The European Commission has threatened to halt all further EU subsidies to the Czech Education Ministry over a lack of transparency and mistakes in public orders. The move would effectively bar the ministry from drawing any more money from the Education for Competitiveness Operational Programme with a budget of 53 billion crowns. The education minister argues that the mistakes were made before he took office and has promised to set things right within a couple of months.
The lower house of Parliament has started debating a controversial bill on the restitution of church property. The new legislation has backing from coalition MPs but is strongly opposed by the Social Democrats and Communists who have called for a referendum to be held on the issue. If the bill is approved, 17 Czech churches and religious societies will receive 56 percent of the physical property that was confiscated by the communist regime in the 1950s worth around 75 billion crowns. For the rest, the churches would receive 59 billion crowns over a period of 30 years.
The Prague city council met for an emergency session on Friday to deal with problems relating to the cold snap. The most serious crisis occurred on the city’s southern motorway where the freeze burst a water pipe and gushing water onto the highway created an ice-rink on a stretch of the road. The road was cleared and traffic was fully restored by the late afternoon. Night time lows reached record highs of close to minus 40 degrees in many parts of the country. Cities are also taking measures to help homeless people. Five people have died of exposure since the arctic temperatures hit.
Charities have come to the aid of needy people left in the lurch by the late distribution of social welfare benefits. A new computer system that was introduced as part of a far-reaching social reform has proved unreliable resulting in the late distribution of social welfare benefits to thousands of people, including families with children. Charities have been providing people in need with emergency aid, distributing packages containing basis food products to help tide them over the next few days. The Labour and Social Ministry is under fire over the scandal and the minister has promised to dismiss those responsible.
Education Minister Josef Dobeš has slammed the head of the Czech Accreditation Commission Vladimíra Dvořáková for jumping the gun on the fate of the Plzen Faculty of Law. Mr. Dobeš said it was inexcusable that the media had been informed about the verdict before it was officially disclosed to the Law Faculty itself. The commission has refused to extend the accreditation of the faculty’s undergraduate programme, a move that will effectively close down the school, meaning that around 1,600 undergraduate students will have to complete their studies elsewhere. Vladimira Dvořáková said the committee was obliged to provide the information and she had answered questions from the media in order to avoid the spread of rumours.
Czech Defence Minister Alexandr Vondra on Friday approached his Swedish counterpart Sten Tolgfors about the possible extension of a lease contract for 14 Swedish Jas-39 Gripen fighter jets. The one-on-one meeting took place on the sidelines of a meeting of NATO defence ministers in Brussels. Under a contract from 2004, the Czech military may use the Gripens till 2015 but is interested in extending the lease by a few more years. The Czech defence minister said the price would be decisive in the matter since the ministry was operating on a slashed budget. The negotiations are expected to last for about four months.
The time has come for the Czech Republic to seek a release from its pledge to adopt the euro, Jan Zahradil, an MEP for the Czech ruling Civic Democratic Party said in an interview for Friday’s edition of the economics daily Hospodarske noviny. Zahradil, who is head of the EP’s European Conservatives and Reformists faction said the present dispute in the Czech centre-right coalition over whether Prague should join the EU’s planned fiscal union stems from deep divisions on the Czech political scene regarding further EU integration. The issue has divided the Czech political scene with the governing TOP 09 and the opposition Social Democrats pushing strongly for integration, while the ruling Civic Democrats, Public Affairs and the Communist Party back a reserved, wait-and-see policy.
The Czech Republic has the highest number of tick-borne encephalitis cases in the EU. TBE is a mild to fatal viral infection which affects the central nervous system. Last year doctors registered 861 cases; 5 people died of it. As compared to 2010 the number of infected was up by 48 percent. Despite repeated doctors warnings only around a fifth of Czechs get vaccinated against TBE, as compared to 80 percent of the population in neigbouring Austria.
Sales of new passenger cars in the Czech Republic increased by almost 11 percent to 12,921 cars in January, the Car Importers' Association reported on Friday. Skoda Auto sold 4,262 cars and raised its market share to 33 percent. Skoda Octavia, with a share of over 17 percent, was the top-selling model followed by Volkswagen with 1,134 cars sold and Hyundai with 984 cars. Next in line were were Renault, Ford and Peugeot. The top-selling models, apart from Skoda Octavia, were other Skoda models – the Fabia, Yeti and Superb.
Czech football coach Vítězslav Lavička will leave the Australian club Sydney FC in February, after the end of the season. At a news conference on Friday, the 48-year-old coach said he reached an amicable agreement with the club’s management. Mr Lavička said he wanted to return to the Czech Republic where his family had been living for the past year. As Sydney FC head coach, Vítěszlav Lavička won the Australian league title in 2010, his first season with the club. He said he had so far not received any offers from Czech football although he is reportedly being eyed by Slavia Prague.