The European Union's tax rules were said to be in chaos on Tuesday as Poland held out against a VAT compromise backed by all other countries, potentially triggering EU action against member states that still impose lower rates. Karl-Heinz Grasser, finance minister of Austria which holds the rotating EU presidency, said the 25-member bloc was in a "very serious situation", but a solution was still possible. The other 24 EU countries back a proposal by Vienna to extend by five years an arrangement which expired last year and allowed VAT on selected services in nine member states to be kept below the minimum rate of 15 percent. The Czech Republic and Cyprus dropped objections at the weekend but Poland's new conservative government remains opposed to the deal.
Politicians have reached consensus on the date of this year's general elections which will take place on June 2nd and 3rd. The Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek on Tuesday countersigned a proposal put to him by President Vaclav Klaus. In line with the decision, political parties will have to present their list of candidates by the end of March. They will run for posts in the 200 seat lower house of Parliament. The last election was held in 2002.
A parliamentary commission looking into the privatization of the petrochemicals firm Unipetrol has concluded that the sale was above-board and that the company was not sold under-price. The parliamentary commission's verdict clears the ruling Social Democrats, who were suspected of having taken bribes and selling Unipetrol to PKN Orlen of Poland under highly unfavourable conditions. The opposition Civic Democrats who called for the probe, have rejected its conclusion. The commission was made up of representatives of all parties represented in Parliament.
The Ombudsman's office has criticized the police for excessive use of force in breaking up the rave party Czech Tek in July of 2005. The Ombudsman launched an independent investigation into the affair following widespread criticism of the crack-down against several thousand youngsters whose rave party had spilled over onto private property. The Ombudsman Otakar Motejl said his findings suggested that the police had not used up all possible options of dealing with the situation before applying force.
A third Czech victim has been identified in Katowice, one of 64 people who were killed when the roof of an exhibition hall caved in last Saturday. 170 people were injured in the accident, among them several Czechs. A team of experts has been trying to ascertain whether the roof collapsed under the weight of tons of snow or whether a flaw in construction was to blame. The Polish government has accused the building's owners of flouting safety regulations as survivors told of how they broke down locked emergency exists in their frantic flight to safety.
Czech model Helena Houdova who was imprisoned in Cuba last week told journalists she had managed to smuggle out photographs taken on the island. Houdova was arrested along with another model, as they were taking pictures of children in slums. The two women spent 11 hours in police custody. Houdova, who is heavily involved in charity, says her intention was to portray the dark side of Cuba as an island of poverty and political oppression. Although their cameras were confiscated Houdova says she managed to conceal a memory card inside her bra. The pictures are to be displayed at an exhibition organized with the help of the humanitarian aid organization People in Need.
The Interior Minister Frantisek Bublan has ordered fire brigades to beginning gauging the structural safety of major buildings and shopping centres in the Czech Republic, following the tragedy in Katowice, Poland, at the weekend. In Katowice, the collapse of an exhibition hall killed 67 people, including two Czech nationals. In the Czech Republic, the monitoring will take up to one month. Like Poland, the Czech Republic has been hit by heavy snow in recent weeks, adding significant "stress" to flat-roof structures. One supermarket in the Czech Republic recently caved-in, but no one was seriously hurt.
The Czech Ministry for Trade & Industry has been taking steps to try and help LG Philips Displays, a plant in the region of eastern Moravia manufacturing TV screens, which shut down on Friday amidst financial difficulty. Until now, the plant has employed 1,300 people. Specialists say its permanent shutting down would have a devastating impact on the region. For now, operation is set to resume on Tuesday, with two out of three production lines running. For the long term: the Ministry for Trade & Industry is trying to work out a plan to save the factory, with options including securing an export loan from the Czech Export bank.
Former football international and coach turned head organiser of Germany's football World Cup, Franz Beckenbauer, is in Prague on a two-day visit to promote soccer's biggest event. On Monday afternoon Mr Beckenbauer met with both Czech football officials as well as with Czech president Vaclav Klaus. On Tuesday Mr Beckenbauer will meet with the Czech prime minister. The World Cup will kick off in neighbouring Germany in June. The last time Czechs competed in the event was sixteen years ago, in Italy in 1990.
Up to 95 percent of pharmacies in the Czech Republic closed their doors for three hours on Monday to protest changes to the pricing system on medicines introduced by Health Minister David Rath. Until now, pharmacists have warned that under the plan, which cuts pharmacists' margin of profit, a quarter of the country's chemists could go out of business. There are a total of 2,200 pharmacies in the country. Despite closing their doors on Monday, pharmacists remained on hand for acutely-ill patients. During the shut-down representatives put forward a petition at the office of the government: 1,500 signatures protesting Mr Rath's policies, asking for the prime minister's involvement.