The Czech cabinet has reached a decision on a strategy for increasing public awareness on the EU constitution prior to a possible referendum. The campaign will be headed by the prime minister's office, though the Ministry for Foreign Affairs had expressed an interest. It is estimated that the campaign, which would begin this year and last into 2006, will cost almost 10 million US dollars. The campaign will be run mostly through the media, but it is unclear whether it will be strictly informative or in open support of the constitution treaty.
The Association for Health Care Insurance Consumers has released figures showing the country's health services spent more than one quarter of their funds on patients' medication last year. According to the association, expenses for medication have risen six-fold since 1992, with consumption rising two-fold. Last year some 52 billion crowns - around 2.3 billion U.S., from expenses of around 200 billion crowns, were spent on medication.
The Christian Democrats will leave the coalition government if Stanislav Gross remains Prime Minister after his party, the Social Democrats, hold their conference at the end of the month, the Pravo newspaper reported on Wednesday. Prime Minister Gross has been at the centre of a government crisis after he failed to explain how he paid for his luxury flat in Prague. After exerting pressure on him to resign from office, the Christian Democrats agreed to give the strongest party in government more time to resolve the matter in its own way.
The British mobile phone company, Vodafone Group, has confirmed that it will buy the majority stake of the Canadian company Telesystem International Wireless (TIW) in Oskar Mobil, the smallest of the three Czech cell phone operators. Vodafone, which will also buy TIW's shareholdings in Romania's MobiFon, will pay 3.5 billion US dollars for both operators. The purchase in Oskar, which has an estimated 17 percent share of the Czech market, will cost the British company around one billion dollars.
President Vaclav Klaus has signed a decision on the appointment of twenty one new judges, all of whom are over thirty or will turn thirty this year, and sent it to Prime Minister Stanislav Gross for counter signature. The President last week refused to appoint 32 trainee judges who had not yet reached the age of thirty on the grounds that they were too young for such a responsible post. His decision evoked strong criticism since the Czech Republic is suffering from a lack of judges and has lost several court cases in Strasbourg over protracted proceedings.
A plane carrying defence minister Karel Kuhnl on a working visit to Israel was forced to turn back after an hour's flight on Sunday due to technical problems. The plane returned to Prague's Ruzyne Airport where technicians repaired the damage. A defence ministry spokesman said there was a two hour delay but no one aboard the plane was in any danger. Minister Kuhnl is to spend four days in Israel during which time he will meet with top officials to debate the political and security situation in the region, the fight against terrorism and bilateral cooperation.
Prime Minister Stanislav Gross is preparing an eight point plan which will outline the government's priorities in the remaining 15 months in office. In a debate on Czech TV, Mr. Gross said the crisis of the past few weeks had drawn attention away from matters which were vitally important and that he wanted to reaffirm his commitment to them. The government's priorities include a reform of the health and pension systems, the ratification of the European Constitution, preparations for the adoption of the euro in several years' time, and fighting unemployment. The opposition Civic Democrats have slammed the idea as a populist attempt to draw attention away from the fact that the government crisis had not been properly resolved.
A second night of heavy snow paralyzed traffic in many parts of the country in the early hours of Sunday. Rail traffic ground to a halt in many parts of the Czech Republic due to deep snow drifts and had to be replaced by busses. However even traffic along the main roads was slow and many mountain roads were impassable. Clean up operations were complicated by a strong wind and more snow showers. Drivers have been advised to put off driving to the mountain regions if they can avoid it. More problems are expected on the roads on Sunday evening as hundreds of people head back home after a weekend of skiing.
Cardinal Miloslav Vlk says the Catholic Church has not received adequate funds from the state to enable it to pay its priests proper salaries. In a statement for the CTK news agency the Cardinal complained that last year the Catholic Church had received 28 million crowns less in state funding and that this year it has no idea what to expect. "We are left at the mercy of the culture ministry" the Cardinal said, noting that Catholic priests were now living on meagre salaries. The Church is convinced that this is in violation of the law and has warned that if the government remains deaf to its needs it is prepared to take the matter to court.
The Czech government plans to make a bid for the future European institute for equal opportunities for men and women to be based in Prague. Hungary and Slovenia have also expressed interest. The proposal for such an institute to be set up, preferably in one of the EU newcomer states, was made by the Czech Euro commissioner Vladimir Spidla. If it is approved by the European Parliament, the institute should start work in 2007.