The Czech Republic ends its six month presidency of the EU at midnight on Tuesday, making way for the next presiding country Sweden. At a ceremony marking the end of the presidency at the Office of the Government Prime Minister Jan Fischer and his predecessor in the post Mirek Topolánek said the presidency had fulfilled its agenda successfully despite the fall of the government halfway through. Mr Fischer drew attention to the success of the EU summit this month which lined up the current EC president for another term and thrashed out assurances for Ireland ahead of another referendum on the Lisbon treaty. The prime minister also highlighted Czech moves to put relations with countries in Eastern Europe on a new footing, prioritise energy security and curb the impact of the world economic crisis.
The present and former prime ministers thanked all civil service employees who were involved in the day to day work and symbolically sliced a cake with the Czech EU logo. The informal meeting ended with the lowering of a white flag with the Czech EU presidency logo and the hoisting of the EU flag. On July 1 the EU presidency will be assumed by Sweden.
There have been mixed reactions from observers and the press regarding the success of the Czech EU presidency, with many analysts saying the Czech Republic had undermined its position and squandered the potential given by political squabbles and the fall of the government midway through. The Czech branch of the human rights watchdog Amnesty International has criticized Czech politicians for insufficiently defending human rights at the EU-China summit in May.
Representatives of forty-six nations attending an EU conference on the Holocaust in Prague have agreed to press for a full restitution of Jewish assets stolen by the Nazis in World War II and provide social help for impoverished Holocaust survivors. The conference ended with the signing of a joint declaration urging that every effort be made to rectify the consequences of wrongful property seizures, such as confiscations, forced sales and sales under duress, which were part of the persecution of Jews during the war. The Terezín declaration – named after a Jewish ghetto – calls for some of the recovered property of Jews who did not have heirs to be used to help needy Holocaust survivors. The signatories have pledged to widen access to archives in order to make it easier to identify seized property. The five day conference on the Holocaust was the last event held under the Czech Republic’s six-month EU presidency.
Water levels of swollen rivers have begun falling across the country. Flood warnings were still in force at two sites in southern Bohemia on Tuesday with heavy rain overnight increasing fears of fresh floods. Forecasters have warned of more heavy rain and storms especially in the south and east of the country. Prague began erecting flood barriers on Sunday. South Bohemia was the latest region to be hit by floods which have claimed 13 lives nationwide. Floods hit the region on Sunday with over 800 people evacuated, power cut and transport disrupted. Across the country, around 700 soldiers are helping in the clean up operation.
Town halls in the flooded region of central and north Moravia have begun distributing aid money among flood victims. The sum of 20 thousand crowns per household is intended for basic necessities in the days immediately following the disaster. More aid money will be made available from regional and government coffers. A preliminary damage estimate has been put at over 5 billion crowns, and the government has said it is prepared to increase the state deficit in order to deal with the consequences.
The European Union and Turkey agreed on Tuesday to open negotiations on tax reform as part of Ankara's stalled bid for accession to the 27-nation bloc, the Czech EU presidency said on Tuesday. Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kohout described the agreement as a significant step on Turkey’s path towards the European Union. Turkey will have to align its laws with EU standards on value-added tax and excise duties, and eliminate “discriminatory” levies on alcohol and imported tobacco. Taxation is only the 11th of 35 negotiating chapters that Turkey must complete before it can enter the EU, where many citizens are sceptical about taking in the mainly Muslim state.
Civic Democrat opponents of the Lisbon treaty have said Tuesday’s verdict of the German Constitutional Court has not changed their resolve to lodge a second complaint against the EU’s reform treaty with the Czech Constitutional Court in August. Senators Jiří Oberfalzer and Jiří Pospíšil told the ctk news agency on Tuesday that this time the complaint would relate to the whole treaty, not just some controversial passages. The German Constitutional Court ruled on Tuesday that the treaty is compatible with German legislation but could not be ratified until new legislation has been put in place to safeguard the powers of the German Parliament. The Czech Parliament has already done this. Czech President Vaclav Klaus, one the staunchest opponents of the treaty who has not yet signed the document, said on Tuesday he had taken note of the German court’s verdict.
CzechTrade, the trade promotion agency of the Czech Industry and Trade Ministry, is planning to open an office in Kazakhstan by the end of the year, Deputy Industry and Trade Minister Milan Hovorka told journalists in Prague on Tuesday. The office is to further strengthen business relations between the two countries and support investment. Kazakhstan is the Czech Republic’s leading trade partner in Central Asia. Over 70 Czech companies have been established in Kazakhstan in the past decade and 20 Czech companies have opened branch offices in the country.
The High Court has upheld a 12.5 year jail sentence in the case of Bohumir Ďuričko whom the Prague City Court found guilty of having murdered entrepreneur Václav Kočka Jr. Ďuričko shot Kočka dead in a quarrel at a late nigh party in a Prague restaurant, but maintains that he was physically attacked by him and was acting in self-defence. The High Court’s verdict cannot be appealed. The case has elicited considerable media attention because the victim’s father is a close friend of Social Democrat leader Jiří Paroubek
Meteorologists predict hot and humid weather in the next few days with afternoon heat storms and temperatures hitting the 30s.