The European Parliament has approved that over five million euros, or 122 million Czech crowns, from the EU’s solidarity fund be granted to northern Moravia, which was badly struck by floods last fall. The Czech government estimates that the damage caused by the floods is in excess of 204 million euros. Another 10.9 million euros, or 266 million Czech crowns, in recovery aid are still pending approval by the European Parliament.
Jaroslav Škárka, the former chairman of the Public Affairs party who was expelled over his claims that the party paid him for his loyalty and secrecy on party financing, has handed over documents that he says prove his allegations to Prague authorities on Wednesday, just hours after his expulsion from the party. Among the materials he submitted was an envelope with 170,000 Czech crowns in cash, a sum that he claims to have received from Transport Minister and Public Affairs leader Vít Bárta in return for unspecified party activities. Mr Škárka originally made the comments for an interview that he believed was off-the-record and was secretly taped by a reporter from the weekly Respekt, who he also told that certain party sponsors exist only on paper. He later informed the media that he had received a monthly 55,000 crown payment. Public Affairs has filed a lawsuit in connection with the case and police have reportedly begun investigating of their own accord.
The Public Affairs’ party council is also planning to expel MP Stanislav Huml from its deputies’ parliamentary club, the daily Právo reported, citing a source from within the party. Huml, a former member of the communist party KSČ, is to be expelled from the Public Affairs parliamentary club due to his repeated criticism of the party, as well as allegations against its senior members and the interior minister, Public Affairs’ leader Radek John. Reportedly, Huml’s expulsion was on the agenda of the party council’s Tuesday meeting, but due to his absence, was postponed to Thursday.
The opposition is calling on Prime Minister Petr Nečas to replace Transport Minister Vít Bárta, who has come under fire after allegations became public that he paid the party’s deputy chairman to keep details of party financing a secret. The leader of the Social Democrats, Bohuslav Sobotka, said on Wednesday that the claims against Bárta were too serious and specific to keep him in office. He added that if corruption allegations within the Public Affairs party, which is a member of the right-of-center governing coalition, should continue, a vote of no-confidence would be in order.
The Senate has approved a bill that adds 33 new addictive drugs to the list of banned substances. Pending the signature of the president, the new law could take effect as early as April. On Tuesday, the Senate committee on constitutional and legal matters had refused to endorse the bill, which had already passed through the lower house of Parliament unanimously. Senators were concerned about the lack of a transition period before the bill’s introduction as well as the realities of enforcing the law. A number of the substances that will be banned after the bill takes effect were also recently prohibited in Poland, a move that led to a temporary spike in their sales in the Czech Republic, where they remained legal.
The government has approved a first draft of its planned pension reform, which will integrate private pension funds into the state pension system. The finance and labor ministries are expected to present their proposals for required changes in law by mid-2011; the lower house is then to vote on the new legislation in the second half of the year. The pension reform came under fire from all sides after coalition leaders announced they were planning to introduce a single 20-percent hike in VAT to finance it. Amidst mounting pressure, the government softened the increase in VAT, which will now be brought up to 14 percent in 2012, with another VAT rate increase of 17.5 percent scheduled for 2013.
On Wednesday, an upper circuit appeals court in Olomouc handed a ten-year prison sentence to a police officer charged with aggravated assault against a Vietnamese citizen, overturning a previous verdict that sentenced the man to 3.5 years. The police officer is the main perpetrator of a brutal attack against a Vietnamese man during a police operation. The man later died from the injuries he suffered at the hands of the police. The incident, which happened in 2009, caused outrage in the Czech Republic’s Vietnamese community.
Greenpeace activists on Tuesday climbed the fence of the official seat of the government while a cabinet meeting was in progress. In protest of a possible extension of the coal mining limit, nine activists mounted about seventy crosses on the lawn in front of the building. Greenpeace believes that the change in law, planned for 2015, would be a ‘death sentence’ for several towns and villages in northern Bohemia, where the country’s coal mines are located. Last year, Greenpeace members climbed the roof of the same building and mounted a banner while a press conference was in progress.
A survey published by the Czech-German Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday finds that about a third of German investors in the Czech Republic would not invest in the country again today. This represents a significant change compared to the survey’s results from the previous year, when only about 20 percent said they would no longer invest in the Czech Republic if they were given the choice today. Among the main negatives cited by the 73 respondents are poor payment practices, inadequate legal protection mechanisms, as well as a lack of transparency in public tenders. German companies remain the key investor in the Czech Republic.
Passenger car sales in the Czech Republic saw an increase of nearly seven percent in the first quarter of 2011, with just over 42,000 cars sold. Sales of utility vehicles also grew by 12.5 percent. This is the first time since 2008 that sales in both categories have increased, a spokesman for the Car Importers’ Association of the Czech Republic said. Škoda Auto maintained its position as the market leader, despite a drop in sales of six percent as compared to the first quarter of 2010, bringing the company’s market share down to about 31 percent. Renault was able to increase its sales by 48 percent compared to the first quarter of the previous year.
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