Increased taxation on cigarettes has led many Czech smokers to switch to cheaper brands, the daily Právo reported. Today 56 percent of cigarettes sold in the Czech Republic are in the lowest price category, around ten percent more than a year ago, the newspaper said. An eight-crown increase in the price of a pack of 20 has not led to smokers kicking the habit – only one percent fewer cigarettes have been sold in the last year. This year around 23 billion cigarettes are expected to be sold in the Czech Republic, with an estimated 3 billion bought by tourists.
The Czech government is planning to sue the European Commission for nearly CZK 250 million, TV Prima reported. Brussels has deducted that amount from the total that was to be granted to the Czech Republic from EU funds this year; the European Commission says the Czechs embezzled it from its Phare programme aimed at small and medium-sized businesses in the 1990s. A Czech Regional Development Ministry spokesperson told Prima the government was now demanding the money. In 2005 Czech police accused ten people, including a former senior official from the Regional Development Ministry, of attempted embezzlement of the funds. The Czech finance minister, Miroslav Kalousek, has said the European Commission is partly to blame, since its officials were the main controllers of the flow of money.
Planning permission has been granted for a multi-functional building which will stand on the site of the current Národní třída metro station in the centre of Prague. The Copa centre – with seven or eight over-ground and four underground levels – will feature shops, flats, offices and a car park and will be connected to the Tesco building. The Národní třída metro station will be closed for nearly a year and a half during construction, which will see the current street level vestibule replaced by one below ground level. Over 5,000 people signed a petition against the temporary closing of the station.
Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek says measures to deal with the financial crisis agreed on by European Union leaders are likely to be implemented during the Czech Republic’s presidency of the EU, which begins on January 1. Speaking after a special summit in Brussels on Friday, Mr Topolánek told reporters the measures would probably be introduced at a summit in March.
The Czech Republic beat Sweden 4:1 in ice hockey’s Karjala Cup on Saturday. The Czechs were trailing 1:0 after the first two periods before rallying strongly in the third. In their opening game on Thursday the Czech Republic lost 4:3 to the hosts Finland on penalties. Their next and final game in Helsinki is against Russia on Sunday.
The make-up of seven of the Czech Republic’s 13 regional governments has been agreed, three weeks after elections in which the Social Democrats came first in every region. The Communist Party is either in coalition with the Social Democrats or supporting a minority Social Democrat government in five of the seven governments established so far.
The Czech prime minister, Mirek Topolánek, says Russian observers will
only be allowed at a planned American radar base in central Bohemia with
the permission of the Czech Republic. He made the comments following
reports that the US had offered Moscow even more access to the facility
than previously envisaged. Mr Topolánek said such access was not included
in treaties between Washington and Prague; he said no change could be made
without Czech agreement. The prime minister also indicated that the Czech
Parliament will now vote on ratifying radar treaties with the US following
the inauguration in January of the next American president.
Tensions mounted this week after the Russian president, Dmitry Medvedev, announced his intention to deploy short-range missiles near the Polish border; Poland is set to host missile interceptors linked to the radar in the Czech Republic.
Poland’s foreign minister, Radek Sikorski, said on Friday that the whole fate of the project depended on the speed of ratification by the Czechs. While Poland’s parliament is expected to approve a missile base without much opposition, Mr Sikorski said Czech ratification had become a more distant prospect.
The president of Poland, Lech Kaczynski, issued a statement saying that Barack Obama had promised him the US would continue with plans to build the anti-missile system when he takes office. However, an aide to Mr Obama later said no such commitment had been made.
Meanwhile, the main Czech opposition party, the Social Democrats, have said they will push for the lower house of Parliament to ask the Constitutional Court to rule on whether treaties already signed with the Americans are in line with the Czech constitution. The Social Democrats, who are opposed to the radar, say the constitution makes allowance for the short-term deployment of foreign soldiers on Czech soil, but not for an indefinite period. They would also like ratification to require a constitutional – or three-fifths – majority.
Fugitive Czech businessman, Tomáš Pitr, sentenced to five years in prison for tax evasion, may be in hiding in Switzerland. The news site Novinky.cz reported the story based on apparent evidence from the Interpol office in Bern. A Prague judge reportedly confirmed that the Swiss had reason to believe Mr Pitr might be in the country. Mr Pitr is one of the Czech Republic’s wealthiest businessmen; he disappeared when he was to begin his prison time. His crime in the Czech Republic would be barred by now under Switzerland’s statute of limitations. This summer there were reports from visitors at Euro 2008, in Switzerland and Austria, claiming Mr Pitr and members of his family had been sighted at the tournament.
The Czech ambassador to Vienna, Jan Koukal, has described as “unfortunate”,“misleading”, and "immoral" a film broadcast by Austria’s ORF on Thursday, depicting a “what if” scenario of a nuclear accident at the Czech Republic’s Dukovany plant. Mr Koukal said the work was shot in a way that it “hurt Czech-Austrian relations”. The film was broadcast as part of a four-hour bloc marking the 30th anniversary of Austria’s referendum on nuclear power. Nuclear safety has long been an important issue between Austria and its neighbour. The film broadcast on Thursday is said to present a biased depiction of the Czech authorities as incapable in their response to the depicted disaster. Earlier, the Czech Embassy in Vienna rejected a claim that an embassy official had been invited to screen the material in advance.
The Austrian daily Der Standard has suggested that Czech President Václav Klaus could be a bigger threat for the future of the Lisbon treaty than the “No” vote in the recent Irish referendum. The Irish rejected the document, aimed at reforming the running of the 27-member bloc, earlier this year. Mr Klaus, a well-known euro-sceptic, has long criticised the treaty. The daily contends that the Czech president is trying to prevent the treaty by “all possible means”, taking note of the fact that the president will meet with an outspoken opponent of the document, in an upcoming visit to Ireland. Given the Czech president’s stance, a number of MEPs as well as other observers in recent weeks have questioned the Czech Republic’s ability to provide strong leadership during its six-month EU presidency. It takes up the presidency on January 1.