News of Radio Prague

Straw complements Czechs on fast-moving preparations for EU membership

Britain's Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw announced on Wednesday that the Czech Republic had made significant progress in its preparations for EU membership. Speaking after a meeting with his Czech counterpart, Jan Kavan, Mr. Straw envisioned Czech citizens standing in the "for EU states only" passport control line in three years time, and added that Britain did not share fears expressed by Germany and Austria of an influx of cheap labour from the East after EU expansion. Mr. Straw also added that he believed that Britain's parliament would ratify the Nice Treaty on the European Union's proposed enlargement -- rejected last month by Irish voters -- by the end of this year.

Zeman evaluates election manifesto

Czech Prime Minister, Milos Zeman has said that his government had kept its promise to get the country out of the economic crisis that began in 1997. Speaking before the Lower House, Mr. Zeman evaluated how much the cabinet had completed of its election manifesto. He appreciated the so-called opposition agreement between the minority ruling Social Democrats and the opposition Civic Democrats, saying that it had helped to effectively tackle economic and social problem areas. He added that the European Commission's most recent evaluation of the Czech Republic had stated that the 'opposition agreement' had contributed to stability, credibility and foreign investment in the country. Mr. Zeman rejected the theory that the economic growth was merely a phase found in normal economic cycles, independent of government policy. The leader of the opposition Civic Democrats and Speaker of the Lower House, Vaclav Klaus, however did not share Mr. Zeman's optimistic view, accusing the government of only concentrating on issues with short-term effects, in order to make change visible before the end of its term.

Ever less citizens consider themselves members of Roma community

The Czech Republic's Human Rights Commissioner, Jan Jarab has said that he was surprised by the results of a public census, conducted a few months ago which showed a significantly low number of people considering themselves members of the Roma community. Compared to figures from the last census in 1991, where 32 903 people said they belonged to the Roma community, this year only 11 716 claimed to be Romanies. Sociologists have attributed this new trend to growing tension in Czech society, resulting from clashes between extreme nationalists and minority groups. Mr. Jarab noted that there were no official records held of the number of Roma in the Czech Republic, but that some 150 000 people were estimated to be members of the Roma community.

CNB: report evaluating sale of IPB is unbalanced and lacks objectivity

The Czech National Bank, the CNB, has said that a recent report evaluating last year's sale of IPB bank was unbalanced and lacked objectivity. The report, made by a specially set up parliamentary commission, stated that tens of billions of crowns were wasted as a result of the Czech government's inefficient sale of IPB. CNB representatives responded by saying those who conducted the evaluation failed to realise the fact that at the time, the government as well as the CNB had to react quickly in order to prevent the collapse of the third largest bank in the country. IPB was owned by private companies and decision-making stock-holders were neither willing to provide the necessary capital nor ready to unconditionally hand the bank over to the state. If a solution was not found promptly, the CNB would have been forced to remove the bank's right to function as a bank, the forced administrators would have had to close down all branches, and clients would not have been able to get any of their money.

OECD report calls for competitive environment

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the OECD, has released a report in which it warned that slow deregulation of the energy and telecommunications sector could end up having a negative effect on the competitive environment in the Czech Republic. Its author, Scott Jacobs, told Reuters news agency that faster deregulation ought to be the Czech government's priority. He added that despite the country's good and effective telecommunication law, the state had so far not done much to open the doors to competition.

Border police seize 3.6 kg of gold

Some 3.6 kg of gold, worth about 1.5 million Czech crowns or close to 37 500 U.S. dollars, were seized by Czech border police at the Breclav Czech-Slovak border crossing on Wednesday. The gold was found in the car of a Czech national who drove through Austria and Slovakia on a trip from Italy. The man claimed that he had nothing to declare, but following a search of his car, three bundles containing 18-karat gold jewellery with precious stones were found underneath the dashboard. If the man had succeeded in illegally smuggling the gold into the country without paying tax, it is estimated that the State Treasury would have suffered a loss of about 460 000 Czech crowns or 11 500 U.S. dollars.


And finally a quick look at the weather forecast. Wednesday night shall see partially clear skies with occasional showers. Temperatures shall drop to a minimum of 11 degrees Celsius. Thursday shall see overcast skies with showers and even thunderstorms in places. Temperatures shall range between 23 and 27 degrees Celsius.