Regional News Update-March 23
Education minister quits over cuts
Czech Minister of Education Josef Dobeš has resigned from his post on 22 March, citing the “draconian” budget cuts planned by the cabinet for his ministry. His decision came despite the fact that his colleagues had decided to limit the cuts to education to 2.5 billion CZK (100 million EUR) instead of the planned 4.5 billion CZK just days before. Dobeš (Public Affairs party) has been under a lot criticism in the last few months for problems with drawing of EU funds by his ministry, proposing drastic university reforms without properly consulting the academic community and reinstating the Plsen Law Faculty in spite of the decision of the accreditation committee. Prime Minister Petr Nečas said he considers the decision to be „ a political and humanly correct move.“Prague lobbyist allegedly involved in major decisionsThe daily Mlada Fronta Dnes claimed that the controversial security company ABL, formerly headed by Vít Barta of the Public Affairs party (VV), received secretly tapped converstions between an influencial lobbyinst Roman Janoušek and members of the Prague city government, originally made by the Czech national intelligence service BIS. MFDnes reported that the tapes, obtained in 2007 by the Security Information Service (BIS) were leaked to ABL in 2009. The tapes revealed that Janoušek was part of a number of critical decisions by the city government. Janoušek had approved decisions made by his close associate and then Prague mayor Pavel Bem that had to do with property sales and other city assets. BIS has denied that the recordings were leaked from their office.
Days after the existence and content of the tapes were revealed in the press, Janoušek made it into the news again on a completely different matter. After getting into a fenderbender on a Prague road, ran over the driver of the other car involved and then proceeded to escape from police officers. Although the police measured a very high level of alcohol in Janoušek’s blood, he was not handcuffed or held overnight on the day of the incident.
Single-party government established for the first time since communism
Although Smer party leader Robert Fico initially offered other parties the chance to work alongside Smer in parliament, on March 15, President Ivan Gašparovič officially asked Fico to form a single party government. Smer’s control of the parliament marks the first time since 1989 that Slovakia has seen a one-party government. After the announcement, Fico held a round-table discussion with the five other parties elected. During the discussion, Fico offered two parliamentary deputy-speaker positions to opposition parties. Representatives present at the round table also spoke about terminating the immunity for members of parliament and public officials from criminal prosecution and discussed the potential retraction of a law which invalidates the Slovakian passport when a person applies for a second citizenship.
Hungary moves forward with judicial appointments
Despite recent financial pressure from the European Union and a June 22 deadline for the funding freeze, the Hungarian government appointed 129 new judges last week to fill in positions left by forced retirees. This new stipulation that judges must retire at age 62 was a source for concern to the European Commission and fueled its decision for an “accelerated infringement procedure” against Hungary. The new appointees will start in their positions on April 1.
Croatia wants to adopt Euro in 2013
Croatia wants to participate in all facets of the European Union after its accession in 2013, including changing its currency to the Euro. Boris Vujić, vice governor of the national bank, commented that Croatia wants to consider the move when both the Croatian economy and the finances of the Eurozone improve. Croatia’s debt continues to rise while support for the Euro is low. Vujić is convinced though that once these problems are resolved, Croatia could only benefit from becoming the next country to embrace the Euro.
Topless factivists protest violence against women
A group of young women protested topless in front of the General Prosecutor’s Office in Kyiv Monday, demanding vengeance for a teenage girl who was gang raped and set on fire earlier this week. The demonstration supporting the assault victim is one of many put on by Femen, an activist group that opposes prostitution, sex trafficking, and violence against women by drawing attention to these crimes. Femen members suggested that rape would not be so prevalent in Ukraine if the police fought against it. Critics of Femen argue that their public nudity only detracts from their cause.
Two men executed by firing squad by Belarusian government
The 11 April 2011 terrorist attack at the Oktyabrskaya Minsk Underground station, which killed fifteen people and injured three hundred others, left many devastated, confused and angry. Now, after a little less than a year of finger pointing and trial, Dzmitry Kanavalau and Uladzislau Kavalyou, who President Aleksandr Lukashenko claims confessed their involvement, have been put to death by firing squad. On 14 March 2012, after several months of delay, Lukashenko announced his decision to deny the pardons of both men. After his decision became public, the European Parliament postponed its draft resolution to Belarus, one article of which contained a plea for the pardoning of Kanavalau and Kavalyou. The Kanavlau family received a letter on March 16 informing them of the execution of their son.
General sues human rights activist
General Ljubisa Dikovic has filed a lawsuit against a human rights activits Natasa Kandic, who had accused him of committing war crimes in the Kosovo war of 1998-98. Kandic’s organization Humanitarian Law Fund group stated that Dikovic failed to prevent the execution of civilians, looting, and rape as a brigade commander in Kosovo in 1999. Both Dikovic and Serbia's war crimes prosecutors' office deny the accusations. Kandic has said the libel suit from Dikovic is politically motivated.
Right Wing party to host Viennese Ball for Academics at Hofburg Palace
A site of continued symbolic importance, Hofburg Palace has once again become the root of political controversy after the Freedom Party (FPÖ) announced that it is to host a ball there in 2013. Just weeks ago, Hofburg Palace, also the location of the president’s office, was at the center of violent protests by left-wing groups during the Viennese Corporations Ball. The approval of another ball in the same location infuriated refugee NGOs and anti-fascism groups concerned about the party’s alleged anti-democratic tendencies. FPÖ won about 26 percent in the 2010 elections.
Biggest reconstruction of the German energy market since WWII
Chancellor Angela Merkel’s plan to build offshore wind farms – which will cover an area six times the size of New York City – is the biggest energy reform since the end of World War II. The program, which will cost nearly 5 trillion CZK (200 billion EUR), will make Germany one of the first nations to combat the global need to upgrade power stations. Energy experts say that, if Germany succeeds, economies all over the world will follow their lead. But if they fail, experts predict a political, societal, and economic disaster.
Unemployment hits 12-year high with government approval at 32%
Unemployment rates in Slovenia rose to 12.5 percent in January, making this the highest in 12 years. The economy lost about 6,000 jobs in January, including 1,700 jobs in the construction sector alone. These statistics are bad news for the government, which currently has a 32.6 percent approval rating and a 37.2 percent disapproval rating. Saturday, Slovenian President Danilo Türk expressed his intentions to run for re-election and the unemployment growth may not affect his campaign. According to polls, 46.2 percent of the voters stated that they would support Türk’s re-election bid by voting for him. However, the Institute of Macroeconomic Analysis and Development (IMAD) predicts that unemployment will peak this year at 12.9 percent, a figure that will keep all the presidential candidates on their toes.
Police arrest 31 in operation against tax fraudsters
Bulgaria’s anti-organized crime police and Specialized Prosecution Office arrested 31 people for allegedly avoiding paying 2.2 million leva (about 1.1 million EUR) in value-added tax on various goods. This spanned four Bulgarian cities and towns including Sofia, Plovdiv, Samokov and Shoumen. The group set up several companies with registries using false identities. They also forged rental, delivery documents and invoices. The investigation is continuing.
First round of negotiations on Moldova-EU free trade agreement
The first round of negotiations on Moldova-EU Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA) began Tuesday, 20 March. Discussions included talks on the sale of goods and services, competition, technical obstacles in trade, sanitary and phytosanitary measures, customs management, energy sector and public procurement. Negotiations will be led by the Deputy Minister of Economy from Moldova Octavian Calmic and the Head of Unit Trade from the European Commission Delegation Luc Devigne. Second round of negotiations begin in June. The agreement is expected to be signed by September 2013.
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