The lower house of Parliament on Wednesday approved the state budget for 2009, with a deficit of 38.1 billion crowns. The budget was passed by 101 votes in the 200 member lower house. Despite its weakened position, the coalition government managed to secure the votes of all five rebel deputies, overriding protests from the opposition Social Democrats and the Communists. Opposition leader Jiří Paroubek accused the finance minister of having pushed through a misleading budget proposal based on unrealistic expectations. The budget operates on a 4,8 growth figure for 2009. Finance Minister Kalousek said he was prepared for a variety of economic scenarios, including drastic ones which he hoped would not materialize.
In Wednesday’s vote deputies approved a wage increase for public sector employees to offset the impact of the financial crisis. The proposal to earmark an extra 2,7 billion crowns for wages in the public sector was put forward by the Labour Ministry and supported by deputies both left and right of centre. The extra funds will enable a 6,6 percent increase in salaries for all civil servants except those whose wages have been frozen until 2010.
The Senate on Wednesday postponed the ratification of the Lisbon treaty by a month, in order to give its various committees time to analyze the Constitutional Court’s ruling on the document. The move came at the instigation of the ruling Civic Democrats who have 36 out of 81 seats in the Senate. The lower house on Tuesday formally opened a debate on the treaty but almost immediately moved to postpone a vote on it until February 3, 2009. It is now certain that the Czech Republic will take up the EU presidency without having ratified the Lisbon treaty, which many EU members consider to be a serious drawback.
The final shape of the Czech EU presidency programme will be approved at a meeting of the government’s planning committee on December 22, Czech Deputy-Prime Minister for European Affairs Alexandr Vondra informed senators on Wednesday. Mr. Vondra said the government would present the programme under the slogan "Europe without Barriers," which is the motto of the Czech EU presidency. Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek will present the presidency programme to the European Parliament in the second week of January.
The health ministry is planning to close down a third of the country’s oncology centres, with the aim of improving and expanding those currently providing top-quality care. The decision was made following an audit of oncology centres around the country and is supported by the Czech Oncology Society. The head of the society Jiří Vorlíček said he had long been aware that the level of care provided in different institutions vastly differed but the most he could do was to privately advise his patients where they would get better care.
Rebel deputies of the ruling Civic Democratic Party have rejected rumours that they are preparing to join the ranks of a new eurosceptic party being set up by people close to president Vaclav Klaus. Deputy Vlastimil Tlustý who has long pushed for a more radical tax reform said had not been contacted by the founder of the new party Petr Mach and that he had no interest in leaving the Civic Democrats. President Klaus’ decision to sever himself from the party he founded on the grounds that it had become too centrist and his support for the newly emerging eurosceptic party has fueled speculation that the already weakened government coalition could lose more deputies.
Thirteen-year-old Petra Škrabalová from Brno has been awarded a medal for bravery for jumping into a lake to help save a drowning man. Petra was walking past the lake with a friend when she saw the incident and without a second thought plunged into the water to help the man get back to the shore. An emergency crew which arrived on the spot ten minutes later said she’d saved the man’s life. Every year people write in to a special Children’s Fund to report to report acts of bravery by children of all ages and the most remarkable are awarded medals at a special ceremony.
The Czech Parliament will vote on whether to ratify the Lisbon treaty after February 3, 2009. At an extraordinary meeting of Parliament on Tuesday MPs voted to start debating the reform document, but only make a decision upon its ratification next year. The proposal to start discussing the Lisbon treaty was approved on Tuesday by 143 to 47. The heads of all of the parties within the government coalition, however, agreed beforehand that they would seek to postpone a vote on the treaty until February 3 at the earliest. The Czech Republic takes over at the helm of the European Union on January 1. It is the only EU country yet to decide upon whether to ratify the Lisbon treaty or not.
In related news, Civic Democratic senators said that they would also like to postpone any vote on the Lisbon treaty until various parliamentary committees had analysed the Czech Constitutional Court’s recent ruling on the document. The head of the Senate Přemysl Sobotka said on Tuesday that the upper house of Parliament would start discussing the treaty later in the week. The deputy chairman of the Senate, Civic Democrat Jiří Liška, said that those from within his own party would push to have this discussion adjourned. The Civic Democrats have 36 out of 81 seats in the Senate.