Langer, a Civic Democrat who said he'd vote against EU membership and Communist Party leader Miroslav Grebenicek.

However it seems that as far as voter sympathy goes the Civic Democrats have won hands down. Skeptical throughout and strongly in favour at the finishing line has been their tactic - a foot in both camps - and it appears to have worked. If elections were held today the centre right Civic Democratic Party could expect a landslide victory with 40 percent of the vote. The ruling Social Democrats and the Communist Party would get 12 percent each. And the two smaller parties of the ruling coalition - the Christian Democrats and the Freedom Union could expect to win a mere 6 and 4 percent respectively.

17-06-2003