The Czech cabinet on Wednesday approved a proposal to establish a state secretary for EU affairs, despite fierce opposition from one of the coalition parties, TOP 09. Prime Minister Petr Nečas, who pushed through the proposal, said the post was vital in view of the need to better coordinate the country’s position ahead of negotiations in Brussels. TOP 09 party leader and Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg is fiercely opposed to the move arguing that it would lead to a confusing division of powers. The position is to be filled by Vojtech Belling, who heads the government’s department for EU affairs.
The cabinet on Wednesday also approved a list of priority areas for which the country would request EU funds in the coming years. They include raising the competitiveness of the economy, improving the infrastructure and assisting social integration. The government’s economic council has advised a more cohesive and target oriented policy in applying for and using EU funds.
A legal analysis commissioned by the Czech Foreign Ministry has advised separating the Czech opt-out from the Lisbon Treaty from Croatia’s admission to the EU in an upcoming vote in the Czech Parliament. Although the government originally recommended linking the two issues in one treaty for practical purposes, the analysis warned that opposition to the opt-out from the Social Democrats, who have a majority in the Senate, could complicate Croatia’s accession to the EU. In 2009 President Vaclav Klaus only signed the Lisbon Treaty after the EU agreed to his demand for a Czech opt-out from the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights, which is part of the Lisbon Treaty. The Czech president feared it could open the way for restitution claims by Sudeten Germans expelled from Czechoslovakia after the war. The treaty will require a constitutional three fifth majority to get the legislation passed in both houses, meaning that the government needs to win support from at least part of the opposition.
The Egyptian foreign minister, Muhammad Kamil Amr, is expected to visit the Czech Republic next Thursday for talks with Czech top officials, the Czech Foreign Ministry said in a statement for the CTK news agency. The Egyptian official is expected to meet with Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg and will be received at Prague Castle by President Vaclav Klaus. The Czech Republic is expected to offer Egypt assistance and know-how in its transition to democracy.
Train traffic in the west of the country came to a standstill on Wednesday morning after a passenger train ploughed into a freight train loaded with new passenger cars. No one was injured in the accident which is being ascribed to human error. Preliminary damage estimates are at over 4 million crowns. A Czech railways spokesperson said clean-up work would take up most of the day, with the Prague-Pilsen connection expected to become operational sometime in the late evening. The company has secured a replacement bus service for passengers on this route.
Public Affairs deputy Michal Babák has made headlines after getting into a brawl in a bar in the city centre on Tuesday night. According to the ctk news agency got into a heated argument with the owner of the bar and lost two front teeth in the ensuing fight. Babák recently had his party membership suspended after coming under suspicion of having doctored party finances and accounts. His membership was renewed just this week.
The Education Ministry has announced the planned merging of around 100 secondary schools around the country due to a drop in the number of students. Although the final decision on the number of schools in individual regions is in the hands of the local authorities the Education Ministry has been putting pressure on governors to affect cost-cutting measures and warned that schools with a small number of students would get lower support. According to available statistics the number of secondary students is down by some 23,000 students this year.
Jaroslav Bartak, a prominent Czech doctor who has been accused of sexually abusing his assistants has been taken into custody. A Prague court on Wednesday refused his offer of bail on the grounds that he might try to leave the country or influence witnesses. Bartak has been charged with sexual coercion, rape, extortion, unlawful restraint and physical assault. Six women have filed criminal complaints against him. Co-owner of a medical facility in Prague’s Modřany district and former head of the Prague branch of the Lion’s Club charity, Bartak is known to have close ties to politicians in high office.
According to figures released by police, the cost of a recent operation in the Šumava National Park exceeded one million Czech crowns. Police had been stationed in a protected area of the park where environmental activists were holding a blockade to prevent the logging of bark-beetle infested trees for about three weeks. They made countless interventions, often forcibly removing activists who had chained themselves to trees in the vicinity. The operation, which was criticized by a number of NGOs for suspected police brutality resulted in a number of law suits.
Radio Prague is celebrating its 75th birthday. The country’s foreign service was established in 1936 at the instigation of the Czechoslovak Foreign Ministry and first went on air on August 31st of the same year. Although severe budget cuts led to the termination of the station’s shortwave broadcasts as of this year, Radio Prague is still providing listeners with daily news, current affairs and reports about the Czech Republic with its main platform now the Internet. The station broadcasts daily half-hours on satellite in six languages and offers podcasting and reception via mobile phone.
The weather should continue warm and sunny with day temperatures between 20 and 25 degrees Celsius.