The results of this weekend’s election in Slovakia should be a lesson to the Czech right-wing government, says Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg. The Social Democratic party headed by former Prime Minister Robert Fico won a landslide victory amid high voter turnout, allowing a single party to control parliament for the first time since the Velvet Revolution. In a statement, the Foreign Minister said the result indicated that reasonable right-wing policy does not stand a chance of success among voters if it is accompanied by corruption and scandals.
Slovak prime minister designate Fico will in all likelihood make his first trip abroad to Prague, he told Czech Television on Sunday. Mr Fico said the Czech and Slovak Republics had always had an excellent relationship regardless of the orientation of their governments. Marking a shift from outgoing PM Iveta Radičová, he said he would not criticise the Czech Republic for its reticence to join the EU fiscal responsibility treaty. Fico, who was prime minister of Slovakia from 2006 to 2010, said he had always respected the internal affairs of the Czech Republic and that it was not for him to comment on such issues. Prime Minister Radičová ruffled feathers in the Czech government in early March, when she described the Czech rejection of the treaty as not fair or honest.
Prime Minister Petr Nečas says he sees six options for increasing pensions next year. Saying he does not want a complete freeze, the PM told Czech TV that slowing down the growth of pensions should only be a temporary measure for the period of economic stagnation. The cabinet is planning cuts and other measures across the ministries in order to maintain planned budgets and avoid further indebtedness; any government, he said, would have to accept slowing down the growth of pensions amid such a poor economic forecast. The prime minister said the coalition was getting ready to discuss the exact formula for calculating the adjustment of pensions. The opposition and unions have criticised the plans.
The prime minister also said Sunday that the corruption trial of Vít Bárta had offered no new information and did not give any cause for changes in the cabinet. The opposition Social Democrats are demanding that the Public Affairs party, of which Mr Bárta is the de facto leader, leave government due to the shady practices that have been highlighted in the court. Prime Minister Nečas noted that there was practically nothing said in court that had not been in the media in the last year, and that none of the issues discussed there involved sitting cabinet members.
Two-thirds of Czech citizens think the Senate is a superfluous institution and should be dissolved, according to a poll conducted by the SANEP agency. Another two thirds welcome the idea of a “senator” being an honorary, unpaid position. The dissolution of the Senate has been a topic of much discussion since the recent introduction of direct presidential elections, which many believe further decreases the importance of the Senate, as that institution has until now been responsible for choosing the head of state.
About two hundred people gathered in front of the Chinese embassy in Prague on Sunday to protest the Chinese occupation of Tibet. The participants called for freedom and independence for the pro Himalayan nation and drew attention to human rights violations and recent cases of self-immolation. Like last year, organisers from Amnesty International made an unsuccessful attempt to hand over a letter to embassy representatives. The event commemorated the 1950 Lhasa uprising, in which some 80,000 Tibetans were killed.
The title of Grand Designer of the Year was awarded Saturday evening to jewellers Zdeněk Vacek and Daniel Pošta. The two were awarded for their Virus collection, which experiments with chemical processes like crystal growth and used unprocessed diamonds and pearls. The newcomer of the year was Klára Šumová with furniture based on living motifs. The best shop of 2011 was won by the stationery shop Papelote. Rony Plesl was voted designer of the year and also won the company Lasvit a prize in the production category for a collection of lightshades and lamps.
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.