The president of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, and the
Czech president, Miloš Zeman, raised the flag of the European Union over
Prague Castle on Wednesday morning. The move signals a marked change from
the era of the previous Czech president, Václav Klaus, who refused to fly
the EU flag.
President Zeman also signed an addendum to the bloc’s Lisbon Treaty enabling the creation of a rescue fund, which is also something that his eurosceptic predecessor refused to do. The president called the signing “symbolic” in importance as the fund has been functioning since last autumn. He also said that he was “convinced” that by the time the Czech Republic adopts the European currency, problems like those faced by Cyprus and Greece today will have been overcome.
In related news, President Miloš Zeman said on Wednesday that he would like the Czech Republic to be part of what he termed the EU ‘hard’ core or mainstream. The president outlined that, in his view, the EU needed joint foreign, defence and fiscal policies, as well as a harmonization of the tax system. His position differs from the more reserved stance taken by the country’s government led by Prime Minister Petr Nečas, although the country’s foreign minister, Karel Schwarzenberg, the chairman of TOP 09, is 'pro-Europe'. On Wednesday, the prime minister indicated that the government's foreign policy would not change because of the ceremonial flag-hoisting.
The Supreme Court rejected four legal complaints on Wednesday filed over ex-president Václav Klaus’ New Years amnesty. The spokesman for the court, Petr Knoetig, said the court had found the complaints inadmissible. State prosecutors were trying to prevent several long-running cases – including the criminal prosecution of three former managers at H-System – from being halted. H-system was a major home construction project which is widely seen as one of the biggest fraud cases in the country’s modern history; its head was sentenced to 12 years in prison and the amnesty had no impact on his jail term. Due to the amnesty, declared on January 1, 327 criminal prosecution cases were halted as of mid-February.
The Chamber of Deputies has passed a bill to add two significant legislatively-recognised days to the Czech calendar. The bill, which passed easily in the lower house, will see January 16 become Jan Palach day in memory of the student who set himself on fire in 1969 in protest against the invasion of Czechoslovakia and onset of the Normalisation period; March 28 will commemorate the date of birth of 17th century pedagogue, philosopher and religious thinker Jan Amos Komenský (Comenius). The amendment – if approved by the Senate and signed into law – will come into effect on August 11 – Jan Palach’s birthday. He would have turned 65 this year.
Social Democrat MP Stanislav Křeček has been elected as deputy to the country’s ombudsman Pavel Varvařovský. On Wednesday he received 83 of a possible 164 votes, defeating Filip Dienstbier (the candidate Mr Varvařovský had reportedly wanted to see in the job) receiving only 37 votes. The 74-year-old Křeček, who was nominated by the Senate, has been a member of the lower house since 1998. His seat in the chamber will be picked up by Social Democrat Gabriela Kalábková.
Czech and Italian police have found the body of a Czech businessman who went missing last month, Czech Radio’s Regina reports. The man disappeared in France where he travelled to allegedly conduct business. Investigators found his remains in a roadside ditch in northern Italy. An informer reportedly led police to the body. Five suspects in all are wanted for kidnapping and murder.
This year’s flu season was markedly worse than in previous in terms of related deaths, the Chief Hygiene Officer Vladimír Valenta has said. The flu claimed 124 lives; 88 percent of those who succumbed were suffering from other respiratory illnesses or had heart conditions. According to the hygiene officer, a large part of the population underestimated the benefits of getting a flu shot; only five percent get the shot, compared to the EU average of 20 percent. Most of the flu cases this season were A/H1N1.
A total of nine people have now been charged with the sale of the illegal drug ecstasy at a recent high school graduation ball where a 19-year-old student died. Investigators are still awaiting the results of the toxicology report to confirm whether she overdosed. All nine suspects in the case have been remanded in custody. Eight of those charged are youths between the ages of 19 and 22; each faces a potential 10 years in prison if found guilty in the manufacture and distribution of the illegal drug. The ninth suspect is a man in his early 50s, who could face up to 12 years in jail. Over the last year, he is suspected of having sold 10,000 tablets of the drug.
The Mountain Rescue Service in the Beskydy Mountains has issued a statement warning hikers or ski alpinists to stay off the upper ridges of the peaks in the area due to the danger of avalanches. The Beskdy Mountains saw an additional 15 centimetres of snow overnight, with the total amount at the top of the mountains ranging between 100 – 120 centimetres. The Beskydy’s Lysá hora has the most: 150 centimetres.
Star forward Jaromír Jágr has joined the Boston Bruins from the Dallas Stars. Jágr, who is 41, is the 10th leading goal scorer in the history of the NHL and is perhaps the greatest Czech hockey player of all time. He is regarded as having a genuine chance of winning the Stanley Cup with Boston, which is also home to Czech centre David Krejčí. The Bruins are Jágr’s sixth NHL club.