The European Commission has begun an investigation into the budget deficit in the Czech Republic and eight other EU states whose deficits have breeched the stipulated boundary of 3% of GDP. The Finance Ministry on Wednesday said the investigation was ‘nothing surprising,’ and has already proposed measures expected to reduce the deficit by roughly 2% of GDP. Originally anticipating a budget deficit of 3.9% for this year, the ministry is in fact faced with 5.5%, which threatens to climb to more than 7% for 2010 should Parliament fail to pass its budget proposal for next year. The Czech Republic could face fines if its public finances are not rectified.
Police in the West Bohemian town of Most have charged four members of the far-right Workers’ Party on suspicion of violent crimes. Three were arrested in a case in which officers pursuing noise complaints after a Neo-Nazi march in August were ambushed by a group of six young people. The fourth is charged with riotous conduct after attacking to a cameraman from a civic society who was filming a Workers’ Party event in November of last year. If convicted the attackers face up to five years imprisonment.
The level of people’s dissatisfaction with the direction their country is going in has reached a record low, a poll indicated on Wednesday. Such is the opinion of 46% of Czechs according to the STEM research agency, which also stated that people were much more concerned with the economic crisis than with the current constitutional crisis that nixed hopes of early elections. STEM reported that in recent years there have been three relatively equal groups of people who were either satisfied, dissatisfied, or thought things were “going nowhere.” This year however, the agency’s research suggests that contentment has dropped fairly swiftly in the course of the year, from 23% in May to 14% in September, marking the lowest point for that question since 1993.
The Swedish Prime Minister and current EU President Fredrik Reinfeldt said Wednesday he wants the long-delayed Lisbon Treaty put into effect by the end of 2009, before the end of Sweden’s presidency. To this end, Mr Reinfeldt is expecting European Commissioner José Barroso and the Czech Prime Minister in Brussels for a discussion to prepare for all eventualities. Prime Minister Fischer’s plane however stayed grounded due to a technical problem and the leaders met via videoconference. Asked if he would be visiting Prague or inviting Czech President Klaus for discussion, Mr Reinfeldt said that the decision was currently in the hands of the Czech Constitutional Court, which he expected to rule on the matter in the next two to three weeks. The Constitutional Court’s review of a complaint regarding the treaty and President Klaus’s personal resistance to signing it into law are seen as the final obstacles to the application of the Lisbon reform treaty throughout Europe.
More than 200 scientists and artists took to the streets on Wednesday at Prague’s Jan Palach Square for an event called “The Future is Not for Sale”, protesting state education and art policies. In speeches and slogans the crowd of students, professors and professionals attacked what they called the marginal interest of politicians in supporting science and education and the work of the governmental Council for Research, Experimental Development and Innovation, the members of which include politicians and businessmen. The current government has been criticised on a number of occasions for having proclaimed education a pillar of social development in their policy statement, and later cutting the education budget by 12 billion crowns.
Meanwhile MPs on the Parliamentary Budget Committee have had their first discussion of the Finance Ministry’s proposed budget for next year and recommended the plan to Parliament. The proposal now awaits a first reading in the lower house, which is scheduled for October 21. The Ministry’s budget proposal foresees a 163-billion-crown deficit – a reduction from earlier estimates made possible by an austerity package approved by Parliament last month.
The Czech government has confirmed that American Vice President Joe Biden will be visiting the Czech Republic between October 20 and 24. A spokesman for the government said Mr Biden would be meeting with Prime Minister Jan Fischer and President Václav Klaus, as well as other political and civic leaders. The daily Mladá fronta Dnes reported on Tuesday that the aim of the visit was to strengthen relations between the countries after Washington’s decision several weeks ago to scrap a plan for a missile defence system in Central Europe. The paper also speculated that the trip could be an occasion for the two countries to discuss the potential use of Amercian fighter jets, with the lease on the Czech Republic’s fleet of Swedish Gripens to end in 2015. The vice president’s four-day trip to Europe will also include stops in Poland and Romania.
Foreign trade in the Czech Republic for the month of August finished with a 10.6-billion-crown surplus, the Czech Statistical Office has reported. Improvement of 9.1 billion over August of last year marked the third month of year-on-year growth for foreign trade, and is put down primarily to a decreased deficit in mineral fuels trading and a higher surplus in machinery and vehicles trading.
The District Court in Brno has passed a sentence for the largest forgery case in Czech history. Jan Trojan Jr. was sentenced to 7.5 years in prison for selling forgeries of the work of 20th century artist Jan Zrzavý for an estimated 15 million crowns. Two charged as accomplices in the case received one-and-a-half to two-year probations for painting and signing acquisition documents to the counterfeits. Mr Trojan told the court the fraud had begun as a means of cheating his father – an antiquarian – out of millions. Jan Trojan Sr. was also on trial in the case, but died last year before the end of the proceedings.
Caretaker Prime Minister Jan Fischer has invited party leaders to a meeting on Friday to debate the government’s mandate for the next six months. It is not clear how many parties will send their representatives. A separate meeting on the same subject was held on Monday night at the instigation of Civic Democrat leader Mirek Topolánek and only attended by Civic Democrat, Christian Democrat and TOP09 representatives. There is controversy over the caretaker government’s mandate with the Civic Democrats expressing concern that it could be hijacked by left-wing parties in Parliament.
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