In this week’s Business News: The grey economy in the Czech Republic is estimated to be 16% of the GDP; Average fuel prices have gone done for the fifth week in a row; The Czech energy company Enrgo-Pro has been fined by the Bulgarian anti-monopoly agency; Unemployment sees a small decline to 7.7% in April, due to more seasonal positions; A group of international solar energy investors have filed an arbitration suit against the Czech Republic; Czech and Poles want to oppose planned EU legislation curbing cigarette sales.
The current size of the grey economy in the Czech Republic has been calculated to be approximately 600 billion crowns, a 20 percent rise from two years ago, according to the E15 economic daily. The newspaper quoted a recent study on the grey market in Europe by the Visa corporation, which says that the grey economy in this country makes up a smaller portion of its GDP than the European average of 18.5 percent. In comparison to the neighboring Austria, though, the volume of unofficial transactions in the Czech Republic is twice as large.
Gas and diesel prices have been going down for five weeks in a row now. The average price for the most popular Natural 95 petrol decreased by 13 hellers from last week to 35.42 crowns per liter. The average price for diesel was below 35 crowns this week. The CCS agency, which tracks petrol prices, said the downward trend did not continue in all Czech regions. For example in the Plzeň region, the gas prices went up by around 19 hellers and diesel by 22.
The Bulgarian anti-monopoly agency has issued a 22-million-crown fine to the Czech-owned company Energo-Pro for abusing its dominant position on the country’s energy market. This comes after months of investigation into a number of foreign energy providers and distributors, which the Bulgarian authorities launched in response to wide-spread public protests over energy prices this winter. The country’s energy regulator is also currently considering taking away the local distribution license from the Czech energy giant ČEZ.
The unemployment figures improved slightly in April, going from eight percent in March down to 7.7 percent, with some 565,000 people out of work. Year-on-year, the figures are still showing a negative trend, with 67,000 more people out of work this year than last April. Analysts expected a greater decrease last month, and warned the latest figures did not necessarily suggest a long-term improvement, since the decline in unemployment is to a large degree due to more seasonal positions becoming available. The number of vacancies increased by about 900 from March, which was not as big of a growth as the job market saw last April.
An association of foreign and Czech solar energy investors, International PhotoVoltaic Investors Club, has filed an arbitration suit against the Czech Republic, asking for compensation for the financial losses resulting from the introduction of a 26-percent tax on solar power stations’ profits. The Czech government offered numerous incentives in the past to foreign investors in solar energy, promising extensive tax breaks. The retroactive profit tax was introduced in 2011 and applies to power plants that began operations in 2010 and 2009.
The Czech Republic and Poland are looking for allies in opposing planned EU legislation which should curb the sale of certain types of cigarettes. The European Commission wants to lower the number of young smokers by banning “attractive” cigarettes like slims or flavored tobacco products. At a meeting this week in Prague, the Czech and Polish agriculture ministers agreed that the planned regulation would only result in pushing cigarette producers out of Europe, without actually limiting cigarette consumption per se. The issue should be discussed at a meeting of the Visegrad group agriculture ministers next week to see whether the four members can agree on a common strategy.
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