The lower house of Parliament has approved an austerity package for 2010,
removing the threat of a government resignation. The package of tax-hikes
and spending cuts will reduce next year’s budget deficit to 162.8 billion
crowns that is 5.2 percent of GDP. Following a number of modifications,
Finance Minister Eduard Janota’s austerity package was approved by all
parliamentary parties with the exception of the Communists.
Friday’s vote gave wide political backing to the interim cabinet led by Prime Minister Jan Fischer, which is expected to lead the country until early general elections in mid-2010, after a court struck down plans to hold an early poll this autumn. Mr. Fisher said that his cabinet would present the lower house with a draft budget proposal for 2010 by September 30, along with the government’s policy programme for the coming months.
Deputies in the lower house on Friday also approved a bill which would reduce the salaries of state employees and constitutional officials by 4 percent in 2010. This includes all civic servants, MPs, senators, judges and state attorneys and should save the state close to 127 million crowns. An earlier proposal for a 20-percent cut failed to win approval. The bill will now go to the Senate.
Preparations are in full swing for the Pope’s upcoming three day visit to the Czech Republic. Pope Benedict XVI will arrive on Saturday for what has been described as a pastoral visit intended to bring a message of faith and hope to Czechs 20 years after the fall of communism. The visit, during which the Pope will serve two open-air masses, has been timed to coincide with St. Wenceslas’ Day, a state holiday in the Czech Republic in honour of the nation’s patron saint. Pope Benedict XVI will meet with the country’s leading political and cultural figures as well as Catholic dignitaries and representatives of other churches.
The visit by the Pope is expected to revive a debate surrounding the controversial draft treaty between the Vatican and the Czech state which Parliament rejected six years ago on the grounds that it was disadvantageous for the Czech Republic and would give the Catholic Church an exclusive position among other churches in the country. The Vatican has rejected the argument, saying it has signed similar agreements with other countries.
The Liechtenstein family will not try to reclaim family property in the Czech Republic that was confiscated from them after World War II on the basis of the Benes decrees, Prince Hans Adam said on Friday. The prince said his family would be glad to have the property returned, but it would take no legal steps to do so, because the most important issue was maintaining good-relations between the two countries. The Czech Republic and the Principality of Liechtenstein established diplomatic relations earlier this month after a 60 year rift caused by the property dispute. The Liechtensteins owned extensive properties in the Czech Republic, including the UNESCO-listed complex of the Lednice and Valtice chateaus in south Moravia.
The Czech ambassador to Ukraine Jaroslav Bašta has dismissed allegations that his embassy had run an illegal visa operation in which applicants were asked to register with a private firm which collected money from them illegally. According to the Ukrainian news server Korespondent the operation lasted for over eight months during which time more than 30, 000 visa applicants paid 20 US dollars each to the private firms’ account. The server said the Ukrainian authorities were looking into the case.
A former Czech finance ministry official wanted for fraud has been detained in Costa Rica. Karel Ponocný was sentenced in absentia in 2006 having escaped from the country before the verdict was delivered. According to the Costa Rican media he was detained on an Interpol arrest warrant on the outskirts of San Jose. Ponocný worked in the ministry’s foreign debts department and with the help of an accomplice siphoned off money to his own private accounts, damaging the country to the tune of 43 million crowns.
One of the managers of a Zlín printing firm who was shot in the head by a laid-off employee on Thursday has succumbed to his injuries. The co-owner of the firm remains in critical condition. The attacker, who shot himself after firing at his former bosses died shortly after the incident. Witnesses said he had threatened to kill the management but no-one had taken him seriously.
According to a September poll conducted by the CVVM agency, President Klaus tops the ladder as the most trustworthy politician in the Czech Republic with 59 percent support. He is followed by Ombudsman Otakar Motejl with 58 percent and caretaker Prime Minister Jan Fischer with 56 percent. Social Democrat leader Jiří Paroubek and Civic Democrat leader Mirek Topolánek won 28 and 24 percent support respectively.
Politicians failed to come to an agreement on a package to cut next
year’s budget deficit on Thursday. After hours of debate, the Czech lower
house agreed to reconvene to discuss the proposals further on Friday
morning. Politicians handed in tens of proposals to amend the austerity
package, which would cut next year’s deficit by up to 60 billion crowns
(3.5 billion USD), the news website Novinky.cz reported after Thursday’s
parliamentary session drew to a close. At a meeting on Thursday morning,
the two main political parties failed to reach agree on a common stance to
the package. The Social Democrats said they would not support the
cost-cutting measures if family allowances and unemployment benefits were
lowered as proposed. The Civic Democrats, meanwhile, said that they were
against any further changes being made to the set of austerity measures.
Finance Minister Eduard Janota has warned that without the package, the budget deficit will reach 230 billion crowns (13.5 billion USD) next year, which, he says, will have dire financial consequences for the Czech Republic for years to come.