There is no threat of the European Commission suspending subsidies from EU structural funds, regardless of mistakes in relevant Czech audits, according to deputy regional development minister Daniel Braun. After meeting with EC representatives on Friday Mr Braun said that he and his EU counterparts had agreed on the steps the Czech Republic should take in order for the EC not to suspend Czech operational programmes. While he confirmed the EC could stop the subsidies in the event of major problems with the programmes, he said this was not imminent. The EC´s criticism regards the Czech system of auditing, inspections and human resources stability, particularly in the Education Ministry, where the EC suspended the payment of 1.2 billion crowns.
The National Disability Council and health care unions are organising a protest against the Health Ministry’s proposed waiting period for operations and distances of medical care. According to the new proposals, which should take effect in April, patients must be able to reach a doctor, dentist or pharmacy within 40 minutes, or specialised care within three hours. Waits for hip joint replacements, for example, should taker on longer than 78 weeks. The groups plan to demonstrate in front of the Ministry of Health at noon on March 27. The protest is also supported by the Czech €doctors’ chamber.
The leadership of the opposition Social Democratic Party has decided to allow a fee on hospital catering in it’s platform, thus backing off from its rejection of all heath care fees. The party platform will now allow for a 60 crown per day fee on hospital catering that patients would pay for 30 days at most. The current fee is 100 crowns per day regardless of the length of stay. Party chairman Bohuslav Sobotka says the fee is in the interest of financially stabilising regional hospitals so that they can remain in public hands.
The Social Democrats agreed on Saturday to call for a parliamentary vote of no confidence in the government within the next two weeks. Party leader Sobotka is seeking signatures for a special session; even with the support of the Communist Party however the numbers will be stacked against them. Mr Sobotka cited the trial of former transport minister Vít Bárta as an additional reason for a vote of no confidence. Public support in Mr Bárta’s Public Affairs party has evaporated since his corruption scandal began early last year, and critics of the government argue the party no longer has a mandate. The Social Democratic Party has made two unsuccessful no-confidence votes during the current election term, which began in mid-2010.
Meanwhile, 70% of Czechs believe the money that Mr Bárta gave to two of his party’s leading members were intended as bribes, according to a survey carried out by the STEM/MARK agency for Czech Television. Slightly less men than women believed Mr Bárta’s defence, that the money in question was given as personal loans. The corruption trial of Vít Bárta and Jaroslav Škárka adjourned on Friday to study the evidence and will continue in April.
The town of Moravský Krumlov will begin repairing it’s chateau in the summer in a bid to have Alphons Mucha’s Slav Epic returned to his custody. The 20-canvass masterpiece was removed to Prague after a long-running dispute over which city should host the Art Nouveau paintings. The Krumlov town hall is seeking to satisfy the demands of preservationists, namely to upgrade the air conditioning and stabilise the humidity in the castle, in the hopes that the paintings will b e returned after their exhibit in Prague closes in two years. The painter’s family is seeking a permanent home for the works in Prague, but will support their return to Moravský Krumlov if no suitable venue in the capital is created.
Czechs keep more household pets than any country in Europe, according to surveys compiled by the website Novinky.cz. The site claims that half of Czech households have one or more pets, with two million dogs and a million cats in four and a half million households. Conversely, a poll made for an association of German kennels suggests that only 13% of households in Germany have dogs, compared to 38% in France. According to the GfK agency, Czechs spend more than two billion crowns a year on veterinary services and a similar amount on pet food.
Education Minister Josef Dobeš has reacted to pressure by students at the Plzeň law faculty and extended the undergraduate programme at the troubled school until 2016. Speaking at a press conference on Friday, he stressed it would be impossible for all 1,800 undergraduate students at the institution to complete their studies elsewhere: the school had been slated to close by October of this year, following a decision by the Czech Accreditation Commission over staffing problems at the school and a lack of vision. The faculty has been dogged by problems since 2009 when it was hit by a scandal involving plagiarism and fast-track degrees. The education minister’s decision brought immediate reaction from Accreditation Commission head Vladimíra Dvořáková, who called it unlawful and confirmed in response the commission will file a legal complaint. Technically the minister was not in a position to counter the earlier decision.
In related news, former education minister and the head of the extra-parliamentary Green Party, Ondřej Liška, filed a criminal complaint against Josef Dobeš, expressing shock over his successor’s steps. Mr Liška said he was stunned over the unlawful manner in which the current education minister had extended accreditation at the faculty to 2016, saying Mr Dobeš had no right to go against the earlier decision by the Accreditation Commission. Minister Dobeš, at a press conference on Friday, said the step was backed-up by legal analysis.
Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg has told the Austrian daily Der Standard he still believes the Czech Republic will eventually sign the European Union’s new fiscal treaty. In the interview, published on Friday, the minister, who is also chairman of the TOP 09 party and a presidential hopeful, reiterated his conviction the country belonged in the EU core and also expressed support for energy reforms meant to strengthen Europe’s competitiveness. Regarding the Czech Republic, he rejected the idea of a referendum on the adoption of the single European currency, saying a promise had been made when joining the EU. He added, however, that his opinion differed from the prime minister’s. Prime Minister Petr Nečas and the foreign minister have clashed on a number of occasions over the fiscal compact; Mr Nečas was the only EU statesman besides British Prime Minister David Cameron not to sign the document. There have been some suggestions the Czech signature could be added later.