In its 2012 report on the Czech Republic Social Watch, an international network of citizens’ organizations, has criticized the government’s austerity measures and what it calls unremitting corruption. The report says the centre-right government is sticking to the implementation of a neo-liberal policy which undermines social well-being and undercuts economic growth. It says the country faces threats such as the impoverishment of middle-class and low-income groups, increasing unemployment and gender inequality. The report claims that less attention is being paid to pressing environmental problems and improving conditions for immigrants.
Prime Minister Petr Nečas on Tuesday defended the government’s proposed tax hikes in the Senate. Addressing a meeting of Civic Democrat senators, some of whom strongly oppose the government’s consolidation strategy, the prime minister said the proposed hike in the lower and basic VAT rates to 15 and 21 percent as of 2013 was vital for the government to be able to bring the deficit in public finances under 3 percent of GDP. Mr. Nečas also rejected criticism from President Klaus who said the tax hike was an ill-conceived measure that would undermine the economy. The prime minister countered that it was easy for Mr. Klaus to say when he did not bear responsibility for the state budget. Several Civic Democrat senators said later the prime minister’s arguments had failed to convince them to support the government’s austerity package.
The Czech economy remains in recession, after contracting for three consecutive quarters. The GDP fell by 0.2 percent in the second quarter, according to data released by the Czech Statistical Office on Tuesday. Economic performance is 1.2 percent lower in annual terms. According to analysts the recession has deepened year on year mainly due to a slowdown in industrial production, which was the main driver of growth previously. The government’s austerity measures have reduced domestic demand and the euro debt crisis has weakened exports.
Finance Minister Miroslav Kalousek on Tuesday defended the government’s fiscal strategy saying that to artificially boost the GDP would in the long run be three times more expensive and a great deal more harmful than the effects of the government’s consolidation plan. The finance minister said it would be misleading to judge the state of the economy on the grounds of one macro-economic indicator –GDP growth. Despite defending its austerity package the government has responded to the worsening state of the economy with a promise to reduce the deficit in public finances at a slower pace than gradually planned.
The National Security Council has approved a long-term financial aid plan for Afghanistan. At its meeting in Prague on Tuesday the council approved a total of 140 million crowns to be spent on development projects and training of security forces between 2014 and 2017. The plan ensues from an agreement reached at the NATO summit in Chicago in May of this year where the US emphasized the need to compensate the gradual withdrawal of forces by additional funds vitally needed to maintain law and order and assist development. The security council meeting was attended by President Václav Klaus in the role of supreme commander of the Czech Armed Forces.
Prime Minister Petr Nečas has slammed police president Petr Lessy for attacking his superior in an interview for the daily Pravo. The prime minister said that the accusations made were not only ill-considered but totally unacceptable if the police president did not produce evidence to back them up. In an interview for Friday’s edition of Pravo Mr. Lessy said the interior minister had resorted to blackmail in an effort to get him to resign. Interior Minister Jan Kubice is reportedly considering filing charges of slander against him. Although Petr Lessy said later his words had been distorted the paper promptly produced a tape to prove that this was not the case. Relations between Mr. Lessy and the prime minister have been strained after the police president accused politicians of putting pressure on detectives investigating sensitive cases involving corruption in high places.
The Prague City Council has announced it is going ahead with major changes to the city transport network despite warnings from experts who say they have been ill-prepared and poorly communicated. The overhaul of the system, which aims to save 400 million crowns annually, includes scrapping certain bus and tram lines, re-routing others and introducing mini-buses mainly in the suburbs. The Prague-based NGO Auto-Mat has accused the authorities of squandering money and making passengers foot the bill. The changes are due to come into effect in September.
A total of 1390 homosexual couples have entered into registered partnerships in the 10.5 million Czech Republic since the respective law came into force in July 2006. 130 couples have since terminated the arrangement. The Czech Republic was first in the post-communist bloc to legalise same-sex partnerships which has led a few dozen foreign couples to tie the knot in this country. The same-sex partnership offers similar rights to marriage but does not allow the couple to adopt children.
Police in Teplice are up in arms over a new regulation concerning officers working in plain clothes. The regional police chief has introduced a dress code for plain-clothes officers, ordering them to wear long trousers, closed shoes and shirts with collars. He said officers had been dressing informally and looked more like basketball players or tourists which tarnished the forces reputation when they were unexpectedly called to deal with a case and produced police credentials. Officers say the new dress code will make them a laughingstock and make it impossible for them to deal with informers of infiltrate the criminal underworld.
Czech tennis player Petra Kvitová has won her first title of the season when she beat China’s Li Na 7:5, 2:6, 6:3 at the final of the Rogers Cup tournament in Montreal, Canada, on Monday. The Czech was losing 1:3 in the first set but saved a break point and eventually took the set. She lost the second set but in the third, she improved and won a key break point in the sixth game. Kvitová, who was knocked out of the Olympic tournament’s quarterfinals, moved up one position to 5th place in the WTA rankings.