Czech police are reportedly claiming that a bridge that collapsed in August, leading to a train crash that killed seven people, was supported by wooden beams. The allegations underscore a growing police case, which suggests that the bridge, which over-hanged a railway line near the city of Moravia, had fundamental structural defects. The bridge collapsed onto the line, and a passing Eurocity train then crashed into the debris, causing the worst train crash in the Czech Republic for years. The bridge was undergoing reconstruction at the time, and investigators claim that newly analysed photographs of the 400 ton structure reveal that it was resting on inadequate wooden blocks at the time of the accident. However, as investigations continue, no formal conclusions have yet been reached.
Deputy Michal Pohanka, who was elected to the lower house as a Social Democrat MP, but later switched to being an independent, has said he will resign. Mr Pohanka gained notoriety following the 2006 parliamentary elections, which essentially resulted in a stalemate. Along with fellow Social Democrat MP Miloš Melčák, he voted to give confidence to the opposition coalition government. The move earned the MP the label of “defector” and Mr Pohanka soon left the Social Democrat ranks. The move undoubtedly makes life somewhat more complicated for the governing coalition as the Social Democrats are likely to appoint a replacement whom they believe will vote along party lines. The stated reason for Mr Pohanka’s decision is to give space for the governing Civic Democrats and opposition Social Democrats to negotiate, particularly over the future of the Lisbon Treaty – the MP denied that political pressure had played a role in the decision. Many fellow MPs said they were surprised by the resignation.
The Social Democratic Party is to ask the Czech Constitutional Court to examine two agreements signed by the government with the United States over the positioning of an anti-ballistic-missile radar station on Czech soil. According to the Czech daily Hospodářské Noviny, the request will be made in February next year, and reflects similar attempts by opponents of the Lisbon Treaty to have it declared unconstitutional by the court – a move which did not succeed. The Social Democrats are staunch opponents of the US radar base, and believe that the agreement signed by the government with the US may be illegal. The move will come at a time when the Czech parliament is scheduled to vote on the Lisbon Treaty – some analysts have suggested a behind-the-scenes quid-pro-quo agreement is being discussed between the Social and Civic Democrats in order for both the Lisbon Treaty and the radar base to gain parliamentary approval – neither have been voted on by the parliament yet.
A day after the lower house passed the 2009 state budget, the country’s Finance Minister Miroslav Kalousek has admitted that the deficit may be twice as high as that predicted. The budget passed by Parliament, factored-in a deficit of 38.1 billion crowns and assumes a 4.8 percent GDP growth. However, a day later, Mr Kalousek conceded that due to an economic slowdown expected next year, the state coffers may be short by tens of billions more crowns – while adding that the deficit could reach as high as sixty billion crowns. The Czech National Bank has repeatedly lowered its GDP growth forecasts for 2009 as the effects of the global economic slowdown become more apparent in the Czech Republic.
A new study from Brno’s Masaryk University suggests that housing remains one of the greatest issues facing Czech Roma is housing. The study points to the positive effect of a good neighbourhood and contrasts this with the ghettos, which many Roma often find themselves inhabiting. The study also openly laments the absence in the Czech Republic of a law mandating so-called “social housing.” The Minister for Ethnic Minorities and Human Rights Džamila Stehlíkova has stated that she will study the document.
New figures reveal that the birth rate in the Czech Republic continues to rise. According to a report released by the Czech Statistical Office during the first three quarters of 2008, 91,300 children were born in the Czech Republic, a figure 4900 higher than during the same period last year. Overall, the Czech population increased by 65,000 to 10.446 million in the third quarter, partly aided by around 51,400 immigrants who came to the country. So-called natural population growth," brought 13,600 births in the first nine months of 2008, a figure 4800 higher than 2007 numbers, while infant mortality remains among the lowest in the world. The baby boom is likely to further assuage demographers who have for years warned that the Czech population may begin to shrink, causing among other issues, problems for the state’s ability to pay pensions to retirees.
The Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek has opposed plans put forward in the Lisbon Treaty to lower the number of EU commissioners by a third. Speaking ahead of a summit of EU leaders in Brussels, Mr. Topolánek stated that all EU states should have an EU commissioner. The comments were specifically made in response to alleged Irish demands that the country will get to keep its EU commissioner. Ireland and the Czech Republic currently stand alone in Europe as states that have not ratified the Lisbon Treaty. Speaking to the Czech news agency CŤK, the PM also stated that the tax sovereignty of the Czech Republic should be guaranteed. The Brussels meeting is designed to find a way forward following the Irish rejection of the Lisbon Treaty in a referendum earlier this year.
A controversial “blob” design for a new national library to be housed in Prague’s Letná appears all but doomed as an attempt by a Prague councilor to persuade the city’s leadership to support the project failed. The European Democrat councilor, Jiří Witzany used the final window of appeal to attempt to overturn a decision by the Prague municipal council, not to support the project by denying it planning permission. Members of the governing Civic Democrat council have been fiercely opposed to the library, in a saga that has dragged on for more than a year. Following the failed appeal, Mr Witzany conceded that the entire project appears doomed.
The final shape of the Czech EU presidency programme will be approved at a meeting of the government’s planning committee on December 22, Czech Deputy-Prime Minister for European Affairs Alexandr Vondra informed senators on Wednesday. Mr. Vondra said the government would present the programme under the slogan "Europe without Barriers," which is the motto of the Czech EU presidency. Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek will present the presidency programme to the European Parliament in the second week of January.
The lower house of Parliament on Wednesday approved the state budget for 2009, with a deficit of 38.1 billion crowns. The budget was passed by 101 votes in the 200 member lower house. Despite its weakened position, the coalition government managed to secure the votes of all five rebel deputies, overriding protests from the opposition Social Democrats and the Communists. Opposition leader Jiří Paroubek accused the finance minister of having pushed through a misleading budget proposal based on unrealistic expectations. The budget operates on a 4,8 growth figure for 2009. Finance Minister Kalousek said he was prepared for a variety of economic scenarios, including drastic ones which he hoped would not materialize.
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