The package of fiscal reforms approved by the centre right government will take effect on January 1, despite complaints to the Constitutional Court filed by opposition politicians. The Constitutional Court said on Thursday it would not be able to rule on the complaints by the end of the year. The reforms which parliament approved in the summer of this year will radically change the tax, social and health care system in view of reducing the steep deficit in public finances.
The Czech Academy of Sciences and Charles University on Thursday signed an agreement to jointly build a new centre for biotechnology and biomedicine near Prague. The centre is to attract leading scientists, both from the Czech Republic and abroad, and draw money from EU funds. Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek, who attended the signing ceremony said the project had the government’s full support.
Experts warn that the number of sexually abused children and children forced into prostitution is growing in the Czech Republic and they fear that the country’s entry into the Schengen border-free zone may make the situation worse. Last year the Labour and Social Affairs Ministry registered over 1,600 cases of sexually abused children but according to Eva Vanickova, a specialist who has written a book on the subject, that number is very likely the tip of the iceberg.
Presidential candidate Jan Svejnar has said the Czech Republic should adopt the euro as soon as possible, citing 2012 as a realistic target date. The 55 year old economist who is President Klaus’ sole rival for the post of president, indicated that the centre-right government was overly cautious in its euro-prognosis, and that the Czech Republic would have more to lose by staying outside of the single currency market. The Czech Republic has revised its projected entry date more than once due to a steep public finance deficit. Prime Minister Topolanek has now refused to commit to any specific target date, saying the country must first undergo health and pension reforms.
Czechs are increasingly dissatisfied with the political situation in the country and with the work of the government and parliament. According to the polling agency STEM dissatisfaction with the country’s top officials has been growing since June and the situation is getting steadily worse. A mere 16 percent of respondents said they were satisfied with the political situation, 6 percentage points down from November. Only 25 percent of Czechs are satisfied with the government's performance, down from 38 percent in June, and a mere 22 percent are happy with the performance of law-makers in the lower house and the Senate.
President Klaus has signed a new foreigners' law tightening the rules under which foreigners can apply for permanent residence or asylum in the Czech Republic. Under the new conditions non-EU foreigners who marry Czech citizens will have to wait two years before being able to apply for permanent residence. The new legislation will take effect on January 1st of 2008 and was timed to coincide with the country's entry to the Schengen border-free zone.
Czechs are celebrating the country’s entry to the Schengen border-free zone with fireworks, street parties, concerts and sports events. The eastward expansion of Schengen to nine new states at midnight on Thursday will lift border controls between the old and new EU members, creating a vast border-free zone for 400 million Europeans in 24 countries stretching from Spain to Estonia. The expansion is described as a symbolic “tearing down of the last remnants of the Iron Curtain”.
The Supreme Administrative Court has confirmed a one million crown fine which the Czech Retail Inspection Office imposed on the supermarket chain Ahold in 2005 for incorrect price labels, a lack of information about the source of food products and incorrect weight entries. The fine was record-high at the time it was imposed.
Opinion polls indicate that the opposition Social Democrats have outstripped the ruling party in popularity ratings. The results of a poll conducted by the STEM agency suggest that if elections were held today the Social Democrats would come out the winner with 35 percent of the vote. The ruling Civic Democrats would gain a mere 28 percent, followed by the Communists with 16.5 percent. The ruling party is attributing the sudden slide in popularity to the fact that it has been forced to implement painful reforms. A separate poll conducted by the CVVM agency confirms the turn-about in public support.
The government has rejected a bill that would abolish healthcare fees, which are set to come into effect next month. On Wednesday, the opposition Social Democrats submitted the proposal, and gained the support of one of the governing coalition’s deputies, but in the end this was not enough for the bill to pass. As of January 2008, Czechs will have to pay 30 CZK for a visit to the doctor’s, and 90 CZK per visit to the emergency room. The health minister Tomas Julinek has said the move is necessary to cut wastage in the Czech healthcare system. The Social Democrats have also filed a complaint against the reform with the Constitutional Court, which is still to rule on the matter.
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