Two EU commissioners - László Andor, the EU commissioner responsible for employment and social affairs, and the Commissioner for Regional Policy Johannes Hahn – are holding talks with top government officials in Prague. The main issue on the agenda is the country’s apparent inability to resolve its problems with subsidy control in drawing EU funds. The matter came to a head on Wednesday when the European Commission threatened to halt the payment of all EU subsidies unless the country’s government improved the control and audit of EU subsidy programmes by June of this year. The visiting EU commissioners are debating the issue with Prime Minister Petr Nečas, and the ministers of finance, local development, social affairs and education.
A Czech tour guide kidnapped on Thursday morning in the coastal city of Nuweiba in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula has been released. The 35-year-old woman was abducted when her tour bus was stopped by a group of armed Bedouin while on its way back to the tourist resort of Sharm El-Sheikh. The woman was later released with the help of another Bedouin tribe who also helped to capture the four assailants. The reason for the kidnapping is still unclear although kidnappers usually demand the release of jailed tribesmen in return for any hostages they take.
Education Minister Josef Dobeš has announced his decision to resign and
will be leaving his post at the end of the month. Mr. Dobeš, a minister
for the junior Public Affairs party, explained his decision at a press
briefing in Prague on Thursday saying he could not accept a further slash
to the ministry’s budget which would mean cutting teachers’ salaries
and in effect violating the government’s policy programme.
Prime Minister Petr Nečas said the decision was honourable, as he had asked the cabinet to either approve a total of 23.6 billion in cuts unanimously or else resign. Mr Dobeš is one of the most contentious members of the government, having been criticized for mismanagement of EU funds, a botched university reform and most recently his decision to extend the accreditation of the Plzeň faculty of law, a decision he was technically not entitled to make. He is the eighth minister to leave the current government.
The junior coalition party Public Affairs has said it will seek a successor to Mr. Dobeš both within the party and outside party ranks. Under a coalition agreement on the division of ministerial posts it will be up to the smallest party in government to find a replacement for the outgoing minister. Among the names floated are party member MP Dagmar Navratilova and deputy party head Milan Štovíček.
Industry Minister Martin Kuba has said the country should rely heavily on nuclear power in the coming years. Speaking at the international energy forum in Prague on Thursday the minister said that in addition to expanding the Temelin nuclear power plant in south Bohemia and extending the service life of Dukovany in southern Moravia it was necessary to seek a location for a third nuclear power plant. Minister Kuba said his ministry was currently drafting a long-term energy strategy which would count on nuclear power covering over 50 percent of domestic power consumption in the years ahead. He said the country could not support renewable energy sources that do not produce power at a reasonable price.
Prime Minister Petr Nečas said on Thursday that the latest scandal involving wiretap recordings of telephone conversations between the former mayor of Prague Pavel Bém of the Civic Democrats and lobbyist Roman Janoušek were a grave matter and he intended to have a serious talk about it with Mr. Bém. However the prime minister pointed out that the affair had taken place before he was elected head of the Civic Democrats. Parts of the phone conversations were published by the daily Mlada fronta Dnes which broke the story. They indicate that Mr Janoušek was involved in making key decisions about city zoning, the sale of land and the city’s personnel policy.
The head of the Czech association of bakers Jaromír Dřízal has warned that the price of bread and pastries will increase further due to the higher price of eggs. Egg prices in the Czech Republic have soared since the start of the year resulting from a drop in egg production in the EU after the introduction of tighter rules on the welfare of laying hens. The price of most food products already went up at the start of this year with the introduction of a 14 percent VAT rate on food, books and some services.
Britain’s Queen Elizabeth is to award conductor Jiří Bělohlávek an Order of the British Empire for his services to music, the British embassy in Prague announced on Thursday. The sixty-six year old Czech-born conductor, who is currently the chief conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra, said he was greatly honoured to have been selected for the award. He is to return to Prague to head the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra later this year.
The Czech Republic will repatriate the remains of one of the country’s foremost modern artists painter František Kupka from France, a spokeswoman from the Czech Culture Ministry said on Thursday. The painter’s urn now deposited at the Pere Lachaise cemetery in Paris will be moved to Prague’s Vyšehrad cemetery later this year. The move has met with opposition from some of the country’s art historians who point out that the painter chose France for his home and showed no inclination to return to his homeland.
Plzeň booked the last remaining spot in the semi-finals of the Czech hockey league when they beat Zlín 4:2 in Wednesday’s decisive game of the best-of seven quarterfinals series. Zlín went ahead twice but Plzeň always tied the match. In the third period, the referees controversially disallowed Zlín’s goal and Plzeň then scored twice to wrap up the game.