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Czech EU presidency: Millions to be spent on sandwiches

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The opposition is attacking Topolánek’s cabinet because of money that is to be spent on open sandwiches. The Office of the Government has increased the refreshment budget by more than CZK 10 million in the past two years. Ministries will also spend extra millions, as they will provide European officials and politicians with food and drink during the Czech EU presidency.

MPs discussed the Office of the Government’s budget even during the session of the petition committee. Since they could not reach a conclusion, they could not adopt any official resolution. “Items like refreshment or gifts, these are a tragedy. Although we will be presiding over the EU, the expenses are exorbitant,” said a member of the lower house petition committee Hana Orgoníková (ČSSD). Ladislava Zelenková (ČSSD), head of lower house’s subcommittee for Czech presidency, is also concerned about governmental expenses on refreshments. “It is a big, remarkable increase. We will look into it and demand an explanation,” Zelenková said.

The Office of the Government is planning to spend almost CZK 14 million for refreshments for guests, while in 2007 the sum only slightly exceeded CZK 3 million. “We know already now that the sum is not exaggerated,” says Blanka Vysloužilová, deputy head of the Office of the Government.

Deputy PM Petr Nečas (ODS) is angry with the opposition because of the open sandwich conflict. “If someone is attacking it, it is due to ignorance or bad intentions,” Nečas said. In his opinion, it will be a one-off increase.

Individual ministries have also been increasing their presents and refreshment budgets. For example, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is planning to spend almost CZK 10 million next year and CZK 1.5 million more on food and gifts, respectively.

Gifts for the Trade and Industry Ministry will be financed from the cabinet’s budget, but the ministry has earmarked CZK 2.2 million for refreshments. The budget should cover four conferences and the same number of informal meetings. “So that you have a clearer idea, I can say that we will be covering 2,600 lunches and dinners and serve 3,000 snacks during coffee breaks,” Tomáš Bartovský, the ministry’s spokesman said.

The Office of the Government will cover the smaller amount of refreshment costs. “Our budget will cover lunch at informal ministerial meetings. Individual ministries will pay for the refreshments provided during meetings with their direct partners,” said Tereza Králová from the office of the Deputy Prime Minister for European Affairs.

European defence ministers will be hosted in Olomouc in the spring, transport ministers will meet in Litoměřice in April, and foreign ministers will hold talks in Hluboká. European politicians are hosted for Czech money already now. The government is to host European commissioners for lunch that will take place by the end of the year, Topolánek’s ministers are expected to meet with chairs of the European parliament committees.

The Office of the government is to sign an agreement with a catering agency this week. The total cost for the Czech presidency will be CZK 1.6 billion, another billion and a half was earmarked in 2007 and 2008.

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