Press Review

Earthy shake-ups, EU showdowns and fear of potential nuclear meltdowns are making headlines in the Czech press today.

The biggest earthquake to hit Austria in the past twenty years occupies the front pages of all the Czech dailies. Although the epicentre of the earthquake, which hit 4.8 on the Richter scale, lay in Lower Austria, tremors were also felt in Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic. In southern Bohemia and Moravia people were awoken by swaying beds and clinking glasses, the papers report, and geophysicists fielded calls from concerned and confused Czechs throughout the day. All dailies make mention of environmentalists' warnings of potential future dangers posed to the Temelin nuclear plant, but some also point to rather more lighthearted anecdotes. PRAVO tells of one woman who suspected her one-hundred-kilo neighbour was to blame for the shake-up while LIDOVE NOVINY quotes Jana Nouzova as saying that her husband got out of bed to tell her to stop dancing because the whole house was shaking.

Most papers also carry the recent bout of the recurring clash between EU Enlargement Commissioner Gunther Verheugen and the former prime minister and current chairman of parliament, Vaclav Klaus, over the Czech Republic's EU entry. In true boxing-match style, MLADA FRONTA DNES reports the Commissioner as "attacking" the Czech politician when he chose him to illustrate his warnings to the European Union against further delaying eastward enlargement. The paper cites an unnamed top EU official as saying that Mr. Verheugen was only voicing an opinion widely held in Brussels circles, in which Mr. Klaus is seen as a eurosceptic and opponent of political integration. Yesterday's appearance was the first instance in which the Commissioner did not play down allegations of postponement but actually pointed to their serious political consequences, stresses the paper.

The third hot issue in today's papers is one that will also potentially have aftershocks both in Austria and Brussels: the belated calls for a referendum on the launching of operations at the Temelin nuclear plant. Owing to the Czech legislative process on referenda and the timetable of the plant's owners, when a referendum is called next April the Temelin nuclear plant will have already been in operation for half a year, writes HOSPODARSKE NOVINY. Thus, the recent proposal submitted by 3 MPs for a special law on a Temelin referendum is dead in the water. It's a pity that the biggest initiative to assert the voice of the people is connected with this, in effect, fait accompli. Had it come at the beginning of the 1990s, when the government itself had mixed feelings about the plant, it would have most likely stopped the project, speculates HOSPODARSKE NOVINY. Instead, despite the 107,000 petition signatures in favour of the referendum, the result will be nil, concludes the paper.