EU ministers on Tuesday agreed on pan-European waste disposal standards according to which waste from Europe’s 143 nuclear reactors must be buried in secure bunkers 100-700 metres underground. The new rules will force national nuclear authorities to draw up disposal plans by 2015, which will be vetted by Europe’s energy commissioner Guenther Oettinger. The 14 European Union member states using nuclear power currently store their radioactive waste in surface bunkers while it cools down. Czech efforts to find a suitable locality for deep waste storage have so far proved unsuccessful with protests from all the regions so far addressed on the matter. The issue was opened in 1993 and the government was hoping to be able to start construction of the respective deep storage facilities in 2030.
Government ministers on Tuesday started debating a proposed hike in VAT. Finance Minister Miroslav Kalousek has suggested introducing a unified 19 percent VAT rate, which would help bring the public finances deficit down to 3.5 percent of GDP in 2012. Books newspapers and medicaments would be exempted from the unified 19 percent rate and would remain in their current 10 percent bracket. An alternative proposal floated by the finance minister would see a unified VAT rate at 17.5 percent, without any exemptions, but which would require further spending cuts and would lead to a deficit in the government’s pensions’ funds. Both options were discussed at a meeting of coalition leaders on Monday which ended inconclusively.
The junior coalition party Public Affairs opposes the VAT hike saying that if it was unavoidable it would prefer for two separate VAT rates to be maintained since such an amendment would have a softer income on low-income groups. Public Affairs leader Radek John said a unified 19 percent VAT would make the middle class and low-income groups bear the brunt of the fiscal reforms. The party has said it prefers progressive taxation and higher corporate taxes as a way of reducing the deficit in public finances.
President Václav Klaus on Tuesday met for talks with the leader of the opposition Social Democrats Bouslav Sobotka. The talks reportedly focused on domestic and EU matters, particularly the Czech opt-out from the Lisbon Treaty which is to be ratified along with the ratification of Croatia’s accession treaty later this year. The Czech opt-out from the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms, that is part of the Lisbon Treaty, was pushed through by President Vaclav Klaus in 2009. The Czech president set this as a condition for signing the treaty, citing fears of Sudeten German property claims. The Social Democrats oppose the opt-out, saying that the president’s fears are unjustified.
Environment activists continue their vigil at Šumava National Park for fear of illegal logging. The Czech branch of the NGO Friends of the Earth has been camping out in a protected part of the nature reserve since Friday ready to physically prevent the logging of bark-beetle infested trees. Activists say that the park management had failed to obtain an exemption required to cut in the most protected parts of the park, but that it had some 3,000 trees marked in the area for logging. Loggers reportedly arrived in the vicinity on Tuesday but headed for a different part of the forest.
British and Czech police have cracked down on a ring which forced Czech women into prostitution. A spokesman for the Czech police squad for fighting organized crime has confirmed that three suspects were arrested in the Czech Republic last week and three more in Britain. The suspects on Czech territory allegedly recruited good looking young women, luring them to Britain on the promise of a job or a large financial reward for a fake marriage after which they were kept prisoner and made to work for free in a nightclub. Close to 40 young women from the Czech Republic were forced into prostitution in this way, some of them just 18 years old. The ring-leaders in Britain allegedly face sentences of up to 14 years and, in one case, possibly even a life sentence.
Former Czech president Vaclav Havel who is still recovering from a bad respiratory infection in March has been moved to his country cottage. An assistant to Mr Havel said his health had slightly improved over the past week and doctors were hoping that the bracing country air would do him good. The former president has been plagued by respiratory infections ever since he had part of his right lung removed due to cancer 15 years ago.
Two people died in a plane crash in the Rokycany region in western Bohemian around mid-day on Tuesday. The two-seater sports plane crashed in a field near the town of Osek. It is not clear what caused the accident. It is the second fatal plane accident in ten days. Last Monday Czech hockey legend Jaroslav Jiřík was killed when his ultra light sports plane went down near Brno.
Total production of road vehicles in the Czech Republic grew by 13.8 percent year-on-year in the first half of 2011, the Automotive Industry Association said on Tuesday. Passenger car output amounted to 632,425 units, up by 13.57 percent on the year, with Skoda the largest producer. Lorry production increased by 10.19 percent year-on-year to 638 units. While Avia registered a growth of 64.37 percent, Tatra saw a fall of 13.08 percent. Bus production amounted to 1,469 units, up by 19.63 percent on the year and motorbike production grew by 157.21 percent to 589 units, with Jawa the only Czech brand.
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