Central Europe Review Call forpolicy proposals...
Vol 3, No 17
14 May 2001
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Czech newsNews from the
Czech Republic

All the important news
since 5 May 2001

Mark Preskett


No to transition period

Discussions surrounding the Czech Republic's
View today's updated headlines from the Czech Republic and Slovakia

accession to the European Union (EU) captured attention this week. The Czech Republic and the EU have not yet reached agreement on the key issue of freedom of labour. On Sunday, at an EU conference in Nyköping, Sweden, Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kavan spoke out against a transition period, whereby workers from EU candidate countries would not be able to seek employment in current member states.

Germany and Austria have proposed a seven-year transition period, fearing a massive influx of cheap labour from countries seeking accession to the EU, including the Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary and Slovenia. The European Commission supports the proposed policy.

The Czech government has repeatedly stressed that fears of a mass exodus by Czech workers to the West are unfounded. In a meeting of European Social Democrats in Berlin on Monday, the leader of the ruling Social Democrats, Vladimír Špidla, stated that there is little evidence to suggest that Czechs will leave the country in search of work.

Prime Minister Miloš Zeman has repeatedly said that the government has had little success in convincing Czech workers to move from areas of high employment to richer areas within the country. This unwillingness to move would also apply abroad.

However, on Wednesday, the Czech national daily, Lidové noviny, wrote that German and Austrian fears should not be dismissed. A survey by the International Union of Road Transport shows that in Germany alone there is a shortage of some 8000 professional lorry drivers. Deputy Director of the Czech Transport Union (ČESMAD) Martin Šprynar warned that the best Czech drivers might leave for better wages being offered in the West. "Even today, there is problem here in finding quality professional drivers. After entry into the EU, the situation will get worse."

Jan Kavan also warned of the negative effect the transition period would have on the Czech people. "The seven-year ban might also mean that we would lose if the people were asked about entry to the EU in a referendum."


Vyborný out of the running

The main candidate for chairman of the Christian Democrats (KDU-ČSL), Miroslav Vyborný, surprisingly announced on Wednesday that he does not wish to be considered for the position. Current Chairman Jan Kasal announced two weeks ago that the KDU-ČSL needed a new leader to restore peace to the party and invited Vyborný to run for office.

After Vyborný refused the invitation, Kasal said he would run against Cyril Svoboda for the top position. Svoboda was a former vice-chairman of KDU-ČSL and resigned as Chair of the Four-Party Coalition two weeks ago. Kasal and Svoboda battled for KDU-ČSL party leadership two years ago, with Kasal emerging as the victor.


"Tunneler" strikes back

Barak Alon, director of the Austrian firm B.C.L. Trading, has gone on the offensive. According to Lidové noviny, Alon is the Czech Republic's biggest tunneler and owes the Czech bank, Komercní banka (KB), CZK (Czech koruna) 18 billion (USD 458.5 million). He is also suspected of fraud in both Hungary and Austria.

For over a year, Czech police have been investigating the case. Komercni banka filed bankruptcy proceedings against B.C.L., however, last month an Austrian court refused to bankrupt the firm. As a result of the bankruptcy claim, KB should be given information about the assets held by B.C.L. in Austria.

B.C.L. now argues that KB harmed its company and is preparing to go to court to seek CZK 15 billion (USD 382.1 million) in damages. Alon's lawyers have refused to disclose the basis for the claim and KB has also declined to comment.


Eighth letter bomb discovered

On Monday, an eighth letter bomb was discovered after being sent to one of the managers of the bankrupt firm H-System. The device was safely diffused by an officer from the bomb squad. As a result of this attack, one of the board members of the property development firm has been given police protection. Three additional directors have requested such protection.

H-System was set up as a co-operative several years ago with the intention of building homes for members of the organisation. Instead, the company went bankrupt. Since that time, several public demonstrations have been held by investors angry over the loss of their savings. Many investors claim to have lost hundreds of thousands of crowns.


Unemployment decreases

The Czech unemployment rate dropped to 8.3 per cent in April from 8.7 per cent in March. This was the third consecutive decrease this year. The unemployment rate is now at its lowest since May 1999. The Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs reports that the lowest levels of unemployment can be found in Prague and Central Bohemia.

In these areas, unemployment hovers around three per cent. Seven industrial regions in Northern Bohemia and Northern Moravia have reported unemployment of more than 15 per cent. The highest unemployment level has been reported in the region of Most. There the unemployment rate has reached nearly 21 per cent.

Mark Preskett, 11 May 2001

Moving on:


Hospodářské noviny
Lidové noviny
Mladá fronta Dnes
ČTK—Czech News Agency

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