- The government has approved new austerity measures to keep the budget deficit below 3 percent of GDP.
- The government has also passed draft legislation introducing tighter rules for parliamentary votes of no-confidence.
- The police have arrested five people in connection with the ProMoPro case in which 135 million crowns was allegedly embezzled during the country’s 2009 EU presidency.
- The Czech ombudsman has asked MPs to change several laws relating to the unemployed, foreigners, public employees and other groups.
- Former prime minister Jan Fischer and economist Jan Švejnar top the ladder of potential presidential candidates, a new poll suggests.
Government approves austerity measures for 2013, 2014
The Czech government on Wednesday approved new austerity measures that should keep the deficit of the state budget below 3 percent of the country’s GDP. As of next year, the VAT rates will increase by one percent to 21 and 15 percent, respectively while income tax will rise from 15 to 20 percent. For three years, those with monthly salaries over 100,000 crowns will pay a 7-percent “solidarity tax”. The government has also removed a ceiling for health insurance payments while pensions will grow in a slower pace.
In 2013, the government aims at a deficit of 2.9 percent of GDP while in the following year, the deficit should drop to 1.9 percent of the gross domestic product. The new austerity measures were approved by coalition leaders on Wednesday in a deal to ensure the continuation of the government.
Government passes constructive vote of no confidence
The government on Wednesday also passed draft legislation introducing a so-called constructive vote of no-confidence. If approved by Parliament, the bill will impose stricter rules for ousting the cabinet in a parliamentary vote of no-confidence in that the opposition would have to announce the name of the next prime minister, and would have to gain the signatures of at least 50 deputies in support of the motion. In case the vote fails, a new attempt could only be staged in eight months’ time, or with the support of at least 80 MPs.
The bill has been criticized by the opposition; Social Democrat leader Bohuslav Sobotka dismissed the legislation as pointless and tailored to the needs of the current government.
Winemakers slam planned wine tax
The Czech Winemakers’ Union on Wednesday criticized planned wine tax. The government approved the new tax of 10 crowns per one litre of still wine as part of a new set of austerity measures; Finance Minister Miroslav Kalousek said it should fetch some 1.3 billion crowns into the state budget while small wine producers should be exempt from the new tax. However, winemakers say it will only help imported wines, and put more pressure on their industry; they have started a petition in support of keeping wine tax-free.
Press: police arrest five in ProMoPro case
The police have arrested five people in an ongoing investigation of the ProMoPro case in which at least 135 million was embezzled during the country’s EU president in 2009, the news website E15 reported on Wednesday citing confidential sources. Among those arrested is Jaroslav Veselý, the owner of the ProMoPro which provided audiovisual and interpreting services to the Czech government, as well as several of the firm’s subcontractors; they face charges of embezzlement and money laundering along with four other people who have not been taken into custody.
The case might have political implications as the ProMoPro deal was overseen by then EU affairs minister, and the current Defence Minister Alexandr Vondra, of the Civic Democrats, who in the passed faced pressure to resign over the scandal.
Ombudsman calls for changes to legislation related to unemployed, foreigners
Czech ombudsman Pavel Varvařovský on Wednesday recommended lawmakers to implement changes in several laws relating to the unemployed, foreigners as well as public employees. Mr Varvařovský said that MPs should remove a measure requiring some unemployed to regularly report to post offices. The measure, which was introduced earlier this year in an attempt to crack down on illegal employment, contradicts human dignity, according to the ombudsman. Mr Varvařovský also criticized what he called fast-track extraditions of foreigners at Prague’s Ruzyně Airport, as well as the lack of legislation governing public employees’ labour contracts.
NGO, Pirate Party against planned personal data retention
The Czech Pirate Party and the NGO Iuridicum Remedium on Wednesday voiced objections against a bill requiring phone operators and internet providers to store personal data from electronic and mobile communication. The Czech Interior Ministry, which drafted the bill, hopes it would help fight organized crime.However, the activists said it would instead introduce a principle of guilty until proven innocent into Czech law. The country’s Constitutional Court last year struck down a similar measure arguing that personal data retention was unconstitutional.
One third of Czechs don’t want gays, foreigners and people of different skin colour as neighbours
Around one third of Czechs do not want gays, foreigners and people of different skin colour as neighbours, suggests a new poll by the STEM agency released on Wednesday. The results also show that some 86 percent of Czechs would not like to live next door to drug addicts while 78 percent of those polled would not want alcoholics as their neighbours. Also, around 12 percent of Czechs do not want to live next to rich people.
Poll: Former PM Fischer, economist Švejnar favourites in presidential race
Former prime minister Jan Fischer and economist Jan Švejnar remain favourites in direct presidential elections, according to a new poll by the Factum Invenio agency released on Wednesday. If the elections were held in late March or early April, Jan Fischer would receive 23.3 percent of the vote, while Jan Švejnar would get 17.2 percent. Another former prime minister Miloš Zeman would come in third with 10 percent, while Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg would finish fourth with 8.3 percent of the vote. Direct presidential election will be for the first time held next year to elect the successor of Václav Klaus.
Students, writers pay homage to late Josef Škvorecký
Around 30 writers, publishers and students paid homage to the late writer Josef Škvorecký at the Josef Škvorecký Secondary School in Prague on Wednesday. The school hosts a non-stop reading of books published in Mr Škovercký’s exile publishing house, 68 Publishers. Josef Škvorecký left Czechoslovakia in 1969 and settled in Toronto where he published books by Czech authors banned by the communist regime. He died in January at the age of 87.
Tennis: Czech Fed Cup team nomination announced for semifinals against Italy
Czech Fed Cup team captain Petr Pála on Wednesday announced the nominations for the semifinals of the women’s team event in which the Czech Republic will play Italy. Pert Pála selected Petra Kvitová and Lucie Šafářová for the singles while Lucie Hradecká and Andrea Hlaváčková will play the doubles. The semifinals are scheduled for April 21 and 22 in Ostrava.
Hockey: Kometa beat Pardubice to tie finals series
Kometa Brno beat Pardubice 6:5 in the second game of the hockey league finals on Tuesday night and tied the best-of-seven series. Kometa was ahead 2:0 after the first period and was leading the hosts 6:2 in the third. But Pardubice scored three times in less than two minutes and were close to equalizing. However, Kometa held out and tied the final series which now moves to Brno.
The coming days will be mostly overcast with rain showers. Daytime highs should range between 10 and 14 degrees Celsius.