The great European Heat Wave of summer 2003 has now itself died down, but the heat is still definitely on the government and public health authorities in France, where the Health Ministry estimates that up to 3,000 people might have died – and other sources estimate up to 5,000. Today Prof. Lucien Abenhaïm, the French directeur général de la santé – “director general of health,” or namely the professional physician filling the role in the Health Ministry similar to the US Surgeon General – submitted his resignation to Health Minister Jean-François Mattei. Only last Friday, interviewed in English by the BBC World Service, he had opined that he should not resign, and said he wasn’t particularly worried about holding down his job. Of course, many in France believe that it is M. Mattei himself who should resign in light of the public health crisis from the heat that seemed to take the government by surprise.
The countdown is on for the referendum in the Czech Republic on EU accession, to take place over next Friday and Saturday (13 and 14 June). As most of the other candidate countries have done, Czech authorities are also making use of the tactic of opening the voting centers over two days to encourage as large a turn-out as possible (although referenda in the Czech Republic do not have any legally-mandated level of participation, below which they become invalid). And the Prague authorities enjoy a further advantage: their referendum is towards the end in the series of candidate country referenda (only a couple of the Baltic countries remain), and the script has gone according to plan – all of the other countries voting before have voted “Yes” (if in some cases with distressingly-low levels of voter turn-out), so that puts further pressure on Czech voters not to show themselves to be the odd man out. (more…)