The Czech EU presidency and the European Commission have called for an immediate resumption of Russian natural gas supplies to Europe, following disruptions caused by a pricing and payment row between Russia and Ukraine. In a joint statement they said the current state of affairs was “completely unacceptable” and that the EU would intensify dialogue with both sides in an effort to get the dispute resolved swiftly. The Czech prime minister, Mirek Topolánek, said a three-way summit between the EU, Russia and Ukraine might prove necessary if the crisis was not resolved soon.
Several EU states have been affected by the disruptions, with the Czech Republic and Austria the hardest hit. Natural gas deliveries to the Czech Republic are expected to drop by as much as 75 percent on Tuesday, according to the country’s biggest supplier RWE Transgas. European energy firms receive about a fifth of their gas via pipelines leading through Ukraine.
Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg who is leading an EU fact-finding mission to the Middle-East says a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip may take a few days to arrange. Mr. Schwarzenberg said that on Monday he had managed to speak with all parties involved and that things were slowly being set in motion, though he said a ceasefire should not be expected “today or tomorrow”. He said at the start of the mission that his immediate priorities were to arrange a ceasefire and get humanitarian aid into Gaza. Mr. Schwarzenberg is accompanied by the EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner and the French foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner. Meanwhile, French President Nicolas Sarkozy is on a separate mission in the Middle East and has been holding talks with leaders in Egypt, Israel and the Israeli-occupied West Bank in a bid to secure a peace deal.
Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek on Tuesday denied that Prague had a "peace plan" for the Middle East. Mr. Topolánek said he had been misquoted, when he told reporters that Prague had a certain scenario to halt fighting in Gaza, steps that could eventually lead to a ceasefire in the region and open border crossings. He refused to elaborate on the scenario. There has been a great deal of speculation about the Czech-led EU negotiations in the Middle East with Tuesday’s Lidové noviny saying that Israel had rejected the Czech peace proposals.
At a news conference in Prague on Tuesday the Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek and Deputy Prime Minister for European Affairs Alexander Vondra presented the priorities and programme of the Czech EU presidency. In addition to the crises which have recently emerged in the Middle East and over gas supplies from Russia, the country has longer–term goals which have been dubbed the three Es – economy, energy and external relations. Prime Minister Topolánek said it was now vitally important to minimize the impact of the economic crisis on the European market and work on a recovery plan for the economy. The Czech Republic also wants to open a debate on nuclear safety.
A delegation of the European Commission is expected to visit Prague on Wednesday, when the official launch of the Czech presidency will take place. The following day Prague will host an informal meeting of EU ministers.
The leadership of the Christian Democratic Party is trying to block the prime minister’s attempt to dismiss party leader Jiří Čunek from the government. Mr Čunek, who is deputy prime minister and regional development minister, was to have been one of several ministers replaced within a planned government re-shuffle, but its announcement was put off after the leaders of the two smaller parties in the governing coalition asked for extra time to debate the proposed changes with their party leaderships. The leadership of the Christian Democrats has now backed its chairman, proposing that Finance Minister Miroslav Kalousek, also of the Christian Democrats, should be replaced instead.
The prime minister on Tuesday officially confirmed it had been his intention to replace Mr. Čunek, but his hands are now tied due to the government’s shaky position in Parliament and the fact that the Czech Republic currently presides over the European Union.
The minister for human rights and minorities Džamila Stehlíková said on Tuesday that she was prepared to give up her post in the centre-right government without any fuss in the interest of political stability. Ms. Stehlíková said she was pleased that the EU presidency considered human rights an important priority and said she expected her successor to complete the projects underway. They include barrier-free access and better living conditions for disabled people, gender equality and protecting the rights of senior citizens and children. The Czech Republic is due to host an international conference on gender equality in May.
President Klaus will not be attending the official celebrations marking the start of the Czech Republic’s EU presidency. Wednesday’s gala evening at Prague’s National Theatre will be attended by the country’s leading political and cultural figures. The organizers have prepared a rich cultural programme conceived by the Forman brothers, the sons of film director Milos Forman. The president’s spokesman Radim Ochvat gave no reason for the president’s absence. The news site Lidovky.cz has called it the president’s first public boycott of the EU presidency.
Czech Public Television has said it would apologize to President Vaclav Klaus for broadcasting footage of Mr. Klaus warming up ahead of his New Year’s address to the nation. The president was shown swinging his arms back and forth and doing some simple exercises as he prepared for the live transmission on New Year’s Day. Czech Television later used some of this footage in its Sunday current affairs programme without the president’s knowledge or permission. The head of Czech Television’s news and current affairs department Michal Petrov said he considered this a serious blunder and would personally apologize to the president. He said the person responsible would be punished in line with internal regulations.
South Korean carmaker Hyundai is to cut the working week in its new Czech plant to four days from this or next week because of falling demand for its vehicles, the E15 daily reported Tuesday, quoting a union leader. Jiří Středula, head of the KOVO union, said managers and unions had agreed the measure would be in effect for three months and Hyundai staff would get part of their wages for the day off. The 1.1-billion-euro plant, which launched production in early November employs about 2,000 people.
Close to sixty percent of Czechs do not want to see Communist Party representatives in high office, according to a poll conducted by the STEM agency. Half of the respondents polled said they would like to restrict the influence of the communists on the country’s domestic and foreign policy. Just over a third of respondents, mainly older people, expressed support for the Communist Party.
The cold spell is expected to last for most of the week with day temperatures dropping to minus 10 degrees and nighttime lows down to minus 20.