The Czech cabinet approved on Monday the outline of a law overhauling the country’s pension system, Labour and Social Affairs Minister Petr Nečas told journalists. The complete law will be put to the cabinet for approval early next year, the minister added. Under the draft bill, state-run pension funds would be transformed into a number of private pension companies, offering clients a wider range of ways to save. Mr Nečas said that no changes would be made to the planned reforms in light of the ruling Civic Democrats resounding defeat in last weekend’s regional elections.
Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek said on Monday that the Czech Republic is not delaying its ratification of the Lisbon Treaty artificially, and that the document should be approved by the Czech parliament by the end of the year. Mr Topolánek made the comments following a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, one of the treaty’s biggest supporters, who said that the document could help provide a solution to the current global financial crisis. During a one-day visit to Prague, Chancellor Merkel praised Mr Topolánek for outlining a timeframe for Lisbon Treaty ratification. The Czech Republic is one of only two EU member states not to have decided upon whether to ratify the document.
A week after the government was ordered to return the Baroque Koloděje chateau to its pre-war owners, the Kumpera family, a regional council has been told to hand back the chateau’s outbuildings. The chateau and surrounding land were confiscated under the Beneš decrees at the end of the Second World War, and were subsequently carved up between different owners. In January, a Prague court ruled that the decrees had been misused in the case of the chateau. On Monday, another Prague court ruled that the same was the case with the chateau’s various outbuildings. The main residence was used by the Czech state until recently for ceremonial events and meetings, while the outbuildings were in the care of Koloděje Town Hall.
Police have said that the fire which destroyed part of Prague’s historic Výstaviště Industrial Palace on Thursday night was most likely caused by a technical fault, which then ignited cans of flammable liquid being sold in the venue by the firm Pragodent. A police spokeswoman said on Monday that the fire broke out on the first floor of the Industrial Palace, where the flammable liquid in question was being stored. The said cans of dental disinfectant exploded when they came into contact with the flames, intensifying the blaze. The damage caused is thought to run into billions of crowns. It is not yet certain whether the Industrial Palace will be rebuilt.
The government’s future ahead of Wednesday’s no-confidence vote is looking uncertain with at least two rebel MPs refusing to say which way they will vote. The government coalition is unsure of securing a majority in Wednesday’s vote and needs all of its MPs to vote for its survival. On Monday, Green MP Věra Jakubková said in light of her party’s poor show in this weekend’s regional and Senate elections, she would have to think seriously about whether, with its current leadership, the party should stay in power. Rebel Civic Democrat Jan Schwippel has also voiced reservations about supporting the government, but has said he probably will as the country needs stability going into its first EU presidency.
The Czech Culture Ministry announced on Monday the winners of its annual culture awards. But an incident took place when architect Jan Kaplický said he would not accept his prize for contribution to the visual arts. Mr Kaplický’s design for a new National Library building was vetoed this year by the Culture Ministry, and in such circumstances, Mr Kaplický said, it was not right for him to accept the award. The award brings with it a prize of 300,000 crowns (16,200 USD), which the Culture Ministry has said it will donate to various artistic organizations instead. Other winners of the ministry’s awards this year include Ludvík Vaculík for his contribution to literature, and Zdeněk Šesták in the field of music.
Research conducted for the newspaper Hospodářské noviny suggests that one in five Czech firms are considering job-cuts in light of the current financial crisis. The research was conducted by the Czech Chamber of Commerce and set out to gauge the effects of the current global economic turmoil on the Czech Republic. It found that half of the firms questioned were feeling the pinch caused by the worldwide financial crisis. Some 264 of the companies questioned said that they were planning redundancies. A spokesperson for the Chamber of Commerce said that the situation would improve, however, if the banking sector changed its approach when dealing with businesses.
Czech President Václav Klaus has responded to last weekend’s Senate and regional elections by saying they send a ‘clear signal’ to politicians that voters are dissatisfied. Mr Klaus urged people to wait until the second round of voting this weekend before making their final judgments, but did say that the Civic Democratic Party, of which he is an honorary chairman, had paid dearly for voters’ apparent desire for change. The Civic Democrats went into the regional elections governing 12 of the country’s 13 regions. In last weekend’s vote they lost in all 13 regions to the opposition Social Democrats. The Social Democrats are also expected to make inroads into the Civic Democrats’ majority in the Upper House in the second round of voting for the Senate which will take place this weekend.
Five investors have already shown an interest in the embattled Czech glassmakers Crystalex Nový Bor and Kavalier Sázava, the magazine Euro reported on Monday. The two firms both currently belong to Bohemia Crystalex Trading, which is on the brink of bankruptcy and therefore selling off assets. The possible buyers include Germany’s Schott, Indian-American firm Borosil and three investment funds, Euro writes. The biggest interest is said to be for Kavalier, as this firm produces glass for solar panels. Bohemia Crystalex Trading has attributed its dire financial situation to a slump in interest and the strength of the crown hurting exports.
Former President Václav Havel has urged historians to tread with more caution when ‘judging history’ in light of the recent scandal surrounding author Milan Kundera. Writing in this week’s edition of Respekt, the former Czech president said that historians acting in good faith could do ‘more harm than good’ if they weren’t careful. Last week, Adam Hradilek published an article accusing Milan Kundera of denouncing a suspected western agent to the communist secret police, Mr Kundera subsequently denied the claims and a new witness then came forward in support of the world-famous novelist.