UK Prime Minister David Cameron will be joined by his Czech counterpart Petr Nečas on March 1st for a Eurotunnel train trip from London to Brussels. The destination will be an upcoming EU summit; Nečas is set to visit London for a memorial event connected to the late president Václav Havel on February 29th. The UK and Czech Republic were recently the only holdouts in a proposed pan-EU fiscal discipline pact, primarily designed to aid eurozone nations.
The Czech government has approved an implementation law for the direct election of the next president. Under the draft bill, which must still be voted on by parliament, candidates will be chosen via a similar system used today to select senatorial candidates. Candidacies will be lodged via a petition from twenty MPs, 10 senators or via a public petition signed by 50,000 people. Mechanisms for the random verification of signatories were also in the package. The petitions will then be evaluated by the Interior Ministry. However, the government failed to reach an agreement on campaign finance rules for the proposed system but did agree that candidates should have access to free air time on Czech Television and Czech Radio for their promotional advertisements. A law mandating direct elections of the next president, which will take place next year, was recently passed into law and will come into effect this October.
Health minister Leoš Heger (TOP 09) has dismissed Martin Beneš, the head of the State Institute for Drug Control, the country’s chief agency for the testing and approval of pharmaceuticals. Minister Heger explained the firing by citing long-term disagreements over workplace methodology, adding that an open tender process will now take place to find a successor. Deputy Jiří Deml will serve in the top post until a replacement is found. According to ČTK, the firing may be linked to concerns over the functioning of the Institute’s central drug-testing database, administrative issues of data protection and delays in updating the prices of key drugs. According to Lubomír Chudoba, head of the Czech Chamber of Pharmacists, Beneš failed to effectively communicate with his colleagues across the industry. In 2011, the Czech pharmaceutical industry was worth an estimated 58.85 billion crowns.
Faulty applications and administrative errors could cost the Czech interior ministry 2 billion crowns in lost EU grants. This, according to a report by the Ministry for Regional Development, who have been tasked with examining grant application processes across the entire Czech government. The news will be discussed by top officials in the government on Wednesday, according to Hospodářské noviny, who also report that up to 40% of EU grant applications by the Interior Ministry may have been faulty. Regional Development Minister Kamil Jankovský reportedly met with a top official at the Interior Ministry to discuss the implications of the report last Friday. According to Radek Šmerda, a deputy at Interior, the ministry must conduct a detailed audit to asses the full impact of the allegations. Specifically, the problems are set to date back to the former Interior Ministers Ivan Langer and Radek John, and were mainly related to digitalisation and technology projects. In total, Czech ministries have reportedly failed to source 25 billion in EU grants.
Roman Týc (real name David Hons), a Czech artist who in 2007 defaced fifty traffic lights in Prague by amending the standard red and green figures to show them in situations such as drinking, urinating and being hanged, is set to begin a one month prison term. The artist chose the prison term instead of paying a 60,000 crown fine (in addition to an already paid fine of 80,000 crowns). The sentence is set to begin on Friday, with numerous groups supporting his cause, including an unusual satirical petition for sending the imprisoned artist a cake filled with a device, which he can use to escape incarceration. According to Petr Vídeňský, one of the activists behind the petition, the aim is to pressure the Czech president to pardon Týc.
Prague’s Ruzyně airport is asking local authorities to approve a ban on the use of laser pointers and other similar devices in a 20km circumference around the site, reports Týden.cz. Under the proposals, fines of up to 5 million crowns could be levied against offenders, with repeat cases being treated as criminal acts. So-called “green lasers” are of the greatest concern, especially since they are freely available to purchase in the country, according to Petr Navrátil of the Czech Civil Aviation Authority. Last year, 36 incidents in which pilots reported laser beams disrupting their ability to see – and thus causing the risk of a potential disaster – were catalogued. Even the smallest hand-held laser pointers can cause pilots momentary blindness, particularly at night.
Vlastimil Rampula is to take up his post at the head of the High State Attorney’s Office in Prague on Wednesday after the Prague municipal Court ruled his dismissal invalid. Rampula was sacked in July of last year at the instigation of the Supreme State Attorney Pavel Zeman on suspicion that he was holding up key corruption investigations. The Prague court ruled that his dismissal was not sufficiently justified. The provisional head of the High State Attorney’s Office Stanislav Mecl is to return to his post at the Supreme State Attorney’s Office in Brno.
The bottom half of Prague’s Wenceslas Square will be permanently changed into a pedestrian only zone as of April 2nd. This, according to an announcement made by Prague 1 mayor Oldřich Lomecký on Wednesday. As of April, cars will be prohibited from both parking in and driving through the lower half of the square as well as traversing through via the intersecting Jindřišská road mid-square. Residents and delivery vehicles will be excluded from the ban. Plans have reportedly been underway for the last six months designing the pedestrianisation of the square and should help pave the way for a long-planned revitalization of the entire area. New traffic signs as well as a police presence will serve to enforce the new ban, which will come in addition to a March-November ban on all cars in the square on the first Sunday of every month.
Thousands of students are expected to march next Wednesday in protest against planned university reforms by the Ministry of Education. The week of protests is scheduled to take place between February 26th and March 2nd across the country and will include debates, theatrical presentations and other attention-grabbing displays. According to Jan Gruber, a member of the “Week of Protests” student initiative, the proposed government reforms, which include the implementation of controversial high school fees, threaten the autonomy of universities in favour of political and economic elites. This, he argues, will lead to falling standards of education for all. The protesters are seeking that the reform proposals from Education Minister Josef Dobeš are significantly reworked.
The Czech Communist Party has seen an uptick in support according to a new poll from the CVVM agency. Other parties are either stagnating of have seen slight falls in support. The Social Democrats retain the largest support, with 32.5%, down from 34% in January. The Civic Democrats remain at 23.5%, while the Communist Party reclaims its third place mantle with 15.5%, a significant increase from last month’s 12.5%. TOP 09, the only other party that would break the 5% threshold required to hold seats in parliament fell from 15% to 14%. A continuing trend sees the defeat of the current Civic Democrat-led government replaced with one headed by the Social Democrats in a future parliamentary election.