A spokeswoman for the Czech government has told journalists that the
ruling cabinet has unanimously approved the draft budget for 2008. The
draft budget submitted by the Finance Ministry reckons on a deficit of 70.8
billion Czech crowns or 3.5 billion US dollars. This amounts to 2.95
percent of GDP just below the crucial 3-percent limit set by the EU as one
of the criteria for adopting the euro.
Areas that will be receiving significantly more money include education, culture and agriculture. The budget still has to pass a vote in the lower house of parliament where the centre-right governing coalition has a slender majority, which depends on the support of rebel MPs from the Social Democrat opposition.
According to the iDnes news website, the national air carrier Czech Airlines (CSA) plans to offer cheap flights to 36 destinations around Europe for as little as 1990 Czech crowns (100 US dollars). iDnes reports that the move is an attempt by CSA to compete with budget carriers like Ryanair and EasyJet. The cheap flights will be available for destinations like Paris and Moscow, and tickets will also include refreshments unlike most cut-price airlines.
A new opinion poll by the CVVM institute suggests that the opposition
Social Democrats are now the most popular party in the country. According
to the survey, if an election were to be held now, the Social Democrats
would win 33 percent of the vote ahead of the Civic Democrats who would get
31 percent. The Civic Democrats' partners in the coalition government, the
Greens and the Christian Democrats would get 10 percent and 9 percent
respectively. The Communist Party would receive 14.5 percent.
It is the second opinion poll in a week to show that the Social Democrats have overtaken the Civic Democrats as the most popular party. Before that, the last time the Social Democrats had been ahead of their main rivals was in December 2002.
Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek announced on Wednesday that the Czech
Ministry for Foreign Affairs is to establish a new centre to coordinate
development and humanitarian projects abroad. Foreign aid experts had
complained in the past that Czech humanitarian aid was inefficient because
it lacked a unified system, which led to individual ministries often
drafting and implementing projects independently of each other. A draft
bill on establishing the development centre is expected to be ready by the
end of the year.
The Czech Republic allocated around 3.6 billion crowns (approximately 180 million US dollars) for foreign development aid last year. This money mainly went to projects in so-called priority countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Angola, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Yemen, Moldova, Mongolia, Serbia, Montenegro, Vietnam and Zambia.
As expected the government's financial reform package has been passed by the Czech Senate. 49 out of 80 senators present voted for the legislation, which will introduce controversial new changes to the countries tax and welfare systems. The Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek has repeatedly said that the reforms are needed to curb a rampant public-spending deficit. The reforms will now have to be signed by President Vaclav Klaus before they can be enacted.
The Czech Chamber of Commerce has called on the Minister of Trade and
Industry Martin Riman to abolish foreign investment incentives. The
chairman of the chamber Jaromir Drabek said on Wednesday that incentives
used to attract investment such as tax breaks and financial support for job
creation gave many foreign firms an unfair advantage on the Czech market.
He also added that many local businesses were suffering because they could
not hold on to qualified personnel who were going to work for incoming
Mr Riman for his part said he himself agreed with most of Mr Drabek's concerns but that there was currently not enough political support in the government for a complete abolition of investment incentives. Nevertheless, he did say that legislation had been introduced in the spring which was meant to tighten up the investment incentive system and that the effect of these new laws would assessed at the start of next year.
The Environment Minister and Green Party leader Martin Bursik announced on
Wednesday that the ruling cabinet had approved a draft bill, which would
make polluters liable for any environmental damage they cause. It will also
require businesses to take out mandatory insurance to cover the risk of
their causing damage to the environment. The move is in response to EU
directives that have been in effect since April and which require countries
to enact legislation that clearly stipulates liability for environmental
The EU directives were approved in 2004 in response to a number of major ecological disasters in Europe such as the sinking of the Erika oil tanker off the coast of France in 1999 which caused extensive damage to coastlines and marine life.
The Czech Republic's largest health insurer VZP has bowed to demands from
general practitioners to increase its payments to doctors for treating its
subscribers. The moves take place after doctors across the country staged
their third one-day strike of the year on Wednesday in protest at what
union representatives say are poor pay conditions. The Association of Czech
GPs maintains that primary medical care is deeply undervalued in this
country, which puts financial pressures on doctors and limits their ability
to provide quality services.
In bowing to the doctors' demands for higher fees, the VZP health insurer said it would now have to cancel planned extra payments for doctor's surgeries that were performing particularly well or operating in areas where there was a shortage of medical services.
President Vaclav Klaus has dismissed the Czech Republic's ambassador to
the European Union Jan Kohout. A spokesman for Mr Klaus told the Czech
Press Agency on Wednesday that the President had recalled Mr Kohout in
accordance with the government's instructions and that he would be replaced
by the former Agriculture Minister Milena Vicenova by the end of the year.
Mr Kohout's tenure as Czech ambassador to Brussels had been due to expire in May 2008. Czech Deputy Prime Minister Alexandr Vondra had previously said that Mr Kohout was being dismissed early to give his successor time to prepare for the Czech Republic's presidency of the EU at the beginning of 2009. Some critics have claimed, however, that the move is politically motivated. Mr Kohout is a member of the opposition Social Democratic Party.
Average grain prices have risen by as much as 10 percent in the last two
weeks and are twice as high as they were a year ago according to the
president of the Czech Agricultural Chamber Jan Veleba. Mr Veleba blamed
the increase on poor harvests elsewhere in Europe as well as on the growing
use of arable land for bio-fuels and declining world-grain reserves, which
are at their lowest level since 1974.
Although the Czech Republic's grain harvest was better this year than it was in 2006, Mr Veleba says prices are rising due to demand from major grain consumers such as Poland, Hungary, France and Germany, where this year's yields were poor. He has also said it is possible that the Czech Republic may face a shortage of grain next spring and will have to purchase it abroad for prices even higher than the current ones.
New foreigners’ law to change conditions for non-EU nationals
Czech foreign ministry reports record number of visa applications
Restaurant tells visitors to “clear their plates” or pay a 50 crown fine for wasting food
New index shows locations with best quality of life in Czech Republic
Archaeologists unearth rare Renaissance-Baroque brew house in ‘Czech Paradise’