Press Review

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Now that the European Union has lifted its diplomatic sanctions against Austria, ZEMSKE NOVINY and CESKE SLOVO wonder what lesson the EU as a whole has learnt from the incident. A joint commentary published in both papers today suggests that it has shown, within a brief period of time, that rash decisions and hasty moves are usually counterproductive. Although it is certainly possible and for many reasons quite legitimate to criticise populist Joerg Haider' Freedom Party and its style, the fact remains that it has joined Austria's parliament and government after free and fair democratic elections. Now, with the sanctions lifted, the EU is still facing the urgent task of finding mechanisms of handling similar contingencies, the papers note. Such mechanisms are also of crucial significance for EU membership hopefuls including the Czech Republic.

MLADA FRONTA DNES reports that the Czech Republic is trying to catch up with the rest of the civilised world's anti-smoking drive. As of the new year, it writes, an amended Labour Code will prohibit smoking in a workplace where there is at least one non-smoker. But the paper is sceptical about the state's ability to actually enforce such restrictions. Bans usually solve nothing in this country, they are routinely broken or simply ignored. Motivation is the straightest path to success, and motivation is what blanket bans cannot really offer.

The Berlin-based non-governmental organisation Transparency International has published a survey on world corruption in which the Czech Republic ranks 42nd among 90 nations surveyed in terms of their perception of graft and similar practices. But HOSPODARSKE NOVINY today recommends that these findings be taken with more than a pinch of salt. The paper writes this is the worst result since 1997, which means that there is an increasing feeling in this country that corruption, or, as TI calls it, "this universal cancer", is indeed rampant. But the paper insists that the struggle against graft must be a long-term endeavour, which must not be limited only to courts and other instruments of law enforcement. Incidentally, the paper says, the Czech government decided on Wednesday to boost state attorneys' budgets in order to set up a special task force to investigate serious economic and financial crime. HOSPODARSKE NOVINY welcomes this decision as good news but regrets that this same government has wasted so much precious time on its half-baked "Clean Hands" anti-corruption campaign which never worked.

And finally, PRAVO relates the story of an eight-year-old schoolboy from Klatovy in western Bohemia, who nearly derailed a train about a month ago. The boy, whose name was withheld, placed a piece of metal on the tracks and then watched what would happen next from a hiding place. Fortunately, the driver of a commuter train full of people on their way to work spotted the hitch and pulled the emergency brake. The boy reportedly never realised what tragedy could have happened. Because of his youth, police have shelved the case.