Some important events Czech Republic can expect in 2003

Only one day remains until the end of 2002, a year which has brought events both good and not so positive for the Czech Republic. In August, devastating floods hit parts of the country causing damage worth tens of billions of crowns. In November the Czech Republic hosted a historic NATO summit during which the Alliance invited seven East European states, and a month later, the country was invited to join the European Union, together with nine other countries, at the EU summit in Copenhagen. And what can the Czech Republic expect in 2003, after ten years of its existence?

There are things which cannot be easily predicted - natural disasters, for example. Although experts on the climate say there is an increased probability that events such as the August floods will happen again, let's hope nothing like that befalls the country any time soon. A vivid memento of the disaster is the Prague metro network, large parts of which were flooded and knocked out of operation for weeks or months. The whole network is expected to completely re-open in March 2003, that is seven months after the floods.

A highly important event in Czech domestic politics is scheduled for mid-January. Both houses of parliament will vote in presidential elections to produce a successor to Vaclav Havel who has been at the head of the country for thirteen years. It is widely expected that none of the candidates nominated so far will get enough support in the parliament to be elected in the first attempt and the election will have to be repeated. If that fails too, the chance is that the parliament will discuss a law on direct presidential election and Czechs might be able to choose their head of state in a direct vote.

It is for sure that Czechs will have a chance to practise direct voting in mid-June - in a referendum on EU entry, the country's first referendum ever. After the government signs the Accession Treaty with the EU in April, Czechs will be asked to answer the question: "Do you agree with the Czech Republic becoming a member state of the European Union according to the Accession Treaty?" The result of the referendum will decide whether the country will join the EU on May 1, 2004 or face the consequences of postponement of EU membership by several years.

Economists are warning us that what appears to be a time of relative prosperity will not last for long. The country's big trade partners in Western Europe are not doing very well, export figures are dropping and the increase in labour productivity is lagging behind the rise of salaries. The decreasing productivity of companies together with the trade unions' pushing for higher and higher wages may result in substantial lay-offs in many firms - and for the first time in the history of the Czech Republic the level of unemployment is likely to exceed ten percent. Besides, no one can predict precisely how the situation might be influenced further by a possible war in Iraq and its impact on world oil prices.

In sport, the Ice Hockey World Championship in Finland will show whether the replacement of Josef Augusta by Slavomir Lener at the post of the coach of the Czech Republic's national team was a change for the better. In August Paris will host the World Championship in Athletics, where Czech athletes Roman Sebrle and Tomas Dvorak are hoping for medals. The javelin world record holder Jan Zelezny might skip the event, as he wants to prepare well for the 2004 Olympics.

And finally, one thing will affect every Czech, whether they are sports fans or not, whether they follow or ignore politics. On June 1, the Czech National Bank will discontinue ten and twenty-heller coins, slimming down significantly our purses and wallets. The coins appear to have lost their function - twenty hellers or "dvacetnik" buys you nothing at all. It might be hard for some to say good-bye to those coins which for many still mean a lot as symbols but for many Czechs the end of their circulation will be just a "small change".