Deputy Prime Minister Pavel Bělobradek, who heads the Christian Democrats in the ruling coalition, has said Finance Minister and ANO leader Andrej Babiš should consider resigning from office. Speaking in Orlando at the close of a five-day visit to the US, Mr. Bělobradek said the finance minister’s address to the lower house on Wednesday had only confirmed the suspicion that he had transferred the ownership of his Stork Nest farm to family members with the aim of gaining EU subsidies for small entrepreneurs. "I consider it a very serious situation because it lowers the credit of both Mr. Babiš and the whole government," the Christian Democrat leader said. He noted that while the suspicion was being investigated by the European Anti-Fraud Office OLAF and the police, it was also an ethical problem that Mr. Babiš, ANO and not least voters should address. The prime minister has said he will await the outcome of the EU investigation before making a decision on Mr. Babiš’ possible dismissal.
Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka visits Paris Thursday for talks with his French counterpart Manuel Valls and President Francoise Hollande. Sobotka has said he is keen to learn the lessons that France has learnt regarding security following last November’s terrorist attacks. Discussions will also focus on bilateral trade and investment, possible Czech cooperation in the space industry, research and development and energy. Sobotka later said that both sides agreed there could not be a long term allocation of immigrants between EU states. The Czech prime minister last visited Valls in April 2014.
No fly zones, also affecting drones, over parts of Prague including Prague castle and the government offices and the president’s country seat at Lány will apply during the visit by Chinese President, Xi Jinping. The first ever visit by the head of the Chinese Peoples’ Republic takes place from March 28 to March 30. Security zones will also be created at areas where activities linked to the visit are scheduled. Due to the level one security alert now prevailing in the Czech Republic, these areas will be patrolled by mixed contingents of police and army. Residents and visitors entering these zone will also be liable for security checks.
Czech hard coal mining company OKD counts on lay-offs totalling around 345 from various sites by July 1, Minister of Industry and Trade Jan Mládek announced on Thursday. His announced followed a meeting with management of the company. Mládek said he had been looking for guidance from the company on what their plans for the whole year were but these were not forthcoming. Ownership of the coal mining company has in fact transferred to a group of creditors, called the Ad Hoc Group. Minister of Labour and Social Affairs Michaela Marksová said possible vacancies for workers in the Moravia and Silesia regions had already been plotted out.
Czech exports to Russia fell by 31 percent last year to total around 78 billion crowns, Czech Television reported Thursday. That represents around 2 percent of total Czech exports. The drop is mainly due to the weak rouble and fall off in Russian purchasing power due to low oil prices and prices for other basic commodities. In 2014, exports to Russia were around twice as high, counting for around 4.0 percent of total Czech sales abroad. This week Czech and Russian ministers of industry and trade met for the first time in three years to review commercial relations and how they could be boosted and specific export problems addressed.
A report by the Czech Schools Inspectorate has criticized the way management of a Prague secondary school reacted to long running problems which culminated in the bullying of a teacher by pupils and her eventual death. The report said that management were aware of the problems and complaint’s connected with the teacher’s English course since October 2015 but failed to take action. An incident in which three pupils were caught on camera abusing and bullying the teacher in January 2016 resulted in the students’ temporary expulsion. But problems with the course, which was clearly inadequate, were again not addressed. The teacher died a few weeks later in February after collapsing in one of her lessons. The director of the school was eventually dismissed. The school authorities have maintained that the teacher’s death was not linked with bullying.
Economic confidence in the Czech economy dropped by 0.4 points to stand at 196.7 points in March compared with February, the Czech Statistical Office announced on Thursday. The composite index is back to the level at the end of 2015. Compared with March 2015, the index is still 1.6 points higher. The biggest drop in confidence came from consumers with industry opinion firmer. The biggest confidence fall in the industrial sector came from construction, where confidence levels have slipped back to the levels last seen at the end of 2014.
A third of those claiming a basic knowledge of the Stork’s Nest affair surrounding finance minister and ANO leader Andrej Babiš regard his actions as fraud with 36 percent saying it was not fraud but immoral behaviour. A quarter regarded Stork’s Nest as an affair created to discredit Babiš. The percentages result from a survey for national broadcaster Czech Television by the Median STEM/Mark agency. Those claiming deeper knowledge have a more negative reaction to the minister with 36 percent saying the claim of European funds for his farm and conference centre was fraud. A further 41 percent said it was immoral and only a fifth regarded the scandal as fabricated to tarnish Babiš’ name. The minister revealed Wednesday in a special debate in parliament that the project was owned by his daughters and the brother of his partner when it received 50 million crowns in European funds. Billionaire businessman Babiš claimed he was not guilty of fraud by claiming cash aimed at small and medium sized companies. Fellow coalition parties have said they will wait for the results of an investigation by European fraud experts before deciding on further action.
Deputy Prime Minister Pavel Bělobrádek has called for the creation of a Czech Space Agency. The call from the Christian Democrat leader in charge of research and development within the government came after a visit to the United States’ NASA facility in Florida on Wednesday. Bělobrádek said that space is a fast growing sector with Czech scientists having a good reputation in the field. Current Czech efforts were not concentrated enough to deliver dynamic results and ensure that local research was integrated into European and worldwide developments, he added.
The government is planning to create a two tier system for supervising the performance of the country’s security services. The moves has been discussed with parliamentary parties. The proposal at this stage is for both a parliamentary and newly created parliamentary and government body to supervise the three services. The latter would draw on vetted security experts and respected individuals, for example former judges and state officials, the government announced Wednesday. The aim is for a more thorough control of the security services.
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