The opposition has slammed the government for putting forward a draft budget based on unrealistic growth figures. The budget was tailored according to a June forecast predicting a 2.5 percent growth in 2012. That estimate has been revised sharply down to a 1 percent growth estimate at best. The ministry says it will revise the budget in January when it has a more accurate growth forecast for that year. The lower growth would cause the expected revenues to drop by around 18 billion crowns. The ministry is said to be working on several crisis scenarios, including one for recession.
According to Thursday’s Lidove Noviny Finance Minister Miroslav Kalousek is seriously considering the possibility of postponing the government’s pension reform by a year –from January 2013 to January 2014. The paper suggests that the minister may use the concession as a means to break the obstruction tactics of the opposition and open the way for another half a dozen reform bills to pass through the lower house after their rejection by the Senate. The opposition, which argues that in view of the economic situation the government should put some of the planned reforms on ice, has been obstructing a vote on the respective bills since Tuesday.
The Czech Central Bank on Thursday also confirmed the bleak economic outlook, revising its growth forecast for 2011-2012 downward, mirroring an economic slow-down in Europe. The bank predicts a 2 percent growth this year, down from a previous 2.1 percent growth estimate and 1.2 percent growth in 2012 down from a 2.2 percent forecast. The downward revision echoes a similar estimate by the Czech Finance Ministry announced earlier this week. The Central Bank board on Thursday voted to leave the benchmark two-week repurchase rate at a record-low 0.75 percent, half the European Central Bank’s main rate.
Analysts predict a rise in unemployment in the coming months both due to the end of seasonal work and the gloomy economic predictions that will inevitably result in more lay-offs. The jobless rate, which has stagnated at around 8 percent for some time is expected to climb by one percentage point, possibly more, in the coming months depending on the economic slowdown in Europe.
Police have classified a Romany attack on two teenagers in the town of Nový Bor as racially motivated. The incident took place last Friday outside the local cinema. An 18-year-old boy and a girl of 15 ended up in hospital with concussion, a broken nose and head injuries. They were attacked by Romany youths of approximately their own age. Another attack occurred in the town less than 24 hours later when unknown culprits beat up a twenty-year-old man. Racial tension has been high in Nový Bor since August of this year when a group of Romanies attacked guests in a bar with machetes. The towns inhabitants have criticized the local administration for failing to secure law and order and anti-Romany demonstrations have been taking place on a weekly basis. Following the latest attacks the town has once again received police re-enforcements.
Ten guests staying at a Prague 5 hotel have been taken to hospital with food poisoning. Others who suffered a milder form of food poisoning were attended to on the spot. All are said to be in stable condition. Eight of the patients are believed to be contestants in a beauty pageant. Tests are being conducted to ascertain the cause of the problem.
A group of around 100 students and civic leaders from the Moravian town of Moravsky Krumlov on Thursday demonstrated outside Prague Town Hall in a last-ditch attempt to convince councilors their home town should be allowed to keep the Slav Epic – an impressive collection of outsize paintings by Art Nouveau painter Alfons Mucha. The tug-of-war over the collection has been going on for over a year ever since the city of Prague decided to claim its legacy from the Art Nouveau painter, despite the fact that it has not yet fulfilled the condition under which Mucha bequeathed the paintings – that they would be displayed in a pavilion specially built to accommodate them. While the demonstration in Prague had little effect there are reports claiming that 5 more canvasses from the 20 strong collection have already been packed and sent on their way to the Czech capital.
U.S. General Timothy Ray, who is in charge of building an Afghan air force, has praised the Czech Republic’s input in training Afghan helicopter pilots. In an interview for the CTK news agency the general said the work of Czech instructors was excellent and the skill of Czech mechanics who have experience with Russian military equipment was proving invaluable. Czech military experts are teaching Afghan pilots to fly Russian-made Mi-17 helicopters and maintain them, both in the Czech Republic and in Afghanistan. The Czech Republic has aspirations to establish a NATO helicopter pilot training centre in Pardubice, east Bohemia.
Opposition MPs have been holding a filibuster since Tuesday morning to obstruct a vote on fifteen reform bills returned by the Senate. The lawmakers were in session for nearly twenty hours through the night on Tuesday and all day Wednesday as Social Democrat MPs held up negotiations on restricting state support to building savings and the state budget for 2012. The government coalition parties intend to continue debating the bills throughout Wednesday evening with only short breaks until a vote is forced. The Social Democrats will allow a vote on the budget on Wednesday in order to avoid a provisional budget for next year.
Parliamentary opposition parties came out strongly on Wednesday against the government’s budget proposal for 2012. The left-wing parties warned that the economic plan would damage the economy and social services and criticised what they see as a lack of measures for stimulating growth. Social Democrat chairman Bohuslav Sobotka said the bill includes hidden budget cuts and accused Finance Minister Miroslav Kalousek of assigning fictitious money to ministries that he planned to cut later on. The government has acknowledged that the budget plan is based on a more optimistic prognosis for next year’s economy, but wants to amend it with a new one early next year. Gloomy growth predictions across Europe this week led the Czech Finance Ministry to reduce its growth forecast for 2012 by at least 1.5%.