New figures suggest that retail sales fell by 3.3 percent in October. The figures quoted by the daily Mladá Fronta Dnes, strongly contrast with a 6.1 percent growth in sales the previous month. The figures represent the third monthly drop in 2008 and are causing alarm bells to ring among economists. Meanwhile, reduced prices by many outlets as well as increased Christmas-time spending will, according to analysts, only slightly mitigate the overall trend. Car sales are registering the greatest dip in sales, but small businesses such as restaurants are also registering a dip in visitor numbers. However, according to Czech Statistics Office figures, sales are up in a number of specialized fields including electronics, furniture and other home-related items.
The war of words between the Czech and French presidents shows no sign of letting up. In comments made on Wednesday, Czech president Václav Klaus accused the French president Nicolas Sarkozy of playing a “dumb game” with the Czech Republic over EU matters. The comments came as a response to an earlier statement by the French president expressing regret that the EU flag does not hang on Czech government buildings. As was later pointed out by analysts and also Czech politicians, the EU flag only fails to hang at the President’s official residence, the Prague Castle – the Czech president has steadfastly refused to hang the flag there, arguing that the castle is a symbol of the Czech Republic and not Europe. France is the current EU president and will hand over the reigns to the Czech Republic on January 1st. It is widely assumed that many French diplomats including the French president have concerns about the direction of the impending EU presidency, particularly in light of the Czech president’s outwardly Eurosceptic stance.
Police have arrested members of a gang believed to be responsible for around 70 million crowns worth of thefts from cash-machines across the country. Six people were arrested in total, with one member of the gang believed to be still at large. The members are aged between 30 and 37, with co-operation from police in Prague, Brno, Olomouc, Mladá Boleslav and several other regions resulting in the arrests. According to police, the thieves simly drove up to cash machines stationed in shopping centres and simply ripped them out of the wall, then driving off with the machines on the back seats of their cars. 39 such bank machine thefts are attributed to the gang.
Slavia Prague, who had already been knocked out of the competition, drew 2:2 away with Ajax in the UEFA Cup on Wednesday night. Prior to their last group stage game, Slavia had been the only club left in the competition not to have scored a goal. Ajax took the lead soon after the kick-off, before Jaroslav Černý equalised and Marek Jarolim put the Czechs ahead. A consolation victory was denied Slavia when the hosts converted a penalty in time added on.
A new survey by the CVVM polling centre suggests that a third of Czechs have no knowledge of the Lisbon Treaty – a stalled EU-wide document designed to streamline the European bureaucracy. According to the poll, 43, percent of those surveyed said their knowledge of the document was “very superficial,” 80 percent stated that they had no interest in EU or Lisbon Treaty-related matters, with only 19 percent stating that they were fully aware of what the Lisbon Treaty was. The survey is likely to raise eyebrows in light of the fact that the Czech Republic will shortly assume the rotating presidency of the EU.
A proposed selective elimination of controversial health fees introduced by Health Minister Tomáš Julínek remains in limbo as politicians iron out differences over legislation. The Minister has promised a willingness to compromise as both the government and opposition Social Democrats work on a plan that could see under-18s, low-income groups as well as seniors exempted from having to pay to visit a doctor, as well as exemptions for prescription fees. Meanwhile, the Czech Prime Minister indicated that the current system is not sustainable from a political point-of-view, in that it remains deeply unpopular and has seen the opposition successfully use it as a rallying point. At present, politicians from all sides are presenting various formulations for how to structure the exemptions – a decision will reportedly be made on Friday as to which version to present to the lower house of parliament for a vote.
A new poll conducted by STEM suggests that 86 percent of Czechs are pleased with the election of Barack Obama to become the 44th president of the United States. According to the data, only four percent of Czechs paid no attention to the US elections, with 64 percent of respondents having a favourable view of Obama during the election campaign. STEM also broke down polling according to Czech party affiliation, finding that 19 percent of Civic Democrats, 18 percent of communists and 17 percent of Christian Democrats were unhappy with the results of the election. 92 percent of Green Party supporters and 90 percent of Social Democrats were pleased with the election outcome, according to the poll. 78 percent of those queried also stated that EU-US relations will improve under an Obama administration. Barack Obama will be sworn into office on January 20th 2009.
The French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, has attacked the refusal of the Czech president, Václav Klaus, to fly a European Union flag over Prague Castle during the Czech Republic’s upcoming presidency of the EU. Speaking at the European Parliament, Mr Sarkozy also criticised Mr Klaus’s behaviour during a recent meeting with a delegation of senior MEPs in Prague. Those talks ended in acrimony when the MEPs tried in vain to present the euro-sceptic Mr Klaus with an EU flag. For his part, President Klaus described the French president’s comments as “really undignified”. The Czech Republic assumes the six-month rotating presidency of the EU on January 1.
The Czech government has taken the advice of the Finance Ministry and the governor of the central bank and decided not to set a date for adopting the common European currency, Finance Minister Miroslav Kalousek said on Wednesday. That means the Czech Republic will not sign up next year to ERM-II, the exchange rate mechanism which is a major step towards full euro adoption. Several Czech business leaders have called for the introduction of the euro, as the strong Czech crown has had a negative impact on exports. Neighbouring Slovakia joins the eurozone on January 1.
The leader of the Social Democrats says he believes a deal with the government aimed at ensuring the Czech Republic’s EU presidency runs smoothly will be agreed before Christmas. After discussions on Tuesday, Jiří Paroubek said it was possible he and Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek would hold further talks on the matter in the near future. Mr Paroubek has previously said any agreement would only concern some aspects of EU policy – not domestic politics.