Finance minister Bohuslav Sobotka has called for an emergency session of Parliament which would freeze the salaries of deputies, senators and ministers in the coming year. The Lower House recently approved a law which postpones a planned increase in the salaries of policemen, firemen and other emergency services but which at the same time raises the salaries of deputies, senators, cabinet ministers and state attorneys as of January 1st of 2005. Coming at a time of cuts in public spending, the news evoked plenty of criticism. Minister Sobotka said that with goodwill from both houses of Parliament there was still time to reverse this decision.
The governing coalition has agreed on a plan to reduce public spending by seventy billion crowns in the years 2006 and 2007. The planned reduction in public spending is in line with the EU convergence programme and failure to adhere to it could result in steep fines and problems with accessing EU solidarity finds. The money should be saved predominantly on social benefits and in the state sector.
Finance Minister Sobotka has called for a decision on the privatization of telecommunications operator Cesky Telecom to be made this Wednesday. In an interview for the CTK news agency, minister Sobotka said a decision should be made without further loss of time on whether the states' 51 percent stake in Cesky Telecom would be sold directly to a sole investor or through the capital market. If it were through the capital market, the privatization of Telecom could begin before the end of the year. The Cabinet is split on how best to proceed. Several ministers, including Sobotka, favour a flotation on the capital markets since it would bring immediate funds to the cash-strapped government. Several previous attempts to sell the government's stake in Telecom failed.
The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development has called on the Czech Republic to speed up pension and health care reforms. In a report on the state of the economy published on Tuesday, the OECD warned that the objective of achieving a deficit equal to three percent of GDP by 2008, which is a condition for adopting the euro, would not be reached without further measures. The Czech Republic would like to join the euro-zone sometime at the end of the decade.
The renowned U.S. illusionist David Copperfield has arrived in the Czech Republic, on tour with his new show "An Intimate Evening of Grand Illusion". Among Mr Copperfield's most impressive feats in recent years were making the Statue of Liberty "disappear", walking through the Great Wall of China, and making a 70-ton Orient Express train car vanish in mid-air. The world-famous magician will stage shows in Prague, the Moravian capital of Brno and the northern Moravian city of Ostrava. David Copperfield last performed in Prague in December 1998.
A lawyer for Civic Democrat party head Mirek Topolanek has asked the ministries of Justice and the Interior for official confirmation on the accuracy of media reports relating to police wiretapping of Mr Topolanek's phone calls and the monitoring of his bank accounts. The lawyer, Tomas Sokol, said he wanted to determine whether his client's right to privacy had been violated. Police revealed that Mr Topolanek's phone had been bugged after a government MP said in September that he had been offered a bribe by two men close to Mr Topolanek in order to help bring down the government in a confidence vote.
The Czech senate has approved an amendment to the energy law that aims to liberalize the country's electricity and gas markets by 2007. Under the terms of the amendment, large firms will be able to choose their gas supplier as of January 2005. The following year, the market will open to smaller firms. By the end of 2006, the entire market is to be fully liberalized. The amendment also calls for the separation of transmission and distribution networks on electricity and gas markets by 2007.
A Prague municipal court has ordered the Interior Ministry to remove another name from its official list of former communist-era secret police agents. On Monday a judge ruled that there was no proof that Skoda Auto supervisory head Vratislav Kulhanek -- who also serves as the chairman of the Czech Ice Hockey Association -- had knowingly worked for the StB. An official list of StB agents and collaborators was published on the Interior Ministry's Internet site last spring.
The Czech securities market regulator is to investigate possible market manipulation in the trading of shares in Cesky Telecom after they surged 5.13 percent last Thursday following reports - later denied - of interest from France Telecom in the Czech government's 51 percent stake in the telecoms operator. On Nov 25, a business website published a report citing an unnamed source as saying that France Telecom was interested in the Czech telco. The report also said top managers of France Telecom had asked Czech finance minister Bohuslav Sobotka for a meeting.
According to the STEM polling agency, the Prime Minister Stanislav Gross enjoys 40 percent of public support which is by some 11 percent less than in September. According to the agency's surveys Mr Gross's popular support is at its lowest since May 2002. He has fallen from second to fifth place on the popularity ladder. The Education Minister Petra Buzkova remains the most popular Czech politician, with 43 percent of public support.