The lower house of the Czech Parliament has voted to ratify the European Union’s Lisbon treaty. One hundred and twenty-five of the 197 MPs present gave their backing to the document, which reforms how the EU is run. Thirty-six Eurosceptic deputies from the ruling Civic Democrats voted against Lisbon, as did the vast majority of the opposition Communist Party. The Czech Republic was the last of the EU’s 27 members to vote on the treaty. However, Wednesday morning’s vote is not the end of the matter. The Senate, where there is a significant bloc of Eurosceptic Civic Democrats, is expected to vote on the treaty in April. If approved by the upper house, Lisbon ratification must then be signed by President Václav Klaus. Mr Klaus, a firm opponent of further European integration, has indicated he will not sign the document unless it is approved by Ireland; Irish voters rejected Lisbon in a referendum last June and are due to vote on it again this year.
EU Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso on Wednesday hailed the outcome of the vote in the Czech lower house. Mr. Barroso said it was an important signal of the country’s commitment to Europe at a time when the Czech presidency was leasing the European Union with dedication and competence. He said he hoped the treaty would soon be approved by the Czech Senate, so that the ratification process could be finalized.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is to visit Prague next Monday, the CTK news agency reported. He is expected to meet with Czech President Václav Klaus and Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg, who led an EU delegation to the Middle East at the start of the year. As the country presiding over the EU, the Czech Republic has been actively involved in seeking a solution to the Middle East crisis. The Palestinian president was originally expected in Prague on February 2nd but the visit was postponed in order for him to attend peace talks in Cairo.
The Nordic World Ski Championship has got underway in the North Bohemian mountain resort of Liberec. Championship events include nordic skiing's three disciplines: cross country skiing, ski jumping, and nordic combined ( a combination sport consisting of both cross-country skiing and ski jumping). The opening ceremony is to be attended by Czech and foreign government officials as well as a number of VIP guests. The world championship in Nordic skiing takes place once in two years.
Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek on Wednesday presented the government’s crisis management plan to deputies in the lower house, urging broad support for the package of measures aimed at alleviating the impact of the crisis on the Czech economy. The stimulus plan, which was made with the help of the country’s top financial experts, envisages higher government spending on education and research, cutting firms’ social security costs when they employ new graduates, and contracting out the upkeep of the country’s infrastructure to private enterprises, among other things. The opposition Social Democrats have criticized the proposed measures as being “too little, too late”.
President Klaus has signed into law an amendment modifying the controversial health legislation that introduced blanket health fees for all Czech citizens at the beginning of 2008. In line with the amendment health fees will no longer be mandatory for those under the age of 18. The approval of the bill was preceded by heated debate in both houses of Parliament after members of the two smaller parties in government – the Greens and the Christian Democrats – joined the opposition in calling for minors to be exempted from the payments. The burden of health fees has also been lowered for pensioners and socially weaker groups of the population. The Social Democrats remain strongly opposed to the idea of health fees as such and have pledged to strike them down altogether when they return to power.
The Supreme Administrative Court on Wednesday adjourned proceedings on the abolition of the ultra-right Workers’ Party until March 4th, when it is expected to pass a verdict. The case has come to court at the instigation of the Interior Ministry which is seeking to get the party outlawed on the grounds that its behaviour and statutes are in violation of Czech law. The Workers’ Party’s has called for zero tolerance towards the post-revolution political system and set up an armed guard to patrol Romany inhabited areas in the north Bohemian town of Litvínov. The party has organized numerous rallies and marches in Romany inhabited areas which frequently end in violent street clashes with the police.
Czech deputy premier Alexandr Vondra said in Brussels on Wednesday that his government saw no immediate need to intervene on the forex markets to support the crown which has fallen to its lowest levels against the euro since 2005. The statement came in response to a warning by the European Commission which said it was concerned by the volatility of the currencies of some EU nations, several of which have fallen sharply in recent days amid fears of capital flight. The euro common currency, used in 16 of the 27 EU nations, tumbled against the dollar on Tuesday over doubts about the eurozone economy and fears of the exposure of western European banks to huge debts in crisis-hit central and Eastern Europe.
The Giant Mountains rescue service has called a high degree avalanche alert warning skiers not to stray from marked ski-trails. The service said the strong wind and eighty centimeters of fresh snow on the ground presented a serious danger and the weight of a single skier could set off an avalanche. The Jeseníky Mountain rescue service has issued similar warnings.
The coming days should bring overcast skies with more snow showers and day temperatures between minus two and minus six degrees Celsius. Night time temperatures are forecast at around minus 12 but may drop to minus 20 in the higher altitudes.