The Czech Nation Bank on Thursday cut its forecast of the country’s economic output. The bank now expects the economy to stagnate in 2012; in November, the central bank predicted a growth of 1.2 percent. The bank’s governor, Miroslav Singer, told reporters the latest forecast was a compromise between the base and alternative scenarios the bank came up with in November. The good news, Mr Singer added, was that the current prognosis was more optimistic than November’s alternative scenario. For next year, the bank forecasts a growth of 1.9 percent.
In related news, the Czech National Bank on Thursday left its benchmark interest rates at record-low 0.75 percent for the 20th month running. All present members of the bank’s board voted to keep the rates unchanged; the central bank’s vice governor, Mojmír Hampl, was not present. Most analysts believe the bank will keep the interest rates unchanged for the rest of the year due to very weak domestic demand, the government’s restrictive fiscal policy and low salary growth.
Some 400 people gathered in central Prague on Thursday to protest against the controversial ACTA treaty which the Czech Republic joined last week. The protesters, who were joined by several members of Parliament, called on the country’s lawmakers not to ratify the treaty which aims at harmonizing standards of copyright protections, and which critics say could lead to restrictions of free internet.
The single European currency will survive only if the euro zone becomes “a federation”, according to Czech Prime Minister Petr Nečas. In his opinion piece in Thursday’s Czech daily Lidové noviny, Mr Nečas questions whether the Czech Republic should adopt the euro under the current conditions and if so, when. The Czech Republic and the UK are the only two countries that have not joined the fiscal pact agreed at last week’s EU summit. In Thursday’s opinion piece, Mr Nečas goes on to criticize the compact by saying that while the agreed treaty was a crucial step towards federalisation, it failed to solve current problems. By joining, he said, countries gave up the right to vote on their own budgets within the EU, thereby losing sovereignty.
In related news, the Czech prime minister has also criticized the mechanism of last week’s EU summit. In his opinion piece in Lidové noviny, Mr Nečas said that leaders of national governments were given the final version of the fiscal treaty to immediately approve or reject it, with no time to analyse the document or consult it with experts and members of their government. Such practices are increasingly common at EU summits, according to the Czech prime minister.
The Czech government has approved an amendment to the Czech Press Act introducing new rules for periodical publications issued by municipalities, regions and other administrative bodies. Under the new legislation, these outlets will have to provide room for members of the opposition. The amendment does not apply to town halls and regional assemblies’ websites. If approved by Parliament and signed into law by the president, the legislation will take effect in September.
One hundred and fifty-three new cases of HIV were registered in the Czech Republic in 2011, according to figures released by the national HIV/AIDS programme on Thursday. It is the third highest surge since 1985 when monitoring began. Doctors also recorded 20 people who developed AIDS; nine people died of the disease last year. The authorities said 87 percent of the new patients contracted the disease from sexual intercourse. In total, 1675 people are known to have contracted HIV in the Czech Republic; 341 of them have developed AIDS, of which 253 died.
A group of Czech MPs from all parties in the lower house of Parliament have come up with a bill that would legalize medical marihuana. At a news conference on Thursday, MPs said that under the proposed legislation, cannabis would be supplied by licensed producers and would be available to patients as a prescription drug free of charge. Licences to grow the plant would be issued by the State Institute for Drug Control; the national anti-drug coordinator said up to ten companies could receive such licenses. The bill will now be discussed by the government before it is put to vote in the Czech Parliament. If approved, medical marijuana could be legalized by the end of August.
Around 300 law faculty students at the West Bohemian University in Plzeň protested on Thursday against the authorities’ decision to cancel the accreditation of its undergraduate programme. That would effectively close down the school, and around 1,600 undergraduate students would have to complete their studies elsewhere. On Wednesday, the country’s Accreditation Commission decided not to uphold accreditation of the law school’s undergraduate programme over persisting staffing issues; last November, it also closed down the doctoral programme at the Plzeň law faculty.
An epidemic of mumps has broken out in the Pardubice region, in the north-east of the country, the regional health authorities said on Thursday. Some 170 cases of the disease were registered in the region in January; however, doctors expressed concerns the real number might be much higher. Some people contracted the disease despite having been vaccinated against it. The head of the local anti-epidemic department said doctors were now working to determine whether this was caused by the virus having mutated or by the fact vaccines were no longer effective.