The coalition parties are deadlocked over a church restitution deal that
the junior Public Affairs party says threatens to bring down the
government. A meeting of top coalition leaders on Monday resulted in the
senior Civic Democratic and TOP 09 parties rejecting conditions that Public
Affairs has sought to put on the restitution plan, namely the integration
of certain ministries and cabinet reshuffling. Petr Gezdík of the TOP 09
party says the deal with the churches will be voted on on Wednesday and
that a failure by one of the parties to support the agreement would mean a
violation of the coalition agreement. The executive council of the junior
coalition party will discuss the situation on Tuesday.
Last year, the government reached a deal with the country’s churches to return some 56% of property confiscated by the communist regime in the 1950s; in reimbursement for the rest, they should receive 59 billion crowns plus inflation over a period of 30 years.
Anticorruption police have moved to prosecute leading Public Affairs member Vít Bárta on charges of bribery. Former party member Jaroslav Škárka may also face prosecution on suspicion of accepting money from the former transport minister and de facto leader of the junior coalition party in late 2010. In the spring of last year, Mr Škárka and the former head of the party’s parliamentary club, Kristýna Kočí, accused Mr Bárta of offering them loyalty payments of hundreds of thousands of crowns. Both were expelled from the party, and Mr Bárta was forced to leave the cabinet. The state prosecutor will reportedly decide on whether to prosecute by the end of January.
The unemployment rate in the Czech Republic jumped by more than half a percentage point in December to 8.6%, the highest rate since April of last year. The number of registered job-seekers also crossed the half-million mark to 508,451, according to information from the Ministry of Labour. Analysts contacted by the Czech Press Agency put the increase down to seasonal factors but estimate further rises in unemployment numbers over the coming months, as concerns over the fate of the eurozone continue on the financial markets.
Only a quarter of the Czech population is satisfied with the state of democracy in the country, according to a new survey. The result, published by the STEM polling agency, is the lowest in the country’s history and marks a 12-point decrease from the year before to 26%. STEM has conducted the poll for nearly 20 years and noted a similar drop only in 1997, when satisfaction dropped twenty points from 60% and remained at around 40% until the present day. More than three fourths of Czechs think democracy in the country cannot be compared to Western Europe. Thirty percent of respondents said they believe that high state adhere to democratic principles in their decision making.
A specialised commission has rejected UN criticism of the use of so-called “baby-boxes” in the Czech Republic. The commission consisting of ministry representatives, doctors, custodial courts and MPs found that the boxes are not illegal and do not need their technical parameters stipulated by law. In the summer, a UN committee said the facilities violated several provisions of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and said the state should instead focus on resolving the causes of child abandonment. More than 60 unwanted children have been left anonymously in the heated hospital boxes since they were introduced in 2005.
A Czech poker association began an unauthorised tournament on Monday to protest the legal categorisation of the game as gambling. Finance Ministry inspectors arrived and filled out a report which may lead to legal action. The association argues that poker is a game of skill, and does not meet the basic definition of gambling as its outcome is not decided by chance. However, it is defined as gambling by new legislation that took effect at the start of the year, which stipulates that tournaments may only be organised by lottery licence holders, which can only be attained by paying a 20-million-crown bond.
A self-portrait of Leonardo da Vinci was brought to the Zbiroh Chateau in Western Bohemia on Sunday evening, amid special security measures and an armed police escort. The work, believed to have been created between 1505 and 1510, will be the centrepiece of an exhibition on the Knights Templar that will run at Zbiroh until March 18. The owner of the chateau said negotiating the loan took a year and a half and 15 trips to Italy. The 60x40cm painting was only discovered in 2008, when a historian discovered it in a family collection in southern Italy.
Police have again suspended a part of the Opencard investigation regarding public orders for legal and consulting services. The investigation was already suspended in the first half of last year, but was ordered reopened by the Supreme State Prosecutor. Detectives again reached the conclusion that no crime was committed in this instance; other aspects of the case are still under investigation. Prague’s Opencard serves as a transit pass and is also used for other services such as the borrowing of library books. Critics charge that the project – which cost more than 800 million crowns – was drastically overpriced.
The Finance Ministry reports that the state debt increased by 155 billion crowns in 2011 to slightly less than 1.5 trillion, which means about 142,000 crowns (6,814 USD) per Czech citizen. The current figure is currently four times the amount of ten years ago and doubled in the last six years. According to the strategy for debt management and financing, the national debt should have been four billion crowns lower last year and should increase by 103 billion in the next year.
Czech Prime Minister Petr Nečas, in a Sunday TV appearance, defended his government’s reform policies, stating that he opposition’s criticism of them is unjustified. The opposition Social Democrats had ample time to weigh in on the reforms; their recent challenge of the reform package in the Constitutional Court is merely an attempt to block the lower house’s work for several months, he said. He added that the changes in unemployment legislation had created a system that motivates persons without work to seek employment, citing figures that put the Czech Republic at the sixth-lowest unemployment rank within the EU. Mr. Nečas said that in the future, the country needed to further invest into research and innovation to remain competitive.