The Czech prime minister, Mirek Topolánek, has said the European Union will on Thursday begin discussing the sending of international observers to monitor the supply of Russian natural gas through Ukraine. Speaking as the president of the EU, Mr Topolánek also said there would be an emergency meeting of EU energy ministers in Brussels on Monday, if the crisis sparked by the closing of pipelines carrying Russian gas via Ukraine to Europe was not resolved by then. The president of the European Commission, Jose Barroso, said in Prague on Wednesday that both Russia and Ukraine had given assurances that they would accept international monitors. The two countries have been locked in a dispute over prices and payment; Russian power giant Gazprom began reducing gas supplies to Ukraine’s Naftogaz on New Year’s Day before shutting pipelines completely on Tuesday night. The heads of both companies are set to meet in Brussels on Thursday at talks which also be attended by the Czech industry minister, Martin Říman, and European Commissioner for energy Andreas Piebalgs.
The Czech Republic is one of several countries in Europe hit by Moscow’s move; it normally receives close to 80 percent of its gas from Russia. The news website idnes.cz reported that the country’s biggest gas supplier RWE Transgas had written to large consumers, warning them their supplies could be reduced in case of a crisis. However, the firm says it would have to be an extreme crisis for that to occur; it said it had reserves equivalent to 40 days supply, and was working to increase imports from northern Europe.
Members of the European Commission have visited Prague for the first major events of the six-month Czech presidency of the EU. The commissioners held meetings with Czech ministers, while the president of the European Commission, Jose Barroso, has been holding talks with the Czech prime minister, Mirek Topolánek, and the Czech president, Václav Klaus. The gas crisis and the conflict in the Middle East were among the main subjects discussed at Wednesday’s meetings, several of which took place at venues on Prague’s Kampa Island
In the evening the European commissioners were due to be among the guests at a special gala event at Prague’s National Theatre to launch the Czech presidency of the EU. President Klaus, a confirmed opponent of further EU integration, declined an initiation to attend. Among those due to perform were the veteran entertainer Jiří Suchý and the Forman brothers, the twin sons of film director Miloš Forman.
The Czech prime minister, Mirek Topolánek, has said he welcomes the efforts of French President Nicolas Sarkozy to deal with the current conflict in the Middle East. He said Mr Sarkozy had built on the work carried out by an EU mission to the region led by the Czech foreign minister, Karel Schwarzenberg. The French leader announced on Wednesday that the Israelis and the Palestinian Authority had agreed with a cease-fire proposal.
Earlier on Wednesday the Czech EU presidency said it was deeply concerned by the rising number of civilian casualties in Gaza and called on Israel to open a humanitarian corridor and on both sides to implement a ceasefire.
The Czech Senate has postponed debating ratification of the EU’s Lisbon treaty until the middle of February. A proposal to that end was submitted by Senators from the Civic Democrats and approved by the upper house’s foreign affairs committee on Wednesday. The Czech Republic’s lower house, the Chamber of Deputies, is due to begin debating Lisbon in a session beginning on February 3, with that issue expected to be linked to a vote on a planned US radar base in central Bohemia. The Senate has already given its approval for the building of the US base, which would be part of a global missile defence shield.
A Hyundai car plant in north Moravia is to reduce production to four days a week. Lower middle range cars will roll off the assembly lines only from Monday to Thursday for the whole of January at least. Hyundai is also halting plans to take on more workers and to introduce a second shift. A spokesperson said the moves were in reaction to the downturn on the European car market. The Hyundai plant at Nošovice was officially opened less than two months ago.
It should get slightly warmer in the next few days, though temperatures are not expected to exceed -4 degrees Celsius. We can expect sunny spells in many parts of the country.