The country’s Communist Party this week put forward a constitutional referendum bill in which the country’s citizens would vote on whether or not the Czech Republic would stay in NATO, the Czech News Agency reports. The Communists, long opposed to NATO membership, have slammed the alliance and justified the bill for, in their view, increasing military tensions in Europe and for allegedly “going back on the principles on which NATO was founded”. Critics who have hit back include the chairman of the lower house Jan Hamáček said he considered NATO and EU membership “key pillars for the country’s sedcurity”. The bill is not likely to gain broader support.
The last leader of the former Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev, who introduced the reforms of perestroika and glasnost in the 1980s eventually leading to the fall of communism in Europe, has expressed serious concerns over world affairs, from the migrant crisis and terrorism to economic sanctions and worsening ties between Russia and the West. Mr Gorbachev spoke via a video address to attendees of a two-day Prague conference on security and Russia. The 85-year-old had himself been due to attend but in the end declined on doctor’s orders due to health problems. Mr Gorbachev said it was not possible to “hide behind sanctions”, saying that responsibility lay with everyone involved. Russia has been hit by continuing sanctions following the annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014. Mr Gorbachev said that in order to overcome the crisis it was necessary to start with Europe – including Russia.
Some 150 Czech soldiers will serve three months in Lithuania at the beginning of next year, Defence Minister Martin Stropnický confirmed on Friday. The Baltic states and members of the Visegrad Four (Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic) agreed on year-long exercises over fears about Russia – following its annexation of Crimea. The NATO alliance is preparing multinational battalions to boost security along its eastern borders; Czech soldiers will not, for the moment, be joining, for capacity reasons. The Czech Defence Ministry is considering sending soldiers to join the emerging NATO force in 2017.
The yield from this year’s apple harvest is expected to be some 23 percent less year-on-year and pears as much as 50 percent, according to Czech fruit growers. The amount of apples grown this year amount to 119,373 tons, while pears will weigh in at 5,484 tons, some 45 percent less than a year ago; this year’s poor yield could leave some harvesters on the financial brink, the Czech News Agency reported.
More than 30 million motor vehicles made use of Prague’s Blanka Tunnel complex in the first year since it opened, Prague’s Deputy Mayor Petr Dolínek said at a press conference on Friday. According to the deputy mayor, drivers “saved” a total of 290 years off their commute; the official said that Prague had not seen an increase in overall traffic and that daily the tunnel cut aboveground traffic in the area by some 13,000 vehicles. In all, the tunnel complex was used by more than 78,000 vehicles per day. Over the course of the year there were 64 traffic accidents in the tunnel; in only four cases were people injured. Not all municipalities are happy with developments, in particular Prague 6, which has seen much higher traffic leading to and from the tunnel.
Czech President Miloš Zeman will have to apologise within seven days to Ferdinand Peroutka’s granddaughter over his claim the Czech journalist once wrote an article describing Adolf Hitler as a gentleman. A Prague court recently upheld an earlier ruling that Mr Zeman had to apologise for the claim; news site iDnes reported that a written copy of the verdict was delivered to the Office of the President on Friday. President Zeman has maintained throughout that he had read the article in question; a thorough search of archives by his staff was unable to find any evidence it ever existed.
Czech universities are set to receive an additional 290 million crowns in the state budget for 2017 bringing the total amount of funds to more than 21 billion Education Minister Kateřina Valachová has confirmed after negotiations with the Finance Ministry. The decision will still have to be approved by the cabinet next week. The budget for the country’s institutions of higher learning will thus be slightly higher – a difference in the tens of millions – than it was for 2016. The minister said that the means of allotting the funds as one sum, entirely within the state budget, would provide stability.
EU countries should focus on practical matters which are important for citizens' everyday lives, not waste time debating EU treaties and the shape of European institutions, Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka has said ahead of an informal EU summit taking place in Bratislava, Slovakia, on Friday. The prime minister also stated that EU countries had to maintain a strong will to continue cooperation on the European project following Great Britain’s decision in June to leave the EU. Ahead of the summit, the Visegrad Four, which includes the Czech Republic, drafted a joint statement outlining the need to reinforce security for better control of the EU’s external borders and to preserve the union’s cohesion policy, the free market and the Schengen zone. The Bratislava summit is to start a series of discussions which would culminate in Rome next spring on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, which established the European Economic Community.
There were mixed results for Czech clubs making their debut in the Europa League on Thursday night. Viktoria Plzeň drew 1:1 with Rome at home. Sparta Prague put in a disappointing and lackluster performance away at English club Southampton going down 0:2 and creating few chances in front of goal. Slovan Liberec drew 2:2 away at Qarabag. Jan Sýkora scored the fastest goal in Europa League history, finding the net in 10.69 seconds.