Czech gross domestic product grew by 1.7 percent last year in annual terms, and Q4 growth reached 0.5 percent, according to the preliminary estimate of the Czech Statistical Office published on Wednesday. GDP declined by 0.3 percent quarter-on-quarter and the country was in technical recession since the economy fell for two consecutive quarters. The Czech Finance Ministry recently revised its economic growth outlook for this year from 1 to 0,2 percent while the Czech National Bank said it expects economic stagnation in 2012 and a 1.9 percent GDP growth in 2013.
Labour and Social Affairs Minister Jaromír Drábek went before the Social Affairs Committee of the lower house on Wednesday to explain last month’s serious fallout in dispensing well-fare payments. A new computer system introduced within a far-reaching social reform proved highly unreliable leaving many people in the lurch. Charities even handed out emergency food supplies to those who had no money for basic necessities. The minister came under fire from both coalition and opposition deputies who said the task had clearly been underestimated and ill-managed. Mr. Drabek argued that any new system had teething problems and assured the committee that all problem areas had been resolved. He said he would hand in his resignation should there be a repeat of last month’s problems.
Over 300 students from the Plzen faculty of law on Wednesday staged another protest against the decision of the Czech Accreditation Commission not to extend the accreditation of the law faculty’s undergraduate programme, effectively closing down the school after this autumn. The coordinator of the protest Petra Brezinova expressed grave concern over the fate of the faculty’s 1,500 law students who will now have to conclude their studies in one of the countries three other law faculties. No agreement on how this is to be done has as yet been reached and there are fears that many of them may end up at labour offices in the autumn. The Education Ministry which is not in a position to overturn the verdict of the Accreditation Commission has promised to assist the process of transferring the faculty’s students elsewhere. The outcome of negotiations is expected to be made known at the end of February.
A new poll from the Factum Invenio agency suggests that none of the candidates widely considered to be favourites to succeed incumbent president Václav Klaus would gain a majority in the first round of voting. Klaus’s second term ends in March 2013; the election of his successor will likely be in a new system in which a popular vote, rather than parliament, decides the winner. According to the poll, former independent PM Jan Fischer would gain 24.5% and former Klaus rival, also an independent, Jan Švejnar would receive 14.5%. These two would then face off in a second round of voting. Also making the list are Civic Democrat Lower House chair Miroslava Němcová with 9.7%; businessman Tomio Okamura with 9.2% and current Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg with 8.4%.
President Václav Klaus lent support to Turkey’s EU membership bid on the first of a four-day visit to the country. After talks with his Turkish counterpart Abdullah Guel, the Czech president said that he believes Europe needs to be woken up, and that the accession of a large and dynamic country like Turkey could do just that. President Guel thanked Mr Klaus for his well-known support of Turkey’s EU bid and noted that some his sceptical views towards the EU had proven correct. President Klaus is travelling in the company of more than 60 Czech businessmen, which he said was the largest business delegation in Czech history and evidence of great interest in Turkey. A number of business contracts are to be signed between the countries. Among others, the Czech Export Bank is expected to confirm an agreement on financing the construction of port infrastructure and a trade centre in Istanbul.
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development has reported that the mainstream education system in the Czech Republic eliminates socially disadvantaged children. According to an OECD evaluation given to the Education Ministry on Monday, socially disadvantaged children often end up in special schools for the disabled, although they suffer from no mental handicap. The report is based on information from 2010, however this particular complaint has been made by numerous organisations for many years. The international report also says that too many Czech children are in schools for gifted students, and warns against plans to compile rankings of schools based on testing. Deputy education minister Ladislav Němec says that the ministry is already working on most of the recommendations made in the report.
A majority of regional hospitals did not increase doctors’ salaries in January as per the agreement reached with the Ministry of Health last year. In early 2011, hospital doctors threatened to resign en masse if the ministry did not raise their salaries by 10%. Ultimately they were to receive rises of 6.25%, however hospitals in various regions are not paying the increases due to the decrease in money they are receiving from insurance companies. Some hospitals are negotiating subsidies with regional governments to at least maintain the last year’s salary levels.
The Czech police have charged 15 women with supporting Nazism. The suspects are believed to be involved in a group called Resistance Women Unity, a women´s branch of the Czech neo-Nazi movement National Resistance. The police say that the organisation avows the ideas of other Nazi-era women´s organisations espousing the racial superiority of Aryan women. Most of the women, aged 21 to 32, are suspected of organising far-right events and producing and distributing leaflets and posting texts promoting the RWU on the Internet. Some of the suspects are believed to have ties to the militant right-wing organisation White Justice, which is believed to have organised acts of terrorism. If convicted of promoting and supporting the suppression of human rights they could face up to eight years in prison.
Fugitive Czech businessman Radovan Krejčíř was arrested by South African police on Sunday on suspicion of involvement in an armed robbery in Pretoria last year. Two other men were also detained in connection with the case, in which six individuals held up an electronics store and demanded roughly half a million crowns from the owner. A source close to the investigation reportedly told the South African press that the robbery was an attempt to recover money that the shop owner allegedly owed to Mr Krejčíř. The 43-year-old Krejčíř is also under investigation for insurance fraud in South Africa and was convicted in absentia in the Czech Republic of extensive fraud and conspiracy to murder. He escaped the country and has been living in South Africa since 2007, where authorities have thus far refused to extradite him to the Czech Republic.
Germany and the Czech Republic have signed a treaty to intensify the fight against drug trafficking. The agreement was signed on Monday by Czech Interior Minister Jan Kubice and his German counterpart Hans-Peter Friedrich. The volume of drugs smuggled from the Czech Republic and seized by German police, with pervetin (methamphetamine) chief among them has recently shown a steep increase. Czech-German groups operating at the ministries and in the border regions are to help deal with the problem. Czech drivers have complained in recent years of being harassed by German police. Mr Kubice says German road patrols would not stop but would not be increased. He added that he asked the Germans to use official police cars and uniformed police for the checks.