Business News

EU may accept up to 10 new members - Verheugen

The European Union's enlargement commissioner, Guenter Verheugen, said on Monday that the EU could expand to include up to 10 new members by the year 2005. But he said after talks with Polish Foreign Minister Wladyslaw Bartoszewski in Warsaw that not all of them would join at the same time. He said the EU's timetable for enlargement was determined by the commitment of member states to be ready for expansion by 2003 and the aim of the European Commission, the bloc's executive, to accept new members during its term, which ends in 2005. The Czech Republic, together with Estonia, Hungary, Slovenia, Cyprus and Poland, are frontrunners for EU membership.

Germany to sponsor Czech sewage treatment plants

As part of an ongoing effort to clean up the River Elbe, Germany said this week it was funding modernisation of sewage treatment plants in the Czech Republic. Germany's Environment Ministry said it would contribute over nine million marks to help modernise plants in the West Bohemian cities of Most and Teplice. The German government said the total cost of the project was 24 million marks. Water quality in the Elbe has improved so dramatically over the past decade that salmon are again being released to restore stocks which died out 70 years ago. As an interesting footnote we might add that salmon were so plentiful in Czech rivers in the Middle Ages that humble servants reserved the right not to be fed salmon more than three times a week...

Ostrava wants own representative to EU

An official of North Moravia's Ostrava region, which is the most densely-populated area in the Czech Republic, says they should have their own representative in the European Union to defend their interests. Ostrava's government commissioner, Vitezslav Zamarsky, said last week this would ensure an influx of money from EU support funds for the region. He said Ostrava suffered from high unemployment. However, although other regional representatives have come up with the same proposal in the past, they have not been successful.

Skoda Plzen frontrunner in Yugoslav power project

Federal Yugoslavia appears to have shaken off the bonds of the Milosevic regime, including an international embargo, and as you heard in last week's Economics Report, Czech companies are eager to restore their once-fruitful business contacts with Belgrade. One of the projects currently at stake is development of Yugoslavia's Kolubara B power plant. China and Russia are hot contenders for the 100-million-dollar contract but the Czech engineering group Skoda Plzen is still the frontrunner. At least according to Slavko Matisasevic, trade counsel to the Yugoslav embassy in Prague.

Skoda Plzen won a 100-million-dollar contract on equipment deliveries to the first part of the project, Kolubara A. Almost 70 million dollars' worth of technology has been supplied, and the remaining 30 million is "in the pipeline", to quote Mr Matijasevic.

Skoda Plzen's spokesman Karel Samec told the CTK news agency that in the wake of political change in Yugoslavia, his company is ready to sign a contract on completing two power generators at Kolubara B. He said the contract was worth several billion Czech crowns and should be delivered after all sanctions against Belgrade have been lifted.

Economic experts say things should be expedited by the Czech government's Programme of Southeast European Renewal. Czech exports to Yugoslavia consist chiefly of cars, textiles, metallurgical products and chemicals. The Czech Republic mainly automobile tyres, aluminium products, automotive parts, synthetic fibre, and copper imports from Yugoslavia. Prague's trade surplus with Belgrade currently amounts to half a billion dollars.

Chamber of Deputies passes budget on first reading

Last week the lower house of parliament, the Chamber of Deputies, passed the 2001 draft budget in its first reading, unlike the previous two years, when the government had to spend months revising their budgets and lobbying other parties for support. The budget was passed after the ruling Social Democrats, the CSSD, and the main opposition Civic Democrats, the ODS, which together enjoy a comfortable majority in parliament, said that they had resolved a number of differences over the draft. The budget will have a deficit of forty-nine billion Czech crowns, or roughly one and a quarter billion dollars, more than double the original amount the two main parties had agreed on. Prime Minister Milos Zeman welcomed the news, saying that the new budget would boost economic growth in the Czech Republic.

Now, although the budget received the full support of the two main parties, all of the smaller opposition parties voted against it. Earlier I spoke to former Finance Minister Ivan Pilip, now an MP for the centre-right Freedom Union, which belongs to a coalition of four right-of-centre opposition parties. I asked Mr Pilip first of all for his party's reaction to the proposed budget: