The leaders of the country's governing coalition have approved a package of measures aimed at stabilising the country's troubled health-care system - measures intended to have an effect over the next two years. After the cabinet meeting Tuesday, Miroslav Kalousek, the head of the junior coalition party the Christian Democrats, told journalists that roughly twenty reform measures had been agreed upon, including a 100 percent redistribution of insurance payments among insurance companies. Mr Kalousek stressed that some of the measures had already been put into effect, including the funding of 3.4 billion crowns to troubled hospitals, and the buying up 3 billion crowns in health insurers' debts by consolidation agencies. The new package of measures agreed upon by the cabinet will now be submitted to Health Minister Marie Souckova, to be incorporated into an overall proposal for extensive health-care reforms. Mrs Souckova has staked her ministerial post on the planned reforms that have yet to be debated in Parliament.
Tuesday morning saw a climbing accident leave two Czech mountaineers stranded in Slovakia's High Tatra Mountains, while two fell to their deaths. The mountaineers got into trouble at around 7 a.m. local time in an area known as the Small Ice Shield. Rescue crews immediately began operations. Dangerous weather conditions and difficult terrain, however, hampered rescue efforts. One of the surviving climbers was taken to hospital in the town of Poprad, while rescuers were finally able to reach the remaining mountaineer Tuesday night. He was taken to hospital and is recovering from his ordeal with only minor injuries. A crew of some 18 rescue workers along with specially trained dogs and a helicopter crew were all involved in the operation to save the climbers' lives.
The Czech Actor's Association has revealed its nominees for this year's Thalie awards, given for Best Performance on the stage in four areas: theatre, opera, ballet/pantomime, and musical. Those nominated this year include popular actress Barbora Hrzanova, actor Jiri Langmajer, and singer Jiri Korn. The Thalie Awards will be held on March 27th.
Also following government talks on Tuesday: chairman of the Freedom Union's deputies club Karel Kunhl and the leader of the Christian Democrats Miroslav Kalousek stated they believed that a recent government agreement on raising regulated rent was indeed valid, with Mr Kalousek saying he thought the agreement reached would be a "viable compromise" for most Social Democrat MPs. That, however, has not been reflected by the Social Democrats so far: last week several Social Democrats, including Finance Minister Bohuslav Sobotka, cast doubt on the agreement reached in January, and on Tuesday Social Democrat negotiators continued to insist a rise in rents should grow more slowly than previously proposed. In January Finance Minister Sobotka and Minister for Local Development Pavel Nemec approved a plan that would see regulated-rents go up three times by 2006, each time at a rate of 10 percent. However, due to an expected rise in the VAT on the water rate, Mr Sobotka hinted at the weekend the rise in regulated rent might come down several percentage points.
Elected officials in the region of southern Bohemia have expressed their opposition to a plan to complete third and fourth reactor blocs at the Czech Republic's controversial Temelin nuclear power plant. In a resolution drafted on Tuesday officials also expressed their opposition to the creation of a deep-storage nuclear waste facility in the region. The resolution serves as a "recommendation" to the government. District commissioner Jan Zahradnik indicated on Tuesday it would now be up to the government on how it "weighed" the resolution.
President Vaclav Klaus has become the country's most popular politician, winning 69% of confidence votes, according to a poll conducted by the CVVM polling agency. The President's popularity ratings have soared during his first year in office, going from 35% in January of last year to the present 69%. Interior minister Stanislav Gross has placed second on the popularity ladder with a 60% confidence rating, and the country's Ombudsman Otakar Motejl has placed third with 54 %.
President Vaclav Klaus has announced the date of the first-ever European Parliament elections to take place in the Czech Republic. Czechs will go to the polls on June 11 and 12. Political parties and groupings have to submit their lists of candidates by April 6. The Czech Republic will have 24 seats in the European Parliament.
The government also approved the outline for a new amendment on sick-leave benefits on Wednesday, with Minister for Labour and Social Affairs Zdenek Skromach putting forth the proposal that sick-leave benefits be paid only for work days missed. The bill also aims to reduce sick-leave pay to just 35 percent of one's regular salary for the first three days away from the workplace. On additional days patients would receive up to 70 percent of their regular pay. The plan, meanwhile, has met with resistance from both doctors and entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs are upset the bill will count on employers to cover the first fourteen days of benefits, while doctors have expressed dissatisfaction with a planned fine aimed at discouraging medical professionals from treating malingerers lightly.
The Czech government has approved Milos Kuzvart, a former environment minister and serving MP for the Social Democrats, to become the Czech Republic's first representative to the European Commission. The decision to put forward Mr Kuzvart had been widely expected despite objections within the two junior government parties, the Christian Democrats and the Freedom Union. On Wednesday government spokeswoman Anna Veverkova told the Czech news agency CTK the decision to appoint Mr Kuzvart had not been unanimous, with ministers from the junior parties abstaining on the decision. In recent weeks junior party members had made it clear that they did not agree with Mr Kuzvart's nomination, saying they would have preferred a candidate with more international experience. Still, a spokesman for Romano Prodi, the head of the European Commission, has already welcomed Mr Kuzvart's nomination as an excellent choice.
Czech President Vaclav Klaus signed a law on Monday, guaranteeing all former presidents of the Czech Republic 100,000 Czech crowns a month. Up-to-date, the law only affects former president Vaclav Havel, who as of March this year, will be receiving a 50,000 crown pension and a further 50,000 crowns a month that is to be used for the operation of his office. Despite the cost of running his office totalling 150,000 crowns a month, Mr Havel welcomes the new law, his spokesman said on Monday.