The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has criticised the Czech Republic for its high number of institutionalised children and for the use of so-called “baby-boxes”. While praising the country for certain measures taken for child wellbeing, the committee was critical of many conditions, including the long period of time that children spend in institutionalised care, the lack of assistance for families in need, and the fragmented system of institutions with no central overseer. Among other things, the committee also called upon the country to close its “baby-boxes” – safe and anonymous hospital facilities for leaving unwanted children that have been used 49 times since their introduction in 2005. In the committee’s view, the facilities violate several provisions of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. The state, it said, should focus instead on "resolving the causes of child abandonment", support planned parenthood and provide consultation and social aid amid unwanted pregnancies.
Prime Minister Petr Nečas is sticking to a plan to tie parliamentary approval of Croatia’s accession to the EU to the Czech exemption to the Lisbon treaty. The prime minister on Monday told members of Parliament’s EU affairs committee that he wants to introduce the two bills as a single contractual document and a single vote in both houses. President Václav Klaus demanded the exemption from the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights before signing the treaty in 2009. Opposition Social Democrats, which are opposed to the opt-out, have warned the government risks complicating Croatia’s accession if it connects the votes, as they will vote against it in the Senate. Croatia is expected to sign the agreement with the EU in the second half of this year and become the 28th member state on July 1, 2013.
The European Commission has praised the government’s reform measures in a list of recommendations for the Czech Republic. The recommendations, which the Commission sent to Prague in response to the government’s convergence and national reform policy, state that the government is “on the right course” in resolving economic issues. Prime Minister Nečas, who presented the information on Wednesday, said the recommendations put emphasis on the same priorities as the government, namely fiscal discipline, cost-saving budgets, decreasing the deficit in public finances and maintaining and developing competitiveness.
The Czech police can now seize and destroy even a small amount of drugs the possession of which is not a crime but a mere offence, under an amendment that comes into force on Wednesday. Up to now, the police could only seize drugs from people who committed a crime by producing them, peddling them or possessing “a larger than small amount”. The amendment also enables the police to fine offenders on the spot, a measure that is to save administrative proceedings expenses. A directive setting limits for the amount of drugs the possession of which is not considered a crime was introduced in January 2010 and is still in place. Possession of up to 15 grams of marijuana is a mere offense, as is 1,5 grams of heroin, one gram of cocaine, or five LSD tablets.
Coalition leaders are meeting on Wednesday afternoon to discuss an amendment to the coalition agreement that the Public Affairs party has made a prerequisite for their remaining in government. Public Affairs is demanding four ministries for its party and would like to replace the independent transport minister, Radek Šmerda, with the head of their parliamentary club, Karolína Peake. Prime Minister Nečas has said he does not support any changes in the cabinet and has offered the junior coalition party the chairmanship of the government’s legislative council and a special anti-corruption portfolio. Public Affairs have thus far rejected those proposals, saying they want the representation in government they deserve. Two of the party’s leaders have been forced out of government this year due to underperformance and allegations of corruption.
A protest against raising value added tax on books is being held at Old Town Square in Prague on Wednesday. Several hundred writers, publishers, representatives of colleges and sympathisers have been taking part in the event, called “Don’t Tax Books, Don’t Tax Information”. More than 160,000 have so far supported the protest against the VAT hike on the website of the association of Czech booksellers and publishers. The government intends to raise the decreased VAT rate from 10 to 14% in 2012 and to 17.5% in 2013.
Czech scientists and environmental experts have found evidence of dangerous chemicals in Czech fish. Research carried out by the environmental organisation Arnika, which studied fluvial sediment and fish throughout the Czech Republic for the course of one year, found that a majority of them contained bromine and fluorine substances that persist in the environment for long periods of time and are not normally monitored. Perfluorinated compounds found the water system will, if consumed, be stored in the body and remain there. Some of the substances discovered are forbidden by the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants, however legal limits have not yet been established.
Restoration of land decimated by Soviet army bases in the 1970s and 80s may take another four years to complete. According to the Ministry of the Environment, the original deadline of 2012 has been extended to 2016 due to budget cuts. The ministry says that nearly 1.5 billion crowns were spent on the cleaning the grounds of gasoline and other contaminants; the remainder of the work is expected to cost roughly 150 million more. The state is also conducting an extensive technical inventory of the areas used by the Soviet army and work on clearing contamination may still be undertaken elsewhere.
A tornado struck several communities in the region of Pardubice on Wednesday, damaging a number of roofs. No one was reported to have been injured. The greatest damages were in the village of Staré Čívice, where the tornado damaged about a dozen houses as well as the buildings of two companies, where 122 employees were forced to evacuate. Strong winds in the area also did damage to trees and roads, and brought down electrical power lines in one instance. Over all damages are estimated to be in the tens of millions of crowns.
A new poll conducted by the STEM agency suggests that trade unions enjoyed record popularity as of early June. STEM reports that just before the nationwide transport strike of June 16th, trade unions were trusted by every second Czech citizen – a level of confidence last seen in 1997. On the other hand, a slight majority of people - 56% - were also doubtful of their political independence. One in ten respondents said they had the utmost faith in the unions.