Czech Prime Minister Jan Fischer on Tuesday welcomed expressions of EU solidarity over Canada’s re-imposition of visas on Czechs. But Mr Fischer underlined that what Prague is really seeking is EU action that would force Canada to return to a visa-free regime. The prime minister was speaking after a meeting with President Václav Klaus. EU foreign ministers on Monday voiced their solidarity with the Czech Republic over the re-imposition of visas on July 14 but did not discuss retaliatory steps. The European Commission should first of all come up with its stand by September. Canadian authorities said on Tuesday they had given out 1,360 visas so far with less than 1.0 percent of applications refused.
Sparta Prague take the field against Greek team Panathinaikos on Tuesday night for a chance of playing in the European Champions League. The first leg of the third pre-qualifying round offers the Czech side a chance of revenge. The Athenian team blocked Sparta’s chances of a place in the top European competition last year with wins at home and away. Sparta Prague has not featured in the Champions League for the last three seasons.
Czech police are also facing budget problems. In this case, money for covering operational expenses is short to the tune of around 900 million crowns. This threatens the force with being unable to fuel patrol cars, pay energy bills or buy paper. On the other hand, a shortage of around 3,500 staff nationwide means that the force is saving even more on the wages bill. Minister of Interior Martin Pecina said on Tuesday that the government should rush through changes that will allow unspent cash from one section of the budget to be used in another. The entire system should be overhauled next year so that budgets corresponded with costs, he said.
The number of women undergoing abortions in the Czech Republic rose last year. The Institute of Health Information and Statistics said 2008’s total climbed to 41,446 cases compared with 40,917 a year earlier. This translates into 16.35 abortions per 1,000 women of child bearing age. The institute said the slight rise in abortions was partly explained by the trend of women postponing childbirth till later in life when the risks are higher. Even so, the number of abortions has fallen to a quarter of the level it was in the early 1990’s. That is largely thanks to the greater availability of the birth control pill.
The last Czech tourists with crashed tour operator Tomi Tour have returned home. A Czech airlines plane brought the last 115 tourists back from Egypt on Tuesday morning. Around 3,200 Czechs who had booked with the tour operator were abroad when its collapse was announced on July 17. Most of the tourists were stranded in Turkey, Egypt and Spain. Holiday bookings were being taken minutes before the collapse was announced.
The Ministry of Finance says it will be forced to revise its budget deficit figures for this year because of the worse than expected economic situation. The ministry promises a new version of the 2009 budget by mid-August which could see the deficit ballooning to 200 billion crowns or beyond. The ministry only in June said that the deficit should not exceed 170 billion crowns. Since then however it has deepened its prediction of how much the economy will shrink this year to 4.3 percent.
The European Union will not make a decision on whether to re-impose visas for Canadians until the autumn, Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kohout said in Brussels on Monday. The Czech Republic has asked the EU to consider introducing visas for Canadians in retaliation to Ottawa’s decision to re-introduce visas for Czechs. According to Mr Kohout on Monday, however, the EU’s response first has to be considered by the European Commission and nothing will be decided upon before September. Following two years of visa-free travel, Canada reintroduced visas for Czechs on July 14 after thousands of Czech Roma applied for asylum.
In more business news, financial daily E15 reports that Monday was the deadline for potential investors to voice an interest in Czech brewery Staropramen. Staropramen has been put on the market by Anheuser-Busch InBev alongside the conglomerate’s other central and eastern European ventures to help pay off debts of nearly 45 billion USD. The brewer has said it hopes to receive 2.6 billion USD through the sale of its central and eastern European businesses, while analysts suggest that its enterprises in the region are worth considerably less than that, something closer to 2 billion USD. It has not been revealed just who is interested in the purchase of Staropramen, but there is speculation that private equity funds such as CVC Capital Partners and TPG have put in a bid. Staropramen is the second biggest beer-producer in the Czech Republic.
Czech energy giant ČEZ said on Monday that it was still trying to reconnect some 600 customers left without electricity after storms last Thursday. Extreme weather felled trees and cut power cables around the Czech Republic, initially leaving around 150,000 people without power. Electricity supplier ČEZ said that it would have to spend in the region of 30-40 million crowns (1.7-2.2 million USD) to repair damage caused by the storms. Two people were killed in last Thursday’s storms.
The government agreed on a plan to combat the effects of the financial crisis with the Czech Union of Towns and Municipalities on Monday. At a news conference after the meeting, Prime Minister Jan Fischer said the government would give Czech towns some 2 billion crowns (112 million USD) to help fight the economic downturn, and would set aside another 2 billion crowns in reserve. Head of the Union of Towns and Municipalities Oldřich Vlasák said that the lion’s share of the money would be spent on services conducted at a regional level on behalf of the state. Mr Vlasák added that, at the moment, municipalities are covering up to 70 percent of the cost of such services.
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