The Ministry of Foreign Affairs will be closing between five and ten Czech embassies and consulates as a cost cutting measure. Speaking to Czech Television on Sunday, Foreign Affairs Minister Jan Kohout said the embassies in question had not yet been chosen, however they would be places where the Czech diplomats “do not see a great deal of added value”. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs closed six consulates and embassies in recent years, reportedly saving 120 million crowns. Mr Kohout said the choice of which diplomatic centres to close would depend on the final version of the 2010 budget, which is currently being discussed by the government.
Czech Finance Minister Eduard Janota signed a bilateral agreement on Saturday with the Republic of Georgia for support and protection of mutual investments. The treaty is the culmination of several years of negotiation between the two countries and establishes the legal basis for the investment activities of each state, and protects investments from illegitimate encroachments on the part of either country’s institutions. The agreement also opens the door to Czech companies interested in working in the energy and health care sectors in the former Soviet republic. Mr Janota’s delegation was in the Georgian capital three days, during which time the interim finance minister also held talks with Georgian Prime Minister Nikoloz Gilauri and met with President Mikheil Saakashvili.
Upon returning from Georgia Finance Minister Janota presented two alternative budget plans for 2010 to an informal meeting of the government Sunday. One proposal anticipates a record budget deficit of 230 billion crowns, while the other, promoted by the caretaker government, includes legal amendments intended to decrease the deficit to 160 billion. Mr Janota has said however he does not expect the government’s proposal to pass through parliament. The government proposal would see an increase in VAT rates and an increased tax on automobile fuels, as well as cuts to budget expenditures of 40 billion crowns. While not rejecting the proposal, the leaders of the Czech Republic’s two largest political parties have said that they do not want to make any amendments to existing budgetary legislation.
The president of the European Parliament, Jerzy Buzek, was awarded honorary citizenship on Saturday at his place of birth, Smilovice, near the north-eastern Czech-Polish border. The former Polish prime minister was born in Smilovice in 1940 and moved to Poland five years later, after the village was re-annexed by Czechoslovakia. Mr Buzek became president of the European Parliament in mid July, becoming the first person from a post-communist country to hold the position. He was the prime minister of Poland from 1997 to 2001
The Ministries of Defence and Foreign Affairs will be submitting a plan in the coming months detailing the next two to three years of involvement in Afghanistan, the ministers told Czech Television on Sunday. The plan is to include a budget for Czech military and civilian missions. Defence Minister Kohout expressed his desire to see political unity on the plan. The future of Czech foreign missions was uncertain earlier in the year due to political wrangling. Several hundred Czech soldiers and civilian specialists are currently in Afghanistan on reconstruction and anti-terrorism missions.
Traffic police are out in force around the Czech Republic as the last weekend of summer holidays, which tends to entail more accidents, comes to a close. 13 people lost their lives in automobile-related accidents in 2008. Police are therefore concentrating on sections of roads that have shown higher incidence of accidents over the last two years, and will be cracking down on speed and safety regulations. Schools in the Czech Republic open September 1.
The news site Tyden.cz reports that only person charged in the spate of egg-throwing attacks on Social Democrats prior to elections to the European Parliament last spring will be tried in court. Charges were originally brought against four individuals, aged 16 to 22, for public disorder, attacking a public figure and bodily restraint. Three of those cases however were re-qualified as misdemeanours. The “egg protests” were a feature of Social Democrat rallies around May of this year and came to a head at a rally in Prague city centre when politicians were pelted with hundreds of eggs and other objects; police at that event detained 16 people and the attacks were roundly condemned.
A record 45,000 people attended a tank show near the Bohemian town of Benešov. The 7th annual “Tank Day” was organised by the Military Technical Museum of Lešany and displayed and paraded dozens of armoured vehicles, including new vehicles that are to start service in the Czech Armed Forced this autumn. Highlights of the event included a commemoration of the 65th anniversary of the Slovak National Uprising and the simulated rescue of a pilot shot down over Afghanistan.
One in ten Czech drivers has received at least one penalty point for a traffic offence, the Ministry of Transport has reported. The largest concentration of penalised drivers is in Prague, with 82,000 drivers, and the largest group of drivers with points are those with two. The penalty points system has been in place in the Czech Republic since 2006. The maximum number of penalty points is 12, at which point the driver’s licence is revoked for one year.
Civic Democratic chairman Mirek Topolánek has said he is in favour of dissolving the Ministry of Regional Development. Speaking at a press conference regarding historical monuments, Mr Topolánek criticised the fact that monuments are controlled by the Ministry of Culture while the closely related aspect of tourism is managed by the Regional Development Ministry, and added that if tourism were to be managed by the Ministry of Culture as well, an agency rather than a ministry would suffice to cover what few responsibilities would be left to the Regional Development Ministry. The former prime minister also said that the only reason no such change had been made under his government was that the Christian Democratic Party was in charge of both ministries.