During talks in Brussels on Friday the EU’s Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion Laszlo Andor warned Czech Education Minister Josef Dobeš that his ministry could lose millions of euros in subsidies over poorly administered EU projects. The EU Commissioner pointed out mistakes in public procurement and said that EU funds were not always used as stated in approved projects. He said the Czech government must take immediate and effective measures to correct these failing or resign itself to losing most of the funds it could draw from the Education for Competitiveness Operational Programme. Mr. Dobeš said he realized the gravity of the situation and promised to implement corrective measures within the next few weeks. The European Commissioner said further talks in March would be decisive with respect to further EU funding.
According to a survey by the Median agency, published in Friday’s edition of the daily Mladá fronta dnes, former prime minister Jan Fischer would receive the most votes if direct presidential elections were held today. Roughly a third of respondents said they would cast their ballot for the former prime minister, who headed an interim government between April 2009 and July 2010. If elections were held today, economist Jan Švejnar would receive a sixth of the votes, while entrepreneur Tomio Okamura polled at ten percent. Only six percent of respondents said they would vote for candidate Karel Schwarzenberg, the current foreign minister. The Czech Senate approved an amendment to the constitution that paves the way for direct elections on Wednesday; Czechs will be able to vote for their president directly for the first time in March of 2013, when current president Václav Klaus’s second term expires.
The Czech Republic has won an arbitration case against the Swiss consortium Oeconomicus, the Czech Finance Ministry said on Friday. The Swiss consortium took the Czech state to court over allegedly having violated the Czech-Swiss agreement on the protection of investments. The court victory will save the state five billion crowns and the Swiss company has also been ordered to cover all court expenses.
On a visit to Germany, Prime Minister Petr Nečas said on Friday that the Czech Republic did not intend to build transformers in order to block electricity overflows from Germany. The Czech grid is occasionally overloaded by these flows in particular when the output of wind farms in northern Germany is high. In such cases, there is a danger of a blackout for the Czech grid. Prime Minister Necas said Prague has decided to take measures in favour of strengthening the country’s own transmission networks. At the same time, he said the Czech Republic expected Germany to move to solve the problem on its own territory.
The leader of the opposition Social Democrats Bohuslav Sobotka said on Friday that his party would propose introducing a ceiling on bonuses for public officials. The move comes in reaction to several information leaks which revealed that ministry officials and government aides were receiving bonuses to the tune of hundreds of crowns. Mr. Sobotka said it was hypocritical of the prime minister to ask people to tighten their belts when government officials were receiving huge sums of money besides their regular wages. The Social Democrats are proposing an annual ceiling on bonuses amounting to a maximum six monthly wages.
A wax heart sculpture made in memory of the late president Vaclav Havel has been installed on the plaza of the Czech National Theatre. The sculpture made by artists Lukáš Gavlovský and Roman Švejda was created from left-over wax from the many thousands of candles that Czechs lit for Vaclav Havel on town squares around the country. The sculpture is two metres tall and weighs over two tons. Weather allowing, it will remain there until April.
A firm selling a miracle product for varicose veins has duped over 800 people. The firm’s salespeople allegedly targeted seniors on the street offering the product for free or the symbolic price of one crown on condition that they would give them their name and address and sign up to membership in a club which would offer them other low-cost products. In reality people were committing to pay the firm over 4,000 crowns within a period of 30 days. Police are investigating the case and have asked anyone else who fell for the trick to come forward.
Czechs will celebrate tax freedom day on June 19 this year, that is four days later than in 2011, according to the calculations of the financial company Patria Finance. According to the company’s chief economist David Marek the main reason for the slide is the raising of the lower VAT rate which has raised the tax quota from 34.7 to 35.1 percent of GDP. Tax freedom day is the first day of the year in which a nation as a whole has theoretically earned enough income to fund its annual tax burden.
The Czech Republic has the fourth densest chain of hypermarkets in Europe, with 26 hypermarkets per one million people, according to the results of a survey conducted by the Nielsen Company. The network of hypermarkets already covers most of the country’s territory and, according to data from Incoma GfK, nearly 90 percent of Czechs have a hypermarket within easy reach. Further expansion of hypermarkets has therefore slowed down in the last few years and is now restricted to smaller towns.
Actor Marek Vasut has won a libel case against the tabloid Aha which wrote that the actor’s health was undermined by his highly promiscuous lifestyle and claimed that he was suffering from severe depressions. According to the internet news site Idnes which reported the news on Friday, the tabloid’s publisher has been ordered to pay the actor the sum of one million crowns –the highest sum ever awarded for libel in this country. The daily notes that the news has been greeted with satisfaction by Czech celebrities who see it as an important precedent.