The lower house of parliament has approved a constitutional amendment introducing direct presidential elections. The bill was approved by MPs across the political spectrum with the exception of the Communists who abstained from the vote. The legislation has yet to be approved by the Senate, dominated by the opposition Social Democrats. If the legislation comes into effect, the successor to President Václav Klaus will be elected in a popular vote in 2013.
The lower house has also approved the Czech Republic’s state budget for 2012 envisaging a deficit of 105 billion crowns. The government says, however, it will submit an amended version to the chamber in case of negative economic development. The state budget legislation has yet to be signed by the president.
Despite earlier reports, President Václav Klaus is not going to attend a meeting of the government on Wednesday to discuss arguments for and against aiding the eurozone, the president’s spokesman said, adding President Klaus and Prime Minister Petr Nečas had lunch together on Wednesday and had time to discuss the matter before the cabinet’s meeting. Both officials have expressed their opposition to the current proposal, which entails a 90 billion crown loan to the struggling monetary union via the IMF. The junior coalition party Public Affairs has also voiced their opposition to signing the agreement before its details have been hammered out. The TOP 09 coalition party though is in favour of the loan, saying the Czech Republic should not alienate itself from the EU.
The US lawyer Ed Fagan has filed a lawsuit against the Czech Republic in Florida regarding unpaid bonds issued by the town of Karlovy Vary in 1924 and alleged discrimination against their holders. Besides the Czech state, the sued parties include the Czech National Bank, the town of Karlovy Vary and its mayor Petr Kulhánek. Mr Fagan told reporters on Wednesday he estimated the length of the trial at around 18 months, adding it could be halted if the sued parties agreed on a settlement. Mr Fagan brought a copy of the lawsuit, filed on Monday, to Karlovy Vary to officially hand it over to the municipal authority. The Czech Finance Ministry has rejected Mr Fagan’s 500-million-dollar claim for the bonds.
An analysis carried out by the Česká spořitelna bank predicts the Czech economy will decline by 0.4 percent next year, the bank said on Wednesday. After Raiffeisenbank, Česká spořitelna is the second bank to expect recession in the country in 2012. Raiffeisenbank predicts a 1.2 percent decrease of the Czech GDP. A regular survey of prognoses by different institutions compiled by the Finance Ministry predicts a growth of 0.8 percent on average while the ministry itself expects a growth of one percent. The Czech National Bank puts the growth figure at 1.2 percent, but it forecasts a 0.4-percent decrease in an alternative scenario taking into account problems in the eurozone.
The Senate has passed a resolution stating the government broke the Czech constitution by sending Czech military doctors to Slovakia earlier this month. The vote was pushed through by the Social Democrats who have a majority in the upper house. Speaking on behalf of the cabinet, Defence Minister Alexandr Vondra denied the act was in breach of the constitution and called the Senate’s ruling “a political declaration”. Twenty-nine Czech military doctors were sent as reinforcements to hospitals in neighbouring Slovakia on December 2nd at the request of the Slovak government due to a protest of some 1,200 Slovak doctors who had walked out over low salaries. The Czech specialists were deployed in hospitals in Bratislava, Nitra, Žilina and Ružomberok and returned only five days later.
Czech Airlines pilots have called off a strike alert announced earlier this month, the pilots’ labour union said on Wednesday. The union signed a memorandum with the Czech Aeroholding group on Wednesday approving the transfer of a hundred ČSA pilots to the subsidiary charter firm Holidays Czech Airlines. The union also agreed to accept the offloading of Czech Airlines aircraft to Holidays Czech Airlines within the Czech Aeroholding group. The pilots launched their protest on December 1 and, as a result, Czech Airlines had to cancel 25 flights and hire crews and aircraft from foreign carriers.
U.S. Embassy Prague has presented the 2011 Alice G. Masaryk Human Rights Award to Czeslaw Walek for his dedication to promoting human rights in the Czech Republic, the Embassy wrote in a statement on Wednesday. Mr. Walek’s career has included work at the Ministry of Human Rights and Office of the Governmental Council for Roma Community Affairs. The award was established in 2004 to recognize persons and institutions in the Czech Republic who have made exceptional and continuing contributions to the advancement of human rights. Previous award winners include Anna Šabatová, David Ondráčka, Igor Blaževič, Lucie Sládková, Kumar Sri Vishwanathan, Jiří Kopal, and the weekly Respekt.
A survey carried out by the CVVM agency for the Czech Beer and Malt Association suggests that Czechs have reduced their beer consumption in recent years. The average weekly consumption has decreased from 4.25 litres in 2007 to 3.85 litres this year. On average Czech men drink beer three times, while women twice a week. The number of daily beer drinkers has also dropped since 2007 from 26 to 15 percent. Breweries included in the association produced 15.7 million hectolitres of beer in 2010, 7.9 percent less than in the year before. The Czech per capita beer consumption was 134 litres in 2010 which still makes Czechs the world’s biggest beer drinkers.
A bag containing bodily remains believed to be human was found in the Prague district of Hostivař on Wednesday morning, police have reported. An autopsy is to determine the cause of death and whether the remains really belonged to a human. Police are currently investigating the area. Last week, two human hands, cut off and taped together, were found in a stream on the outskirts of Prague.