After a 138 day absence from working as a minister of the Czech coalition government, controversial Christian Democrat leader Jiří Čunek returned today to the post of deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Regional Development. The process was formalized when the minister signed an official oath in front of the Czech president at Prague Castle. Mr Čunek was forced to resign from the cabinet after irregularities were discovered in his finances. Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg had threatened to resign if Mr Čunek was reappointed, but has since backed down from his threat; instead opting to wait for a private company of his own choosing to conduct an independent audit of the deputy PM. Mr Schwarzenberg has also stated that he will personally pay for the audit.
Planned talks on Czech recognition of Kosovo have been temporarily postponed, due to differences within the government coalition. Many Christian Democrats oppose any rush towards recognition, while several Civic Democrat MPs are also favouring a slower process. Many want the Czech Republic to wait until after elections are held in Serbia in May. Initial plans would have seen a plan by foreign Minister Karel Shwarzenberg to recognize Kosovo approved Wednesday. Meanwhile, around forty demonstrators gathered outside the seat of the Czech government in Prague to oppose the recognition of Kosovo. The demonstrators also threatened to take legal action against the proposed recognition if it went ahead. Most analysts predict that Czech recognition of the burgeoning state is inevitable.
Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek is set to become the first ever Czech Prime Minister to defend legislation in front of the country’s Constitutional Court. In question will be the law that facilitated doctors to charge patients fifty crowns per visit. Legal action against the fees has been brought by both the opposition Social Democrats and communists, who along with other advocacy groups argue that the fees are unconstitutional because the Czech constitution guarantees free-at-point-of-use healthcare to all Czechs. Prime Minister Topolánek has strongly argued for the fees even going so far as to state that his coalition government could fall if this legislation were overturned. The court was prepared to rule on the case on Tuesday, but agreed to hear testimony from the Prime Minister.
Analysts are speculating that the current NATO summit in Bucharest may yield a deal on the proposed US radar base in the Czech Republic. Both US president George W. Bush and the Czech PM along with President Klaus will be at the meeting. In a speech to be given at the NATO summit, Mr Klaus will press his hope that NATO countries can agree on the controversial US plan.
Prague Castle has paid of a debt that led, some weeks ago, to the castle being placed under administration. This comes as a result of pressure by Czech religious groups offering to buy the debt. In the end, this did not happen, and the castle has apparently paid off the monies owed. Specifically, the case relates to unpaid fees of 1.4 million crowns the castle allegedly owed to the company Gema Art Group.
The Czech government has passed a proposal that would see up to a third of all church property confiscated by the former communist regime returned. The proposal, which must now be debated by parliament, was authored by the Czech Culture Minister Václav Jehlička. The proposal would also see around four billion Czech crowns going into church coffers, with the vast majority going to the Roman Catholic Church, which has around three million followers in the country.
Media reports are suggesting that the Czech Republic’s oldest and most popular search engine Seznam.cz is up for sale. Details remain sketchy, but the suggestion is that the founder and majority shareholder Ivo Lukačovič along with minority partners Tiger Holding Four and Miura International are preparing to sell their stakes in the company. Estimates for the possible value of the company have gone as high as one billion US dollars. Seznam is only one of four national search engines in the world that has dominance over the US company Google.
Figures released by the anti-bank-charge campaign group bankovnipoplatky.cz suggest that last year, Czechs paid around 36.5 billion crowns in bank charges – a figure which, reports suggest, amounts to 100 million crowns a day. The figures also suggest an increase in overall charges from 2006 by more than two and a half billion crowns. Bank charges remain deeply unpopular among most Czechs, although Czech banks continue to insist that they are necessary. This year saw the entrance into the Czech market of the first bank which does not charge its customers for basic services.
České Dráhy, the Czech train operator is to pay its first ever fines levied for the late running of its trains. The fines, which have been imposed in the Olomouc region of the country total 2.6 million crowns and cover more than one hundred late arrivals. Even though late arrivals have been catalogued in previous years, this is the first time that a Czech region has imposed such fines.
A senior United States official says a deal with the Czech Republic on the
building of a US radar base in central Bohemia is very close to completion.
Assistant Secretary of State John Rood said in Washington that it could be
agreed in the next few days. His statements echo those of the Czech prime
minister, Mirek Topolánek, who said it seemed the last remaining points of
contention in the bilateral deal had been ironed out and all that remained
was to arrange a signing ceremony. Mr Rood said he hoped the US would find
wider support for its global anti missile defence shield at a NATO summit
in Bucharest later this week.
The main Czech negotiator, Deputy Foreign Minister Tomáš Pojar, said agreement between the Czech Republic and the US would likely be reached either before or during the NATO summit.
The proposed radar in the Czech Republic would be linked to a missile base in neighbouring Poland. The Czech Parliament has yet to vote on the matter.