The American ambassador to the Czech Republic, Richard Graber, spoke out against corruption and lack of transparency within the Czech political system at a conference held at the Czech Senate on Wednesday. According to Mr. Graber, reports from Transparency International and other such organizations indicated that corruption was still present in both Czech business and political spheres. The ambassador put this down to the fact that democracy in the Czech Republic was, he said, still very young. And he did see the situation as improving. Among other measures being taken, Mr. Graber commended the Czech government's new anti-corruption telephone line, which Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek launched on Tuesday.
The Czech government has been ordered to consider compensating families who were stripped of their property by the so-called 'Benes decrees' in 1945. On Thursday, the Supreme Administrative Court ruled that the Czech Ministry of Finance was wrong to turn down the Porkert family's case for compensation without considering it duly beforehand. The Porkert family once owned the Fotochema factory in East Bohemia, but it was nationalized by presidential decree following on from the Second World War. A spokesperson for the Czech Ministry of Finance said that the Ministry respected the verdict even though it differed from previous Supreme Court rulings, which went in favour of the government.
On Thursday, Czech unions launched a renewed attack on the government's financial reform package, in response to the Senate approving the reforms the previous evening. At a press conference on Thursday morning, the head of the Czech-Moravian Confederation of Trade Unions, Milan Stech, told journalists that the reforms would not benefit the Czech Republic's lowest earners, families and pensioners. He added that he would be prepared to organize protests, should that be the move that his colleagues would like him to take. Unions protested against the reform package earlier this year, most notably on Prague's Wenceslas Square in June. Having been approved by both the lower and upper houses, the reforms are now just waiting for the green-light from President Vaclav Klaus.
Czech police are investigating some of the firms involved in the building
of the Czech nuclear power station Temelin in the early 1990s, the
Aktualne.cz news website wrote on Thursday. Police suspect that the state
could have paid as much as 100 million CZK (5 million USD) for work firms
claimed to have done, and that was in fact fictitious. The anti-corruption
police unit has confirmed that it is in the process of investigating, but
has refused to reveal any details.
The alarm was raised by German detectives investigating a Westphalian firm on charges of money laundering. Their investigations led them to find millions of crowns deposited in this firm's accounts by Czech companies that had been involved in the construction of Temelin.
Slavia Prague celebrated a 2:1 win over Steaua Bucharest in their Champions League debut on Wednesday night. They now join London team Arsenal with three points at the top of Group H. Despite their early success in the competition, Slavia are aiming, according to their manager Karel Jarolim, to finish third overall in Group H. This would rule them out of the knockout stages of the competition, but would provide them with the consolation of a UEFA cup slot. Slavia's next Champions League match is away against Spanish team Seville, on 2nd October.
Minister Vondra met with his French and Swedish counterparts in Prague on Wednesday, in a meeting to decide upon joint-policy for the 3 countries' successive EU presidencies. The Czechs will be taking the presidency on from the French at the beginning of 2009, while the Swedes will take over from the Czechs at the helm of the EU in July 2009. The French State Secretary of European Affairs, Jean-Pierre Jouyet, Czech Minister for Europe, Alexandr Vondra, and the Swedish Foreign and European Ministers, decided that they would make the implementation of EU reforms the joint aim of their respective presidencies. The ministers will meet again in Luxembourg in mid-October, to further discuss proposals.
The Czech Senate has approved a first draft of an amendment which would ban the use and display of both Nazi and Communist symbols. Over the next couple of months, the matter will be discussed further by the Senate, and then, if approved, by the lower house. Senators from the leading Civic Democratic Party are split over the amendment. Critics call the proposal undemocratic and unconstitutional. The proposal is to outlaw the logos of extremist groups, such as the swastika and the hammer and sickle. But the Czech Communist Party, whose logo may also be affected by the amendment, has said in response that it is a democratic party, and not an extremist group. A similar amendment was proposed under the last government, but it was not approved in the lower house.
According to statistics released by the Czech Statistical Office on Thursday, the population of the Czech Republic grew by 38,800 in the first 6 months of this year. This brings the population of the Czech Republic ever closer to the 10.5 million mark. Births were up, year-on-year by 3,700, with a total of 56 thousand children being born in the first 6 months of this year. And the population was also bolstered by an upturn in the amount of foreigners settling in the country. From January to the end of June, some 34,300 foreign nationals moved to the Czech Republic, which is almost double the number of arrivals for the first half of 2006. Two fifths of the new-arrivals were of Ukrainian nationality, with a large number of Slovaks and Vietnamese also making up the numbers.
More than 50% of Czechs expect changes brought about by the recent public finance reform bill to negatively affect their lives, concludes a poll conducted by the Factum Invenio agency, and released on Thursday. The least popular facets of the reform bill were the rise in the lower rate of VAT from 5% to 9%, and the introduction of medical fees, with over 80% of Czechs saying that they would be negatively affected by these changes. Respondents to the poll accepted the introduction of flat income tax as the best of all of the changes to be made, though this was still relatively speaking. The reforms will come into effect in January next year.
According to Hospodarske Noviny, the Czech government has lowered the target it set for over 500 civil servants to learn French fluently by 2009. The Czech Republic takes over the EU presidency from France at the beginning of 2009, and hundreds of civil servants had been sent to Prague's French Institute to gain a command of the language as part of the preparations. But now, the government has lowered its expectations, asking only for a basic knowledge of French from its employees. Time constraints have been blamed for move. The Czech Minister for European Affairs, Alexandr Vondra has been quoted as saying that he himself does not speak French, and finds it unlikely that he would learn it well enough to help him within a one-year time frame.