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28-12-2017 14:51 | Chris Johnstone

TOP 09 lawmaker seeks release of EU Stork’s Nest report

Top 09 lower house lawmaker Dominik Feri has lodged a demand in parliament for the Ministry of Finance to release details of a report submitted to it on the so-called Stork’s Nest affair by European Commission fraud investigators. The Pirate Party said it had made a similar demand.

The European Commission has forwarded the report into whether ANO leader and prime minister Andrej Babiš and others fraudulently pumped EU funds for a recreation and hotel centre. Although the report has not been fully made public, the squad has called on the Czech Republic to exclude expenditures from the controversial Stork’s Nest project from an EU programme for the Central Bohemia region.

The Czech Ministry of Finance says it will decide how and whether to release the report and on the substance of the matter within two months. A spokesman later told Czech Radio a decision on what to release could come within 15 days. The Commission said last week the Czech state would end up paying the 50 million crowns subsidy in question.

Eleven people, including Babiš and his senior ANO colleague Jaroslav Faltýnek, have been charged in connection with the affair. The pair have parliamentary immunity after being elected in October and the Czech lower house is to decide on whether to allow them to face trial in connection with the matter. They deny any wrongdoing.

Czechs favour relaxing smoking ban: survey

Around three-fifths of Czechs are in favour of relaxing the across the board ban on smoking that was introduced in the country at the end of May this year.

The law banned smoking in pubs, restaurants, and public areas after long resistance to such a move in the country.

The survey by the Median agency for Czech Radio found 58 percent of those questioned in favour of relaxing the ban with 40 percent against and two percent undecided.

Restaurants and pubs have been among the biggest lobbyist for a change, saying that their takings have gone down. The current health minister has said more time is needed to evaluate the impact of the ban before changes are proposed.

Czech construction sector builds better performance in 2017

The struggling Czech construction sector is set for growth this year according to figures from the Czech Statistical Office.

The national statistical office says growth for the first 10 months of the year averaged out at 2.3 percent. The compares with a sharp drop of 5.9 percent in turnover for the sector in 2016.

Construction in 2017 started poorly in January and February this year but activity picked up in the Spring and Summer for around six months before falling off again.

Farm boss calls for cut in VAT rate on food

The head of one of the biggest farmers' associations, the Zěmědelský Svaz, has called for a cut in the basic rate of Value Added Tax for food and fruit.

Martin Pýcha suggest a cut to between seven and 10 percent should apply at least to basic foodstuffs. The reduced rate of VAT in the Czech Republic is currently 10 percent.

So far the government of ANO leader Andrej Babiš has not signalled any willingness to cut VAT rates in its government programme.

Czech crown one of strongest performers in 2017: Bloomberg

The Czech crown was one of the fastest appreciating currencies in 2017, according to the financial news agency Bloomberg.

The fastest rising currency was the Mozambique metical which climbed by 21 percent against the US dollar. The Czech crown shared second place with the Polish zloty, both appreciating by 18 percent.

The Czech National Bank ended the so-called weak crown policy in April this year which had pegged the crown to at or below 27 crowns to the euro and allowed it to float freely. Interest rate rises have followed and are set to continue.

Local authorities begin issuing voting cards for presidential elections

Local authorities around the Czech Republic have begun issuing voting cards ahead of next month’s presidential elections. Any registered voters who plan to cast their ballots for head of state at a location other than their registered address can apply for the cards in writing until January 5 and in person until January 10. The same dates apply to Czechs living abroad, who must obtain voting cards from their nearest Czech diplomatic mission.

The first round of voting in the second ever public vote for president takes place on January 12 and 13. If no candidate gets over 50 percent the front two will go through to a run-off two weeks later.

Kintera’s Nervous Trees best-attended Czech exhibition of 2017

Nervous Trees by artist Krištof Kintera was the best-attended exhibition of the year in the Czech Republic. Almost 162,000 visitors saw the show, which was free of charge and took place at Prague’s Galerie Rudolfinum.

Originally due to end in late November, Nervous Trees was extended by a month because of its popularity. On the colourful exhibition’s final day on Wednesday it drew over 5,000 people, the gallery’s chief, Petr Nedoma, told the Czech News Agency.

Weather

Friday is expected to be cloudy with some sunny intervals. Top daytime temperatures will range between zero and two degrees Celsius.