The government on Wednesday agreed to introduce standard school leaving exams at the end of the upcoming school year. Minister of Education, Josef Dobeš pushed for clearance for the controversial step, which has been discussed for the last 14 years. He argued it is a vital component of promised education reform and standards setting for the sector. Many schools, pupils and parents have opposed a standard exam for the around 100,000 school leavers a year saying it threatens the quality of local schools. Around 180 high schools signed a protest petition this year. Schools have until now been able to set their own exams with the results that standards vary across the country.
The Liberec region has launched negotiations with the Ministry of Transport about freeing up funds for repairs to roads and bridges damaged by recent floods. The total bill for damage has been estimated at just over 2.0 billion crowns. Three quarters of this consists of repairs to second and third class roads with the rest destined for bridge repairs. It is estimated that 119 bridges were damaged in the flash floods a week ago, of which around 30 are now in a serious state. Around 80 ridges need less costly maintenance, according to the regional governor Stanislav Eichler.
Pope Benedict XVI has given 25,000 euros, around 620,000 Czech crowns, to help Czech flood victims. News of the donation was released by the Bishop of Litoměřice, Jan Baxant. His diocese is one of the affected areas. The bishop sounded out the Vatican about possible help last week. The donations will be managed by the church’s local charity. The north of the country, particularly the Liberec and Ústí nad Labem regions were among the worst hit.
New rules covering the employment of foreigners were agreed by the government on Wednesday. The new rules include the demand for a residence permit to include biometric details of the person and responsibility of employers for foreign workers. That responsibility includes meeting repatriation costs for those staying in the country illegally after employment ends and uncovered health costs. The changes have been pushed through by the Ministry of Interior in a bid to counter illegal working.
A Czech anti-drugs squad announced on Wednesday that it had seized a highly professional and well organised gang growing marihuana for sale in neighbouring countries. The police squad said 21 Vietnamese were detained. They are said to have organised production in large halls and were able to produce 1,400 kilograms of the drug a year valued at around 100 million crowns. Growing of small amounts of marihuana for personal use is no longer a criminal offence in the Czech Republic but can still attract a fine. Growing, possession and distribution of larger amounts is still a matter for the courts.
Social Democrat senator Vladimír Dryml announced on Wednesday his intention to stand for the leadership of his party. Mr. Dryml said he was unhappy with the current state of the party and would run to be party chairman at elections to be held on 18 and 19 March next year. He joins the acting party leader, Bohuslav Sobotka, and Head of the Association of Regions, Michal Hašek, who have already signalled they will also run. The left leaning Social Democrats narrowly came first in lower house elections at the end of May but failed to form a coalition with a centre-right government now in power.
Czechs last year on average took 4.18 days off work due to sickness or injury according to figures released by the Centre for Health Information and Statistics. That figure is the lowest level since the early 1960’s according to the organisation. In 2007, the average number of lost working days was 5.6 days. Changes in the law meaning that employees are not paid in full for their initial sick days have dramatically cut the absentee rate in the country over recent years.
Czech Prime Minister Petr Nečas started a working visit to his German counterpart Angela Merkel on Wednesday evening with discussions to continue Thursday. The main themes for discussions are expected to be the economy, energy relations and energy security. Mr. Nečas will also meet with German president Christian Wulff. Germany is the Czech Republic’s biggest trade partner and accounts for around a third of Czech exports.
Czech tennis player Iveta Benešová has created the biggest upset of her career by beating the world number three and tournament favourite Jelena Jankovic in the women’s Montreal Cup tournament. She won 7:6, 6:3, to proceed to the third round. Previously, Benešová had only beaten one top 10 opponent in her 12-year career. She is currently ranked 75th in the world and had to qualify for the tournament.
Sparta Prague suffered a 2:0 home defeat to Žilina on Tuesday night in a Champions League qualifying game. The result means that Sparta have a hill to climb in next Wednesday’s second, away leg: they need to beat the Slovaks by at least two goals to reach the group stage of the lucrative competition. The Czech title holders last qualified for the Champions League five years ago, while Žilina have never taken part in the competition.