The Visegrad four regional grouping adopted the so-called Prague declaration on February 15, the 25th anniversary of the creation of the Central European partnership. The declaration from leaders of the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, and Poland, meeting in the Czech capital said that they would seek to strengthen ties between them and that a stronger Visegrad Group could contribute to a stronger Europe. The declaration also stressed the need to keep the EU membership door open to countries in the Balkans and for continued financial aid to countries further east, such as Ukraine, and warned against new dividing lines in Europe. The meeting was attended by the prime minister of Bulgaria and president of Macedonia. Worries had been expressed before the meeting, which partly focused on the ongoing immigration crisis, that a separate Visegrad strategy could undermine German efforts to bolster Turkey as a curb to further immigration into the EU.
Warnings have come from a number of European leaders that the Visegrad Four meeting om immigration should not divide the European Union. Luxembourg foreign minister Jean Asselborn cautioned Monday that there was neither a Visegrad nor German solution to the crisis, just a European one. And he warned the regional grouping from becoming a dissenting bloc within the EU. Slovakia’s president, Andrej Kiska, also warned the group not to cause conflict with other European countries. Germany in particular appears to be worried that the grouping of Central European countries is pushing a different strategy from Berlin’s hopes of mainly using Turkey to curb the immigrant inflow.
Chinese last year for the first time became the biggest spending non-EU tourist in the Czech Republic according to figures released by the travel services company Global Blue. Their spending in Czech shops amounted to a quarter of all total spending by non-EU tourists and just pipped the spending volume of Russians. Russian tourist spending slipped dramatically in 2015 to 24 percent of the total from 44 percent a year earlier. Taiwanese tourists were third with 7 percent of the total. Global Blue deals with returned VAT payments for tourists outside the EU.
Czech bus and train magnate Radim Jančura has said he plans to organise a blockade of the streets of Brussels and Berlin with his buses. Jančura, who owns the StudentAgency bus company and Regiojet train company, says the protest is aimed at the way multi-billion EU grants for buying new trains are being directed in the Czech Republic at state controlled rail operator České Drahý. The grants will undermine competition, he has warned. Jančura did not specify when the protests will take place.
Police from the special squad for dealing with organized crime are investigating whether the e-mail of ANO leader and finance minister Andrej Babiš has been broken in. The investigation was reported by the news server Neovlivni, which said the information had been confirmed by Babiš himself. It was not clear whether e-mails or other information had disappeared, the news site added. Rumours were circulating that access to the politician’s mail was being offered for sale. The latest news follows a few weeks after the e-mail site of prime minister Bohuslav Sobotka was hacked by a racist group based in the United States.
The number of foreigners living in the Czech Republic at the end of 2015 rose to just under 468,000, according to the Czech Statistical Office. That represents a rise of around 15,000 compared to the year earlier. Foreigners make up around 4.5 percent of the population living in the Czech Republic with numbers rising in the last two years. Almost four out of 10 foreigners live in Prague. The biggest single group of foreigners is made up of Ukrainians, around 23 percent, followed by Slovaks, around 20%, Vietnamese around 13 percent, Russians 8 percent, and Germans and Poles each having 4 percent of the total.
Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka has said the extraordinary Visegrad 4 summit in Prague Monday is aimed at assuring countries in the Western Balkans that they will not be alone if the EU’s strategy of cooperation with Turkey to curb immigration fails. Sobotka said in an interview on Czech Radio that countries in the Balkans fears for they would be abandoned to fend on their own if the Turkey strategy failed, Greece could not police its borders, and Germany and Austria blocked their frontiers to more immigrants. The summit on immigration is being attended by representatives from Bulgaria and Macedonia but should also send a signal to the Serbs, Croats, and Slovenians that they would not be left on their own, Sobotka said.
Top Czech tennis player Petra Kvitová has moved up to 8th place on the women’s WTA rankings. The one place advance is largely thanks to the fall in form of Spanish player Carla Suarez Navarro. Lucie Safářová ,who has not played so far this year due to injury, is still ranked 10th. Top Czech men’s player Tomáš Berdych also remains unchanged at 8th place in the ATP singles table. Serena Williams has now overtaken Czech born Martina Navrátilová for the number of weeks she stayed as the top ranked player.
Czech foreign minister Lubomír Zaorálek has suggested the EU drop most of its sanctions against Belarus. The country was facing economic crisis and might deepen its ties with the EU given the current difficult economic conditions in Russia, the foreign minister said at the start of a ministerial meeting in Brussels Monday. The EU last year prolonged a series of travel bans on around 170 top personalities of the regime of Alexander Lukashenko and some sanctions on selected firms until the end of February. Zaorálek said he expected to visit the Belarus capital Minsk in the near future.
Over 100 representatives from Czech steelworks will be taking part in street protests in Brussels on Monday in an attempt to stop the European Union from granting market-economy status to China later this year, a move that would make it harder for European companies to protect themselves from cheap Chinese exports. Thousands of steelmakers from around the EU are expected to take part. The Czech steelworks represented are Třinecké železárny, ArcelorMittal Ostrava and Vítkovice Steel whose top managers are going along to the protest.