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Regional News Update - Feb 5

Czech Republic

Czech Republic says no to EU budget discipline pact

Czech Republic has not signed the EU budget discipline pact together with Great Britain at the end of the EU summit held in Bruxelles last Monday. The treaty, expected to be signed in early March by 25 EU members, binds the countries to introduce the national budget balance as a constitutional rule and sets sanctions in case of violation of this. It also establishes a permanent bailout fund, whose extent will be decided at the next EU summit scheduled for 1 March. The Czech Prime Minister Petr Nečas explained that the reason for the Czechs holding back was mainly due to the fear of an excessive transfer of power from individual states to the Union, which could result from the treaty.Vondra forecasts extension of Afghan missionThe Czech Defence Minister Alexandr Vondra (Civic Democrats/ODS) has proposed an extension till 2014 of the mandate for Czech troops stationed in Afghanistan within the ISAF mission. However, the number of soldiers, currently 620, could be lowered. Most Czech troops are located in the Logar province where they support reconstruction projects. Vondra, who discussed the issue last week with his US counterpart Leon Panetta, suggested that Czech soldiers might engage in training of Afghani armed forces in the next two years. Vondra’s announcement met with criticism from the opposition Social Democrats (ČSSD) who called for a discussion in the parliament on the issue.Education minister on thin ice over EU fundsPressure on the Czech Education Minister Josef Dobeš to resolve the EU funding scandal is growing even from the ranks of his own party, Public Affairs (Věci veřejné-VV). According to the ministry’s spokesman Radek Melichar, the European Commission has refused to pay out 1.2 billion CZK (approx. 50 million EUR) in funds from the operational program Education for Competitiveness. The commission refused to pay out the amount, which was supposed to be the last payment for grants given to the ministry’s project entitled SPORT, because of doubts over spending and public tenders. If the ministry is unable to resolve the situation and draw the remaining funds successfully, even some members of VV may call for Dobeš’s resignation.

Slovakia

Wave of protests against corruption in politics after the Gorilla case

Some 3,500 demonstrators gathered in Bratislava’s main square on Friday 27 January to protest against corruption in politics and the illicit links with the business world. In large part, the protest was a reaction to the disclosure of the Gorilla affairs files, which revealed a connection between important figures in politics and the financial group Penta. The protesters called for a new political culture and a more transparent form of governance. Another protest, with thousands of demonstrators, took place in the Slovak capital again this Friday, 3 February, this time centered around the building of the government.

Croatia

Support for new government grewCroatians' overall satisfaction with the new Prime Minister Zoran Milanović has increased in the first month of his office, according to the latest polls. 73 per cent of Croatians are confident about his skills as politician in helping the country to overcome the current economic crisis. The popularity of the new Prime Minister has not been damaged by the first economic measures implemented by his government, such as budget cuts and VAT tax increases, that are perceived as necessary by the Croatians in the present situation.

Poland

New project to combat youth unemploymentThe Polish government will spend 120 million PLN (approx. 28.8 million EUR) on a pilot project that aims to decrease youth unemployment. As part of the project, vocational vouchers and additional training will be provided, as well as 6-month subsidized internships, premiums for companies for hiring interns and a number of other measures.

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