News Monday, MARCH 30th, 1998

Radio Prague E-News Date: March 30, 1998 Written/read by: Vladimir Tax

Hello and welcome to Radio Prague. I'm Vladimir Tax and here's the news. First the headlines.

These are the main points and now the news in more detail.

Sedivy leaves for Brussels, talks begin

Czech foreign minister Jaroslav Sedivy left for Brussels on Monday morning for the official start of accession negotiations with the European Union. Minister Sedivy said Prague was thoroughly prepared for the talks but admitted that some stages of the process will be very difficult and painful.

Earlier, Czech chief negotiator for the Czech Republic's accession to the EU, Pavel Telicka, said there were about 80 thousand pages of legal documents to be evaluated during the first part of the accession process this year and expressed hope that the whole process would be completed by the year 2000.

Klaus scolds EU politicians

In an interview for Czech radio, Civic Democratic Party leader and former prime minister Vaclav Klaus criticized politicians from EU member states for not promoting the enlargement of the Union in their countries.

He said that, except for rhetorical gestures, they are not advocating the idea, thus allowing the citizens of their countries to think that accepting new members will be expensive and that the current member states will have to pay the costs.

Mr. Klaus recalled that at the time when countries like Greece, Portugal and Spain were joining the Union, the gap in economic development and living standards was approximately the same as that between the Czech Republic and the current EU average.

According to the EU statistical bureau, Eurostat, two weeks ago 41 percent of EU citizens favoured the Czech Republic's accession to the Union and 33 percent were against it, citing mainly the costs and subsequent cuts in subsidies for current members.

Social Democrats would go with anyone

If the Social Democratic Party wins the next parliamentary elections, it is willing to cooperate with the whole political spectrum in order to ensure stability, Social Democrat deputy Pavel Dostal said in a televised debate on Sunday. He stressed that there is a difference between cooperation and forming a coalition.

Representatives of the political parties which participated in the debate agreed that forming a stable government after the early elections will be a problem, and similarly, it will be difficult for parliamentary parties to cooperate with each other.

According to deputy chairman of the Freedom Union Petr Mateju, it may be necessary to change the electorial system if the elections do not solve the current political stalemate.

Christian Democrats want higher taxes

The Christian Democratic Party wants to increase indirect taxes, for example the VAT, to add extra several billion crowns to the state budget in order to cover increases in some social allowances and to stimulate economic growth, which is the main priority of the party's economic policy.

The Christian Democrats want to introduce three VAT rates - zero for basic food, five percent for products and services connected with housing including construction works, and 20 percent for everything else. This should bring approximately 25 billion crowns to the state budget which would be used to finance infrastructure projects and increase some social allowances.

Chief economist of Komercni banka Kamil Janacek said the Christian Democrat plan goes against present European Union trends. There are only two VAT rates in the EU, and in the future, there should be only one.

According to economist Miroslav Singer from Expandia finance, it is a good idea to increase indirect taxes and at the same time lower direct ones, because it becomes increasingly difficult for revenue offices to collect indirect taxes.

Malta protests to Czech government in hotels row

Malta has protested to the Czech government over comments by a Czech minister that the purchase of hotels in Prague by the Malta-based Corinthia Hotels group was "unacceptable", Malta's Prime Minister Alfred Sant said on Sunday.

Sant said false reports had been circulating in Prague that Corinthia was controlled by Libya and therefore subject to U.S. and U.N. sanctions. He stressed that the majority of Corinthia was Maltese-owned.

The Czech government was considering legal action to annul the Corinthia's purchase of hotels in Prague in reaction to a warning by the U.S. State Department that U.S. citizens staying in Czech hotels owned by the Corinthia Group would be in violation of U.S. laws banning trade with Libya.

Republicans anticipate scandal

The far-right Republican party is expecting a smear campaign against it to surface in the upcoming weeks. According to party secretary Jan Vik, now, when almost all parliamentary parties face scandals, the Republicans will hardly remain untouched. He said the Republicans expect the campaign to be even harsher than those that recently afflicted the Civic Democratic Party and the Social Democrats. Mr. Vik noted that it was a kind of habit on the Czech political scene that various affairs appear before general elections, harming individual political parties.

Earlier, Christian Democrat leader Josef Lux said he had indications that an affair was being prepared against his party by people who would like to see it in trouble.

Wagner elected chairman of Political Club

On Sunday, the delegates to the first national conference of the Political Club elected Jozef Wagner their chairman.

The Political Club was established last December as a civic association and in mid-January it was registered as a new political party. Wagner, a former senior official of the main opposition Social Democrats, is one of its founders.

Czech weather report

And finally, the weather forecast. We are expecting a mostly clear day, afternoon highs should range from 15 to 19 degrees Celsius. Tuesday and Wednesday should be mostly sunny as well and even warmer, with highest daytime temperatures between 16 and 20 degrees Celsius.

And that's the end of the news.