The lower house of Parliament has agreed to support the accession of Bulgaria and Romania to the European Union. This is the first time that the Czech Parliament voted on EU enlargement since the Czech Republic joined the Union in May 2004. The earliest possible date when Bulgaria and Romania could join the European Union is January 1 2007. None of the deputies present voted against the two countries' accession; one deputy abstained from the vote.
Czech Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek visited Berlin on Tuesday for talks on bilateral relations and EU matters with Germany's new Chancellor Angela Merkel. The two politicians say their countries enjoy excellent relations. Mrs Merkel welcomed the British attempt to solve the EU budget crisis, but said serious talks will have to be held with the newer member states to come to a compromise over the proposed budget cuts. Chancellor Merkel also reiterated that any restitution claims made by Sudeten German individuals would not be backed by the new German coalition government.
Parliament is to decide whether a lower house deputy from the right-of-centre opposition Civic Democratic Party is to be stripped of his immunity. Czech media reports say the Czech police have recordings of Vladimir Dolezal asking for bribes from entrepreneurs in return for a guarantee that they would get the green light to do business in the Prague 10 district. Mr Dolezal is accused of asking for bribes amounting to 800,000 crowns (a little under 33,000 US dollars). He has rejected all claims.
A court has ruled that nine former members of the board of directors of the Komercni Banka bank are not guilty of fraud. They were accused of helping Austria's BCL Trading (owned by entrepreneur Barak Alon) defraud the bank of eight billion crowns (a little under 330 million US dollars). Komercni Banka is one of the Czech Republic's biggest banks.
Meanwhile, the Czech President Vaclav Klaus heavily criticised the British EU budget proposal during a visit to the east Bohemian town of Pardubice on Tuesday. While he has no objections to an overall reduction of the budget, the current proposal was drawn up to the detriment of the new member states and is therefore unjust, he said.
The head of the state-controlled General Health Insurance Company (VZP) Jirina Musilkova has said she was threatened with arrest before she was to speak in the lower house of parliament in defence of her management of the insurance company last month. Mrs Musilkova said the threats were meant to make her resign. She also said that the VZP board meeting attended by the newly appointed representatives was manipulated. After the meeting, Mrs Musilkova announced that she would resign from the VZP helm as of January 1, 2006. Last month Health Minister David Rath imposed forced administration on the VZP which had run into debt amounting to 14 billion crowns (580 million dollars).
A new poll by the CVVM polling agency suggests that the majority of Czechs rate the government's performance negatively, while the Prime Minister, Jiri Paroubek, has received an average rating. Fifty-two percent of respondents rated the centre-left coalition government's performance negatively and eleven percent said they rated it definitely negatively. On the scale of one to five (where one is excellent and five is unsatisfactory), 32 percent of respondents gave the prime minister a three for his performance. His average mark was 2.9.
The Czech President Vaclav Klaus has said that the Czech Republic needs to clearly define its own conditions for joining the eurozone. Speaking at a conference organised by the weekly Euro in Prague, President Klaus said Czech politicians and some economists only cite the Maastricht criteria but he said the country should set itself the conditions under which it wants to enter the European Monetary Union. The Maastricht criteria set limits for national debt, inflation, budget deficit and long-term interest rate. The Czech Republic, which does not comply with the budget deficit limit condition, is expected to adopt the euro in 2010, in line with a plan approved by the government two weeks ago.
The Labour and Social Affairs Minister, Zdenek Skromach, has said that around 300,000 to 400,000 employees will be lacking on the Czech labour market in 20 to 30 years and people should therefore work longer and retire later. Mr Skromach said that many companies in the Czech Republic are not interested in employing older workers, force them to retire earlier or to leave their jobs immediately after they reach the age of retirement. The agreement on the pension reform that has been recently drafted by the chairmen of the five parties in parliament envisages the extension of the age of retirement to 65. Last year, people over 65 made up about 14 percent of Czech society. According to Mr Skromach, this figure may reach 23 percent in 2030 and 31.3 percent in 2060.
Children around the Czech Republic have been be visited by St Nicholas, an angel and a devil as part of St Nicholas's Day celebrations. People dressed up as the three figures filled up the streets of towns and cities around the country on Monday night, December 5th, the eve of St Nicholas's Day. According to tradition all Czech children are visited by this trio and are given sweets and fruits if they have been good all year and lumps of coal or potatoes if they have been naughty.