Prime Minister Petr Nečas has defended a new bill on the restitution of church property seized by the communist regime. He said that if church property was not restituted by the government by means of new legislation, churches and religious societies could sue the state to claim back their possessions. He added that the idea that the Czech state was returning something to churches and religious societies was a fallacy, since it had never been the rightful owner of that property in the first place. The new bill on the restitution of church property was approved by the government in January and is currently being discussed in the lower house. The opposition, which holds a majority in the Senate, does not back the new bill, under which 17 Czech churches and religious societies will get back 56 percent of the property confiscated by the communist regime in the 1950s.
Industry and Trade Minister Martin Kuba has said that the expansion of the Temelín nuclear plant should not be judged just from an economic angle, but that its role in ensuring the independence of the Czech Republic from energy imports should also be considered. Speaking at a conference on Thursday, he commented on recent speculations that the multi-billion crown tender for the completion of the plant may not be awarded in the end. He said that the construction of two new reactors at the plant was a strategic and decisive question in Czech energy politics and therefore could not be looked at purely in terms of its economic cost-benefit ratio.
Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg has commented on the recent corruption scandal surrounding former Prague mayor and MP for the Civic Democrats Pavel Bém. On Thursday, he recommended that Prime Minister Petr Nečas, who is also a member of the Civic Democrats, “go to a monastery and repent for 40 days”. Mr Schwarzenberg has made it clear that as the leader of coalition partner TOP 09, it is not his responsibility to deal with problems within the senior coalition party. Pavel Bém suspended his membership on Monday, amidst mounting pressure following the publication of taped phone conversations between him and notorious Prague lobbyist Roman Janoušek, who is suspected of having had significant influence on the inner workings of Prague City Hall.
The Czech Republic will see its first trial over alleged support of terrorism. The state prosecutor’s office on Wednesday charged four foreign nationals from former Soviet bloc countries with supporting terrorists. Three of them are citizens of Dagestan; the fourth is from Moldavia. They were arrested last year and are suspected of having produced fake IDs for terrorist in Dagestan. If found guilty, they face prison sentences of up to ten years.
The EU Court of Justice ruled in favor of the Czech Republic on Thursday, determining that sanctions imposed on the Czech Republic for agricultural stockpiling by the European Commission were unjustified. The case centered on surplus stocks of some agricultural products that Czech companies accumulated before the country’s EU accession in 2004. The EC fined the country’s Ministry of Agriculture 12.2 million euros. The ministry will now demand that the money be paid back to them, Agriculture Minister Petr Bendl said. The verdict marks a significant success in the ministry’s long-lasting efforts to resolve the dispute in its favor.
The junior coalition party Public Affairs may look to cut the budgets of their other ministries to save funding for education. According to the Czech News Agency ČTK, the party's leadership on Wednesday agreed not to cut teachers' salaries in order to meet the 2.5 billion Czech crowns in austerity measures that the government has asked the Education Ministry to make. An unnamed source said the party may seek registration fees from college students at the start of each semester, or finance the Education Ministry partially with funds from other ministries. Public Affairs currently also controls the ministries of regional development and transportation.
In related news, former education minister Josef Dobeš, who resigned last
week, has slammed his fellow Public Affairs ministers for voting in favor
of additional state budget cuts. He said that some of them placed higher
importance on their mandate than on sticking to the party’s program. He
added that he was the only Public Affairs minister to vote against further
cuts to the Education Ministry’s budget. The party’s latest suggestion,
to find funds for education in other ministries’ budgets, was
pharisaical, he said. Mr Dobeš has also announced that he is even
considering resigning from his post as MP.
Mr Dobeš tendered his official resignation from the ministry to Prime Minister Petr Nečas last Friday. He was 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.
Pensioners’ groups have announced a demonstration against planned cuts to the state budget, set to take place on May 30th in Prague. The protest is organized by a senior citizens’ rights umbrella organization, which opposes a planned freeze on the gradual increase of pension payments, which in the past kept pensions in balance with the rate of price increases. Protesters are calling for a postponement of the pension reform to 2016 and have announced that they are prepared to negotiate with the prime minister, the president and both chambers of Parliament. One of the organizers said that this demonstration marked the first time in the Czech Republic that pensioners are taking their discontent to the streets. The government has already announced it plans to make further budget cuts that will also affect pension payments.
The number of road fatalities in the Czech Republic is above the EU average, new data from the European Commission indicates. According to the latest figures, 73 people per one million residents were killed on Czech roads in 2011, as compared to the EU average of only 62 deaths per million. Overall, the EU saw a drop in road deaths of two percent year-on-year; in the Czech Republic, the figure even decreased by four percent. Compared to 2001, the number of traffic fatalities in the EU has dropped by 45 percent.
Hockey club Liberec have taken a 2-1 lead over Pardubice in the playoff semi-finals. Liberec have now won both games at home. On Wednesday they edged Pardubice by a score of 2:1. Liberec scored both goals in the opening period with Jaroslav Kudrna getting the winner. Pardubice got one back in the second but were unable to equalize in a rough match that saw a high number of penalties: nine for Liberec and seven for Pardubice.