The Czech Republic on Friday joined Great Britain in refusing to sign the EU’s fiscal treaty aimed at enforcing budget discipline within the block. The Czech prime minister who met with his British counterpart David Cameron ahead of the EU summit, made it clear that in its present form the treaty was disadvantageous for the Czech Republic in enforcing conditions and fines without allowing the country, which in not a eurozone member, to actively participate in all euro zone summits. He moreover stressed that he considered it far more important to deepen the common market and increase the competitiveness of the 27-member block. The prime minister’s decision to stay out of the treaty has divided the Czech political scene with the coalition TOP 09 and the opposition Social Democrats strongly opposing the move. Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg, who is the head of TOP 09, made it clear at the summit he was deeply dissatisfied with the Czech stand.
Slovak Prime Minister Iveta Radičová has voiced harsh criticism of the Czech Republic’s decision to stay out of the fiscal compact. Mrs. Radičová said she had urged the Czech delegation to reconsider its decision ahead of the signing noting that in view of how the sister states had vied to get EU membership it seemed dishonourable to back out at the first sign of trouble. The Slovak prime minister said that the Czech stance was purely political and lacked any rational background.
The anti-corruption police have charged17 members of the Prague branch of the opposition Social Democrats with corruption. According to Czech Television the accused bribed over a dozen people to become party members and to vote according to the leadership’s wishes. This activity is reported to have taken place in 2010 and was to have influenced the list of party candidates for the 2010 general elections. The Social Democrat leadership has called on the accused to leave the party.
Trade unions have criticized the finance minister’s austerity plans for the coming years saying they would stifle economic growth. According to an analysis commissioned by the country’s umbrella trade union organization the proposed changes would bring a drop in investments, soaring prices and growing unemployment. Twenty-four thousand employees from the public sector would have to be laid off –of that 17,000 teachers and 3,500 police officers. Trade unions are proposing a more gradual lowering of the deficit in public spending, suggesting that the deficit be stabilized at around 120 billion crowns. The finance minister has proposed a much faster pace of scaling down the deficit which this year should not exceed 105 billion and is to be lowered by 42 billion crowns next year.
Education Minister Josef Dobeš on Friday rejected the idea of a mass lay-off of teachers as inconceivable and said he had received no such information from the Finance Ministry. According to figures released this week the austerity measures would leave the ministry 15 billion crowns poorer in the next two years. Finance minister Miroslav Kalousek responded to the statement by saying that the broken-down austerity package has been dispatched to every ministry with details of how much money each institution would have to save.
The fate of reforms in the education sector remains unclear as a week of student protest actions draws to a close. Thousands of students around the country took part in demonstrations and happenings to express their opposition to a proposed government reform which includes the implementation of university fees and which they fear would threaten the autonomy of universities and give more influence to political and economic elites. At a press briefing on Friday Education Minister Josef Dobeš expressed regret that student leaders had been unwilling to meet with him to debate the controversial plans, saying that the street was not the place to gain information or resolve problems. However student leaders have been calling for the minister’s dismissal, saying he is deaf to their arguments only wanted to hold the meeting for its media value.
Prague’s chief prosecutor Vlastimil Rampula who returned to office last week on the grounds of a court ruling which invalidated his dismissal six months ago, has countered a move by his predecessor to sack his deputy Libor Grygárek. Mr. Rampula said he had found the reasons cited for Mr. Grygárek’s dismissal inadequate. One of the reasons cited was Mr. Grygarek’s ties to a Prague lobbyist. The move is seen as part of Mr. Rampula’s efforts to regain ground and consolidate his position at the High State Attorney’s Office in Prague. Meanwhile his superior Supreme State Attorney Pavel Zeman and Justice Minister Jiří Pospíšil have said they will continue to seek ways to secure Mr. Rampula’s dismissal. The latter is suspected of sweeping cases of large-scale corruption under the carpet.
The new Seat Toledo will be produced in Škoda’s Mladá Boleslav plant, in central Bohemia, company spokesman Josef Baláž told the ctk news agency on Friday. The new generation Seat Toledo is to be a sister model of the planned new compact limousine Skoda Rapid. The Seat Toledo is to appear at a car show in Geneva next week. Skoda Rapid is to be presented later this year. With the exception of Citigo, Skoda produces all its models, namely Fabia, Octavia, Superb, Roomster and Yeti, in the Czech Republic.
Six people are reported injured in a bus crash in Ceske Budejovice late Thursday. Two buses collided in the city centre for as yet unknown reasons. One of the bus drivers remains in serious condition. The others suffered moderate injuries and some remain under observation with a concussion. The preliminary damage assessment is at 1.5 million crowns.
After several days of minor flooding resulting from the thaw, the water-levels of the country’s rivers are reported to have stabilized. Flood alerts have been called off in all high risk areas and meteorologists say the predicted drop in temperatures should stop the thaw in the mountain regions leading to a drop in water levels. In the course of the past fortnight fire fighters in south Moravia and north Bohemia have had to use explosives to break up huge blocks of ice jamming rivers in order to restore the flow of water and prevent local floods.
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