Former president Václav Havel has publicly endorsed the Green Party for parliamentary elections in May. In a letter entitled “We Choose the Green Party”, Mr Havel and dozens of other intellectuals wrote that Czech politics needed “green” politicians untouched by corruption scandals who would not abuse the public coffers or restrict the freedom of the media. President Havel also supported the Green Party in last year’s elections to the European Parliament. Their results in that poll were poor, in part due to the break-up of the coalition government of which they were a part. Current polls show she Green Party hovering around the 5% margin needed to win a parliamentary mandate.
Britain’s Prince Charles is to be awarded a medal of merit by Brno’s Masaryk University on Monday for his promotion of environmental and cultural issues. Masaryk University’s spokeswoman Tereza Fojtová said that the institution also wanted to honour the prince for his considerable contribution to building dialogue among religions and fostering of humanitarian and democratic ideals. The prince will be coming to the Czech Republic next week for his fifth visit, and he is scheduled to participate in a debate on environmental issues with students of the university’s college of natural sciences. The four-day trip will also include a state dinner with Czech political leaders and a tour of an ecological village in Moravia.
The Office for Personal Data Protection has fined the State Institute for Drug Control 2.3 million crowns for collecting sensitive data on patients. The institute was found to have recorded data from personal prescriptions without permission and to have failed to have stored the information in a secure way. The office has called the case the largest collection of illegally obtained data it had ever encountered, with 200,000 drug prescriptions filed a day for a period of six months. The database was established at a cost of 170 million crowns and was originally intended to combat the production of narcotics and protect patients from inappropriate combinations of medicines.
Czech Railways announced on Tuesday that it intends to purchase new trains and modernise others at a cost of 16 billion crowns. The sum means a record investment in the company’s rolling stock and will be spent over the next four years as the new trains enter service. Czech Railways is to receive 4.5 billion worth of new wagons and locomotives this year. Outdated trains currently constitute one of the company’s biggest problems, with an average age of more than 26 years. The head of Czech Railways told a press conference on Tuesday that decreasing that age by half would require an annual investment of eight billion crowns.
The Czech Medical Chamber is preparing an official apology for its participation in creating an order to ban Jews from working in medical professions. The order was enforced in 1938. The chamber’s board will discuss the apology on Thursday and the president of the Czech Medical Chamber Milan Kubík said that he feels confident it will be approved. The Czech Bar Association, which had also ordered that Jews be banned from legal professions, already issued an official apology last year. The order was published a mere two days after the Munich agreement and was instrumental in marginalizing the Czech Jewish population and stripping it of its democratic freedoms.
A new poll published by the STEM agency suggests an eight-point lead for the Social Democratic Party in May elections. The Social Democrats polled at 27.9% while their main rivals, the Civic Democratic Party came in a distant second with 20% of voter preference, the lowest percent for the party in the last four years. The other parties that would receive parliamentary seats are the Communists, TOP 09, Věci veřejné and the Christian Democrats, leaving the Green party with less than the 5% needed for a mandate. This grouping would allow majority for the left-wing parties in the 200-member Chamber of Deputies. STEM’s survey put voter participation at 51%, with 33% undecided and 16% abstaining.
The Czech Ministry of Environment announced on Tuesday that it had agreed to sell another 2.5 million carbon emission credits to the Japanese company Mitsui & CO. No financial details of the transaction were revealed. Earnings from the sale of the excess to requirement Czech units were not disclosed. The money earned will be channelled into the Czech government’s “Green Savings” programme which encourages energy saving initiatives by Czech households. The Czech government has so far been one of the most successful sellers of excess emissions allocation with 71 million credits sold, primarily to the Japanese government and to Mitsui, as well as to the Austrian and Spanish governments. Under the Kyoto protocol the Czech Republic was given the rights to emit 900 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent between 2008 and 2012. The country’s real needs are currently estimated to be around 17% lower than that.
Interim Prime Minister Jan Fischer said Tuesday that energy security is as fundamental a part of Czech foreign policy as the country’s defensive capability. Speaking at the 10th Czech Energy Conference, Mr Fischer pointed out that while the country had an alliance to rely on for defence, it had nothing of the sort where energy issues are concerned. He said it was in the country’s best interests to participate in creating a joint European energy policy and thus protect against extortion and a “fatal stoppage of supplies”. Mr Fischer also warned politicians that energy planning was not an issue for the next election period, but for the next 50 years.
Anticorruption police are investigating two managerial employees of the office of the Southwest Regional Council for illegal distribution of grant money. Police believe that the two may have been involved in influencing the selection of projects that would benefit from several billion crowns in EU funding. At the behest of the police, the Ministry of Finance halted a nearly completed tender process for a series of public developmental projects in the Southwest region amounting to 3.8 billion crowns. A police raid of the office carried out at the end of last year did not result in any arrests. The charges of influencing a public tender and damaging the interests of the European Community carry sentences of up to 12 years imprisonment.
On Monday, the government approved a proposal to open schools designed to integrate socially disadvantaged and disabled children. The measure is meant to address the lack of integration in the Czech school system and seeks to facilitate co-education of disabled and healthy children, as well as to include children from socially weak families, including children of Romany origin. One of the possible ways of helping to integrate these students would be to introduce a mandatory pre-school year to help bring children’s abilities to an elementary school level. The proposal also seeks to increase the number of staff trained to address the needs of disabled students and students who have a hard time keeping up with the class.