The Czech government adopted a programme paving the way for adoption of the single currency euro on Monday. The so-called convergence programme calls for the Czech budget deficit to be reduced to 3.0 percent of Gross Domestic Product by 2013 or 2014, Prime Minister Jan Fischer said. The deficit was 6.6 percent in 2009. Such a move would, according to Minister of Finance Eduard Janota, allow the euro to be adopted in 2016 or 2017. The two main political parties have come out for a faster deficit reduction in recent days. The Civic Democrats say the 3.0 percent limit should be reached in 2012, allowing theoretical euro adoption in 2015. The Social Democrats say euro adoption could take place by 2016.
Average Czech unemployment rose in January to 9.8 percent from December’s 9.2 percent, the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs announced on Monday. The unemployment rate in January 2009 stood at 6.8 percent. The latest figures represent a five year high in the jobless rate last seen at this level in January 2005. Continuing lay-offs and the end of seasonal work are factors contributing to the higher rate. Some analysts expect the worst is now over and that the Czech unemployment rate might not push through the 10 percent barrier. Others, however, warn that further rises in unemployment could occur in the first quarter of the year and that the rate will only then stabilise given expected economic growth of around 1.5 percent this year.
The Czech Republic’s trade balance rose to a record surplus of 153.2 billion crowns in 2009. That is more than double 2008’s surplus of 67.3 billion. The total is the highest since 2005 when the foreign trade balance started to be positive. Figures from the national statistics office showed a 2.8 billion surplus in December compared with a deficit of around 9.0 billion a year earlier. The volume of trade dropped sharply in 2009 due to the economic crisis. Imports declined by 18.1 percent compared with 2008 and exports by 14.1 percent, according to estimates by the office. One of the main factors in the record figure for the year was a sharply reduced deficit for trade in fuels such as oil.
The Czech government on Monday approved a list of 38 new national cultural monuments. The list includes the striking modern Church of the Most Sacred Heart of Our Lord in the Vinohrady district of Prague, the Imperial Spa at Karlovy Vary, the colonnade in Mariánské Lázně and the renaissance castle in Vimperk. The list also includes the famous Czechoslovak locomotive the so-called “Slovenská Strela” which was first built in 1936 using an aerodynamic design. The train was used between Prague and Bratislava. Before the additions, there were 236 national monuments.
US armed forces will probably make use of Czech research for protecting computer networks against hackers and terrorist attacks, the Czech News Agency reported on Monday. Czech experts at the cybernetics department of the Czech Technical University have developed algorithms which can better protect networks against attack, the agency said. That research will probably be taken up by the US army this year, it added. The research into network security forms part of a series of projects at the university funded by US defence and government agencies with more than 20 being financed since 1999. The Czech Republic is one of a handful of countries that have signed a strategic defence cooperation agreement with the US.
The Czech president, Václav Klaus, met with his Egyptian counterpart Hosni Mubarak on Monday during a three-day visit to Egypt. According to Mr Klaus’ office one of the points discussed was the prospect for a major exhibition of Egyptian archaeological finds at Prague castle within the next two years. The Czech President also invited Mr Mubarak to the Czech Republic with hopes raised that the visit could occur this year. The Egyptian president last visited in 1994. Talks also covered trade relations and relations between Israel and Palestine. Mr Klaus was also due to take part in a signing of the Arabic version of his book Blue Planet in Green Shackles, which questions the belief that mankind is responsible for global warming.
Former Czech President Václav Havel has been forced to cancel his engagements for the coming days because of breathing difficulties, his office announced on Monday. Spokeswoman Sabina Tančevová said Mr Havel was taking antibiotics to counter respiratory problems. Havel was due on Monday to take part in a press conference of a new book by journalist Karel Hvižd’ala which includes interviews with Havel and fellow communist era dissident Pavel Landovský. Mr Havel, a former heavy smoker whose health suffered during imprisonment under the Communist regime, had part of his right lung removed in the late 1990’s when cancer was diagnosed.
A survey of voting intentions released by the Median agency on Monday has shown the left of centre Social Democrats in front with 33 percent of preferences from those questioned. The right of centre Civic Democrats had 27.8 percent according to the survey carried out in January. The Communist Party would receive support of 12.8 percent with the TOP 09 party getting 9.3 percent and the Christian Democrats 7.4 percent. The Green Party would fall just under the minimum 5.0 percent ceiling for winning seats in the lower house with 5.5 percent. Elections to the Czech lower house will be held on the last weekend in May.
Social Democratic leader Jiří Paroubek said on Monday that he personally backed the abolition of current coal mining limits in the northern Ústi region. Mr Paroubek said the move would be good for local jobs and help guarantee energy security for the country. He added however that his party should take a stand on the issue and suggested it should be put to a regional referendum. Regional referenda are currently not possible though the Social Democrats have tabled a proposal in the lower house that would change that. The issue of whether to allow mining in areas beyond the existing limits is developing into a major issue in the lower house elections due at the end of May. Former Green Party leader Martin Bursík has announced he will stand in the Ústi region against Paroubek, whom he accuses of preparing environmental destruction.
State-controlled carrier Czech Airlines transported 4.7 million passengers in 2009, a drop of 1.5 percent compared with the previous year. The airline suffered a severe drop in passengers at the start of 2009 but by the end of the year there were signs that demand was picking up again. Separately, a special board meeting on Monday discussed an offer from the country’s biggest charter company, Travel Service, to take over Czech Airlines’ charter division. No decision, apart from a resolution that no airlines would be sold, was taken with further talks between the two companies planned.
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