The European Commission has approved the Czech Republic's plans to financially compensate those who will be hit the hardest by the restructuring of the national railway operator Ceske Drahy. The Czech government expects to spend a total of 1.86 billion Czech crowns (77.5 million US dollars) to compensate Ceske Drahy employees who will have to be laid off.
The dominant fixed-line operator Cesky Telecom wants to outsource its network maintenance operations to the German electronics giant Siemens, as part of stringent cost-cutting plans. In an interview for the German business daily Handelsblatt, the Cesky Telecom chairman Gabriel Berdar said the company would do a trial run for a couple of months. If it works out, a deal could be sealed in the second or third quarter of this year. The move would cut around 3,300 jobs at Cesky Telecom, in which the Czech government wants to sell a 51-percent stake, the newspaper said.
The Czech Parliament's defence and foreign affairs committees have asked legislators to approve the government's proposal to extend the mission of Czech military police stationed in Iraq. The group of about one hundred military police is based in southern Iraq and is helping to train local police there. The mission was to return home at the end of February, but the government recommended last week that it stay on till the end of the year. The lower house of parliament is expected to discuss the extension, which will cost the Defence Ministry around 175 million crowns (just over 7 million US dollars), at Friday's session.
The opposition Civic Democrats will support parents in a complaint to the Constitutional Court against a new system of applying for secondary school entrance exams. According to an amendment to the education law primary school graduates may send their application to only one secondary school of their choice, rather than applying to several as they did in the past. The Civic Democratic Party has slammed this new restriction, saying that it is in violation of the Charter of Human Rights.
The number of Czechs missing in the wake of the tsunami disaster in south-east Asia has dropped to nine. In seven cases there are fears that the missing Czechs did not survive the disaster. Thailand has received documents and DNA samples to aid the identification process, but the Czech Foreign Ministry has warned friends and relatives that it could be a long process. The Czech Republic has one confirmed casualty to date.
Lorry drivers may have to pay more for using Czech highways and main roads as of June 2005. In response to the heightened number of lorries transiting the Czech Republic, the Transport Ministry has proposed introducing a new toll which would take into consideration the weight of the vehicle and the number of kilometres covered. This would be a stopgap measure until the introduction of electronic tolls planned for 2006 or early 2007.
The Czech President Vaclav Klaus and the visiting Maltese President Fenech-Adami disagreed over EU matters during talks in Prague on Tuesday. While the Maltese head of state said that further EU integration was a positive thing and would be further improved by the adoption of the European Constitution, President Klaus warned of "dangers ahead" and criticized Brussels for trying to centrally direct people's lives. Similarly as the right wing Civic Democratic Party, which he established, President Klaus believes that the European Constitution would restrict the country's sovereignty.
The former Health Minister Marie Souckova has been accused of breach of trust. Ms Souckova allegedly broke the law when she brokered a controversial contract during her tenure at the ministry, which she left in April 2004. Ms Souckova appointed the lawyer Zdenek Novacek to represent the state in a compensation case launched by the blood plasma company Diag Human. Mr Novacek was to be paid 10 million crowns for taking the case and he was to charge a further 170 million crowns if he won. Experts have found his services highly overpriced. If found guilty, ex-minister Souckova faces two to eight years in prison. Last week, Ms Souckova, a former vice-chairperson of the Social Democrats, left the party reportedly over public statements of fellow party members relating to the Diag Human case.
The Czech Prime Minister Stanislav Gross has strengthened his position as leader of his Social Democrats ahead of a party congress in March, raising his chances of remaining head of government into 2006. Two regional party chapters backed Mr Gross's leadership at the weekend and another delivered a no preference vote between Mr Gross and his leftist rival, Deputy Prime Minister Zdenek Skromach, who will challenge the incumbent at the congress. Mr Gross's victory would keep in place the Social Democrats' cabinet with two centre-right partners, the Christian Democrats and the Freedom Union, before the spring 2006 general election. Stanislav Gross took over from Vladimir Spidla as party chief and prime minister in June after the Social Democrats' poor showing in the European Parliament election, but has so far failed to revive the party's fortunes.