- The Senate has passed a bill legalising the use of marijuana for medical purposes.
- The Prague High Court has sentenced former City Police chief Vladimír Kotrouš to five-and-a-half years in prison.
- The Czech Republic is considering providing military equipment and training in conflict-stricken Mali.
- Outgoing President Václav Klaus is weighing the possibility of a post within the structure of the European Union, daily Lidové noviny reports.
- The Office for Personal Data Protection has said the Ministry for Labour and Social Affairs has until the end of June to correct mistakes made in the S-Card system.
Senate passes medical marijuana bill
A bill legalising the use of marijuana for medical purposes has been passed by the Czech Senate, and can take effect after being signed by the president; 67 of 74 senators present on Wednesday voted in favour of the legislation. Medical cannabis has been shown to be effective in alleviating symptoms of diseases ranging from cancer to Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, psoriasis and atopic dermatitis. Patients will be able to purchase medical marijuana with an electronic doctor’s prescription. Critics of the bill had charged that many patients would not be able to afford legalised marijuana unless the price was at least partially covered by public health insurance, which insurers opposed. According to some estimates, some patients could pay up to 10,000 crowns a month.
High court sentences former police chief to five-and-and-a-half years in jail
The Prague High Court has sentenced former Prague City Police chief Vladimír Kotrouš to five-and-and-a-half years in prison, lowering his original six-year sentence. In addition, the court ruled that Mr Kotrouš was banned from working in any of the security forces for five years and will also have to pay a 400,000 crown fine. The former police chief was arrested with a 150,000 crown bribe on his person last year, which he admitted to; the prosecution charged that he had asked for an overall sum of one million. Mr Kotrouš said that his family’s unforeseen financial difficulties had led him to break the law.
Czech government may help in EU training mission in Mali
The Czech government is considering equipping and training a Malian army battalion within a possible EU mission, Prime Minister Petr Nečas said on Wednesday, after the cabinet session. He added that Prague was primarily negotiating the possibility with France, which put boots on the ground in Mali after Islamist militants were said to be threatening the south of the country. Great Britain is to send 330 troops to help. Sending Czech military instructors would require the consent of not only of the Czech government but also of Parliament. Prague is considering not only providing military expertise and equipment but has made clear it will send an additional three million crowns to Mali in humanitarian aid.
Outgoing president setting sights on EU post?
Outgoing President Václav Klaus, who steps down in a little over a month, is weighing the possibility of a post within the structure of the European Union, Czech daily Lidové noviny reports. According to the newspaper, citing an anonymous source close to the president, there is a possibility the former head-of-state would even be “satisfied” with the post of euro MP, noting elections to the European Parliament are scheduled for next spring, enough time for Mr Klaus to launch a new party to back his bid. Mr Klaus is widely-regarded as a staunch eurosceptic opposed to further federalisation; any new party formed by him would be expected to have a strong anti-federalist platform. Several highly-placed members of the Civic Democratic Party that he once headed, meanwhile, expressed support for the outgoing president continuing in politics. One of Mr Klaus’ closest advisors, Ladislav Jakl, told the daily he had no information about the president’s plans.
Ministry will have to make changes to S-Card system
The Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs has until the end of June to correct mistakes made in the S-Card system, namely breaking the law on personal data protection, the Office for Personal Data Protection revealed on Wednesday. Either the system, which streamlines social benefits and welfare payments, would have to be shelved by the ministry or the current situation would have to be approved in the Chamber of Deputies, the head of the Office for Data Protection Igor Němec announced. The office head explained that the ministry broke the law by sharing client information with the bank Česká spořitelna which administers the S-Card system. The bureau has launched proceedings which could lead to the ministry being fined up to 10 million crowns. The prime minister, Petr Nečas, said in response that he had expected the tough stance by the bureau, stressing that the ministry would have to quickly prepare legislative changes. He is planning to meet with the minister for Labour and Social Affairs, Ludmila Mullerova of TOP 09, saying he expected her to have concrete plans on how to move forward.
Regional councillor for education resigns
The councillor for education in the region of South Bohemia, the Communist Party’s Vítezslava Baborová, stepped down on Wednesday sending a letter of resignation to regional governor Jiří Zimola. Mrs Baborová explained in the letter that she was resigning for health reasons. Her decision will come into effect on February 3. The politician, as a member of the Communist Party, was strongly opposed by students and other activists who waged a public campaign against her instatement. The regional governor has declined to discuss possible successors.
Schwarzenberg team disbands
Members of the campaign team of presidential candidate Karel Schwarzenberg (who finished second in the recent presidential election) have revealed they will not attempt to found a new political platform. Spokesman Marek Pražák said the campaign team had had one goal which was to try and get its candidate elected. He made clear that members respected the results, despite a thin line, in the team’s view, walked by their rivals regarding some statements in the final weeks of the campaign. Mr Pražák called on supporters to push for greater decency in Czech politics. In the runoff election last weekend, Mr Schwarzenberg earned more than 2.2 million votes – not enough to beat fellow candidate Miloš Zeman who received roughly 500,000 more.
Property tax deadline looms
Just two days remain for individuals in the Czech Republic who bought property last year, or made substantial renovations such as adding a garage, to file their property tax. Other property owners do not have to meet the January deadline and can wait to receive notification from the tax office. The property tax was raised from three to four percent as of 2013 – part of the government’s measures to generate more revenue, complementing existing austerity measures.
Poll: Social Democrats would win election easily, support for TOP 09 doubles
In related news, a new poll by the CVVM agency suggests that support for governing coalition member TOP 09, headed by Mr Schwarzenberg, doubled during the presidential elections, jumping from a single-digit to double figures. Support for the centre-right party would rank at 16 percent if elections were held today, mirroring the results of the actual 2010 Parliamentary election when the party received 16.7 percent. The opposition Social Democrats also improved on recent polls and would win the election with 38 percent of the vote. The Communists would come second with 17.5 percent and the ruling Civic Democrats last with 13 percent. According to the survey, no other party would pass the five percent threshold to make it into the Chamber of Deputies.
Poll suggests 46 percent happier with current system than with former regime
According to a new survey by the STEM polling agency, 46 percent of Czechs (down from 53 percent a year ago) say the current democratic system is better than the former Communist regime in Czechoslovakia before 1989. One-third survey said the opposite was true, while 22 percent said the two systems measured up almost the same. STEM has run the poll annually since 1992. That year, the highest number – 69 percent – said they said the current system was better. More than 1,100 people over the age of 18 took part in the survey which was conducted from January 4-11.
Rainy weather is expected in the coming days, with temperatures due to reach up to 6 degrees Celsius.