In related news, Prime Minister Topolánek on Tuesday put forward five alternatives for the tenure of his ruling coalition. The first suggests the government remain in place for roughly a week, the second until the end of April, when the parties are to agree on measures to counter the current economic crisis. The third and forth proposed dates extend to the beginning and end of June, respectively, after elections for the European Parliament and the completion of the Czech EU Presidency. The final alternative is that the government would remain in place until early elections. Mr Topolanek also stated on Tuesday that as the chair of the majority party he wants to form the new government himself, though he need not remain at its head. The opposition Social Democrat Party has so far resisted all proposals for the government to remain in place for more than a few weeks, and is promoting the appointment of a caretaker government.
The government approved moves to cut Value Added Tax on some labour intensive services at its Monday meeting. The measure should shift a series of services, such as dining in restaurants, getting a hair cut and bike repairs, into the lower nine percent sales tax bracket from the current 19 percent. The broad plans have already been backed at EU level. The step, aimed at saving jobs during the current crisis, is estimated to cost the Czech budget between 3.0 billion and 6.0 billion crowns a year.
Rivers at three locations in South Moravia reached second degree emergency levels on Tuesday. Rainfall has also swelled five other rivers in the region to “increased awareness” levels. Water management experts expect the surface levels to continue to rise through Tuesday and Wednesday, however the end of the week is expected to see dryer weather and higher temperatures. The region of Moravia, the eastern half of the Czech Republic, is frequently on alert for flooding, most recently in early March. Heavy flooding in the area in 1997 and 2002 led to deaths and significant material damage.
The upper house of parliament may be convening for an emergency session to force a vote on the Lisbon Treaty, the Civic Democrat Senator Jiří Stříteský said on Tuesday. Such a convention would be the first in the chamber’s history. The Social Democratic Party is moving to get Lisbon ratification on the Senate agenda through the standard process. Nonetheless, the party has insisted on an April Senate vote and has stated that they have the necessary signatures of all party senators to potentially convene an emergency session. The execution of such a session is however a difficult endeavour in terms of timing and practicality, and head of the Senate Přemysl Sobotka has stated his own view that convening it would be technically impossible. The Czech Republic is one of four EU member states that have yet to fully ratify the Lisbon Treaty. The Czech Chamber of Deputies passed the treaty in February; Senate approval is still required before the Treaty can be signed by the president and ratified.
The chair of the opposition Social Democrats Jiří Paroubek said on Tuesday that a preliminary agreement on early elections had been reached between himself and Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek. A morning meeting between the Civic Democratic Party, Social Democrats, Christian Democrats and the Greens, reportedly resulted in a general consensus among the parties on a date of no later than October 20. Mr Paroubek also announced he would offer Mr Topolánek a proposal within the day for altering the parliamentary term of office set out in the constitution. The Czech government is currently “in resignation” after losing a no-confidence vote last week.
Students who were forced to discontinue their studies for political reasons by the Communist regime after it came to power in 1948 and until 1956 can claim compensation under a proposal approved by the government on Monday. Compensation of up to 100,000 crowns can be awarded with individual applications being vetted by the ministries of education, defence and interior. The Ministry of Education said up to 900 people stood to gain from the measure when it was originally proposed but that total has now fallen to around 300.
A survey for the month of March made by pollsters STEM and released ion Tuesday has shown that only 25% of Czech households have seen no difference in their spending habits. Meanwhile, 14% of families reported themselves to be living “from one payday to the next”, which is an increase from previous years. More than half of the families surveyed reported they are able to cover their standard expenses, however are not in a position to save for more expensive purchases.
Israeli President Shimon Peres has concluded a two-day state visit to the Czech Republic on Tuesday, meeting the outgoing Prime Minister and former president Václav Havel. Following a meeting with Czech counterpart Václav Klaus on Monday, Mr Peres said he expected significant progress in solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict this year. He later visited the Terezín memorial to victims of the Jewish Holocaust. The Terezín fortress was used as an assembly camp for Jews before they were sent by the Nazis to their deaths in concentration camps.
The Czech Ministry of Environment signed a major contract for the sale of carbon emission credits with Japan on Monday. The deal covers 40 million credits but the final selling price was not revealed. The Czech Republic stands to be a big seller of carbon credits under the Kyoto climate change protocol which allows countries that have cut pollution of the key greenhouse gas to cash in by selling their unused allocation. Minister for the Environment Martin Busík said the country stands to gain up to 25 billion crowns under the emissions trading system over the next four years. Cash received will be used for environmental project such as ecological heating of homes and blocks of flats.
US President Barack Obama is to deliver his only public European speech at Hradčanské náměstí - one of the main squares near Prague Castle – on Sunday morning, the American Embassy in Prague has announced. The site, which offers a panorama of the Czech capital’s skyline, has been a topic of heavy speculation over the past month. Prior to his address, which is expected to centre on nuclear disarmament, Mr Obama will be meeting with Czech President Václav Klaus and will afterwards be attending an EU-US summit at Prague’s Congress Centre. A meeting with former Czech president Václav Havel is also planned for the weekend.
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