The ruling Civic Democratic Party has failed to convince three party rebels to support a controversial bill on the restitution of church property, which has caused friction in the governing coalition. Under the government-proposed bill, the state would compensate churches for property confiscated by the communists to the tune of 83 billion crowns. However steep interest rates on the phased-off, 60-year-payments would bring the final sum to 270 billion crowns, which not only the opposition parties but three Civic Democrat deputies consider excessively generous. After the three Civic Democrat rebels blocked the bill’s passage in the lower house a few weeks ago debate on it was postponed until June. The Christian Democrats of the governing coalition have indicated that failure to push through the bill could seriously undermine the stability of the coalition government.
Cardinal Miloslav Vlk who was hospitalized with heart problems and a state of exhaustion earlier this month is said to be on the mend. A spokesman for the Prague Archbishopric told the press that the cardinal was feeling better and would shortly be moved to a spa to fully regain his strength. The cardinal was actively involved in talks on the proposed bill on church restitutions as well as a protracted court dispute over the ownership of St. Vitus’ Cathedral in Prague.
Trade unions have called a one-day strike on June 24, in protest against the government’s reforms. The Bohemian and Moravian Trade Union Confederation, an umbrella organization comprising some 540,000 members, has been on a strike alert since March and says there is clearly no will on the part of government representatives to deal with the problems outlined. Trade unions are particularly critical of effected reforms in the education and health sectors as well as the government’s plan to postpone the retirement age in the Czech Republic to 65.
The Constitutional Court is to rule on May 28 on whether fees for health care, introduced as part of the government’s fiscal reforms at the beginning of this year, are in violation of the Constitution. The fees for a visit to the doctor, emergency treatment and hospitalization have come under severe criticism with opponents arguing that they should be covered out of the patient’s health insurance. The Communist Party recently filed a complaint about them with the Constitutional Court.
The police have charged 17 people with corruption in a case involving a manipulated tender at the Czech Defense Ministry. The accused allegedly attempted to influence the outcome of a tender for the operation of military and construction offices in the town of Litoměřice, North Bohemia, worth almost 15 million crowns (close to 1 million US dollars). An investigation is still underway and the police are not ruling out further arrests.
Australian customs officers have uncovered 15 geckos in parcels that someone was attempting to smuggle to the Czech Republic. Most of the lizards had died due to the lack of feed, water and air. According to the Australian police, the parcels containing the geckos were posted from four different towns in Australia, all of them bound for the Czech Republic. It is not the first incident of this kind and Australian and Czech police officers are working to trace what they believe to be an extensive network of animal smugglers. If caught the perpetrators could face up to ten years in prison.
An opinion survey conducted by the CVVM polling agency suggests that most Czechs are simply not interested in the country’s upcoming EU presidency. Seventy-five percent of respondents said the matter did not concern them, while just under fifty percent said that as EU president the Czech Republic would not have any greater influence on EU decision making than as a regular member. Only 24 percent of respondents said they were interested to see how their country would face up to the challenge. The Czech Republic is to take up the rotating EU presidency in January of 2009, replacing France. If the Lisbon Treaty, reforming the way the union is run, is ratified by all members by the end of the year it will come into effect during the Czech presidency.
Most Czechs have limited opportunities to upgrade their qualifications in their work time, at the expense of their company. The results of a survey conducted in 31 EU countries indicate that Finland and Sweden have the best trained work force while Turkey and Bulgaria the least. In general people with a university education have a better chance of upgrading their skills in their given field of expertise. On the other hand, Czechs are among the most stressed-out Europeans with seventy percent of respondents saying they are under constant pressure. Only the Fins and Swedes are under greater pressure at work.
Four Poles were killed and one severely injured when their car hit a tree in the north of the Czech Republic on Tuesday, the emergency services said. One person with suspected injuries to the stomach and pelvis was airlifted to hospital. The four others were dead on the spot. Police are investigating the accident.
Meteorologists have warned of the risk of local flooding in the north of the country after days of heavy rain and with more showers predicted over the next couple of days. Weather forecasters say that the flood alert could last until Wednesday morning. Up to 30 millimetres of rain are expected to fall in the next two days.