Insight Central Europe News

Poland to keep troops in Iraq

Poland's government has decided to keep troops in Iraq until the end of 2006, reversing the previous cabinet's decision to pull out early in the New Year. Poland, one of Washington's closest allies in Europe, has about 1,500 soldiers in Iraq. The deputy defence minister said that numbers would be reduced to 900 in March and there would be a shift towards the training of Iraqi forces. The government decision to remain in Iraq has come in defiance of growing opposition at home.

Austria assumes EU presidency

Austria assumes the revolving presidency of the European Union for the first half of 2006. During its presidency a decision will be taken on whether Romania and Bulgaria will be ready to join in 2007. Austria has strongly supported Croatia's aspirations to join the bloc, and has said it also wants to conclude talks on closer EU ties with Serbia and Montenegro. Austria will also have to negotiate a final agreement on the long term EU budget for 2007-2013, that was agreed in outline a fortnight ago.

Czech health minister wants Slovak and Polish dentists

The Czech Health Minister, David Rath, has said he wants to fill a growing shortage of dentists in the Czech Republic by attracting dentists from the neighbouring states of Slovakia and Poland. The head of the Czech Dentists' Chamber, Jiri Pekarek, reacted with scepticism, saying he could not imagine why Slovak or Polish dentists would come to the Czech Republic when they could make more money in Germany, Britain or Sweden.

Haider threatens court action over Austria's Slovene minority

The governor of the southern Austrian province of Carinthia, Jörg Haider, has threatened to take legal action against the president of the country's Constitutional Court. This comes days after the court ruled that bilingual signs - in German and Slovene - had to be posted by the end of June 2006 in two communities in areas with a Slovene minority. Mr Haider accused the judge Karl Korinek of advancing political rather than constitutional arguments.

Hungary expresses concern over Russia's dispute with Ukraine over gas prices

Hungary has appealed to the European Union to help solve the dispute between Russia and Ukraine over Russian natural gas prices. An official from the Hungarian Economy and Transport Ministry said the dispute had implications for the EU and could threaten Russian gas supplies to Hungary, which borders on Ukraine.

Slovakia has its own Eiffel Tower

A fifteen-and-a-half-meter Eiffel Tower has been erected in the small Slovak town of Svrcinovec, right on the border with the Czech Republic. The tower was the idea of a Polish businessman, who owns a neighbouring hotel. He said that Svrcinovec was the gateway to Slovakia, but that it lacked attractions. The Svrcinovec tower is a faithful copy of the original in Paris, only 21 times smaller.