News Thursday, NOVEMBER 05th, 1998

Welcome to RP. I'm DL. Those were the headlines and now the news in more detail:

EU tells Czechs to speed up reform

In a report published Wednesday, the European Commission recommended keeping its shortlist of leading candidates for EU membership to six, and urged the Czech Republic and Slovenia to speed up the pace of reform.

The EU commission has expressed appreciation of the Social Democrat government's pro-EU policy, but it claims the country has made little progress in the past year in reforming state administration and the judiciary. It has also stressed the need for the Czech Republic to address its problems with the Romany minority.

Kavan - reaction

Czech foreign minister Jan Kavan told the ctk newsagency that while the EU report was certainly a wake up call, there was no cause for undue pessimism. Kavan said that objectively the pace of reform had slowed down over the past 18 months but overall he said the country was not doing significantly worse than other candidates for the first wave of admission. He said the Social Democrat government was ready to speed up activities towards fulfilling all EU requirements.

Zeman - reaction

Meanwhile, prime minister Milos Zeman openly blamed his Cabinet's predecessors for the stagnation. It is a good thing that we have finally heard the truth about our situation from an independent outside source, after having been led to believe that the Czech Republic is a model state-in-transition, Zeman remarked. The prime minister has on numerous occasions emphasized the depth of the economic problems inherited from the former right-of-centre governments.

Second draft of 1999 budget approved in Cabinet

The Social Democrat Cabinet has approved a second draft budget proposal for 1999 envisaging a deficit of 31 billion crowns. The proposed deficit is some 4 billion crowns higher than that envisaged in the first draft which failed to gain approval in the Lower House. This does not necessarily predestine the same fate for this proposal since the government was criticized predominantly for the manner in which it proposed to spend the deficit finances.

Neighbours invited to help decide Temelin controversy

At Wednesday's Cabinet session ministers also approved a plan for the Czech government to invite the country's neighbour states to appoint representatives to the independent commission which is to assess the future of Temelin, the unfinished nuclear power plant in Southern Bohemia. The European Union recently rejected such an offer from the Czech government saying that it would not be appropriate for the EU to be involved while accession talks are taking place.

Farmers threaten to bring out their pigs

Farmers are threatening the government with new protest actions unless it moves to curb imports of cheap pork. In an open letter to prime minister Milos Zeman they say that if the Association Agreement with the European Union does not allow an imposition of import duties, the government should make up for their losses in increased subsidies. The planned protest action this time around is somewhat bizarre - angry farmers intend to herd 500 to 1000 pigs onto the Brno-Prague highway and make their way to the Czech capital. Police have warned they will take action against such a form of protest.

Zilk to meet with Havel

Helmut Zilk, former mayor of Vienna, who was recently accused of having collaborated with the former communist secret service in this country has accepted President Havel's invitation for him to visit Prague and view the incriminating stb file for himself. Zilk told reporters in Vienna Wednesday he had hoped the Czech president would extend such an invitation in order that the whole affair could be cleared up in a civilized manner. I will not take court action until I see this evidence, Zilk said, adding that the affair had not marred his relationship with President Havel whom he had great respect for. Helmut Zilk is expected in Prague next week at the earliest since his wife is currently in hospital recovering from surgery.

What's to be done with the stb files?

The Zilk affair has caused fresh debate among Czech politicians as to how the country should best handle its sensitive communist legacy. Freedom Union leader Jan Ruml suggested that it would be best to make the list of alleged stb collaborators public, others suggest eliminating it as not altogether trustworthy. While political advisor to the President Jiri Pehe has criticized the first suggestion, saying it would only divide society and raise tension, vice-premier Pavel Rychetsky has pointed out that the files need to be kept while the screening law which bars top government officials from office is in effect. That is due to expire in two years' time.

Slovakia wants old footing

Slovakia has expressed a desire to revitalize relations with the Czech Republic. Visiting Slovak defense minister Pavel Kanis told Czech officials on Wednesday that the new Slovak leadership would work to repair the damage done under Slovak ex-premier Vladimir Meciar when contacts were down to a minimum. The fact that a defense minister was received by the head of state shows that Prague is ready to meet Bratislava half-way. In talks with prime minister Milos Zeman Kanis thanked the Czech side for openly supporting its ambition to join Western structures during talks in Brussels and expressed a desire to join the Visegrad Group of states as soon as possible.

Half of Czechs intend to vote

Research agencies focusing on the upcoming senatorial and local elections say they expect a turnout of just over 50%. Two thirds of those who intend going to the polls say they will give their vote to one of the two strongest parties on the Czech political scene - the governing Social Democrats or the right wing Civic Democratic Party of Vaclav Klaus. Only a fifth of all eligible voters feel that they have been given sufficient information on policy issues.

And finally a look at the weather: Thursday should be partly cloudy to overcast with scattered rainshowers and day temp between 5 and 9 degs C. Nighttime lows between plus 3 and minus 1 degs.