Labour and Social Affairs Minister Jaromír Drábek has allotted an additional 140 million crowns to social services. The preliminary measure, which must yet be approved by the Finance Ministry, was previously agreed upon with the Association of Health Care Providers, which has warned of large scale closings of facilities and threatened to demonstrate. Mr Drábek says the increase should be approved as it involves a transfer of funds within one budget chapter and was acquired through ministry savings.
The Ministry of Defence will pay 643 million crowns to NATO funds this year, 16 million more than last year. According to documents submitted to the government on Monday, the main amounts include 385 million crowns for the alliance’s military budget and 176 million for security investment programmes. Another 34 million will be invested in modernising the Čáslav airport, in Eastern Bohemia, in order to meet NATO standards.
There is no future in the idea of a unified Europe say most Czechs, according to a poll conducted in April by the CVVM agency. That position was held by 52% of respondents, while only a third said the opposite. Many were also opposed to the idea of strengthening the integration of European states, with 40% saying they would keep it at its current level and 23% saying they would like less integration. Confidence in the European Union and its institutions was suggested to be at 40%, the lowest point since 2003.
A Marian column that stood on Prague’s Old Town Square for some 270 years is to be re-erected this year, according to the daily Lidové noviny. Citing Prague Mayor Bohuslav Svoboda, the paper writes that the long reconstruction of the column is nearly complete and that its return to the historic square must yet be approved by the city council. The column was erected in 1650 to give thanks for the protection of Prague during the Thirty Years War. Locals however viewed it as a symbol of the Austrian, Catholic, domination of the country and it was torn down by a crowd in 1918. A fountain from the 16th century may also be rebuilt in the next two years as part of a restoration of Old Town Square.
Three new bells atop St Vitus Cathedral in Prague Castle will be consecrated on Monday. The bells, bearing the names Jesus, Virgin Mary and St Dominic, will be blessed by Cardinal Dominik Duka before being hoisted to the tower later this week. Of the original set of seven bells, three were removed and melted down during the First and Second World Wars. The entire set will be rung for the first time on May 12. St Vitus Cathedral is the seat of the Archbishop of Prague and the resting place of many Bohemian kings and Holy Roman Emperors.
Monday evening marks the traditional celebration of the Burning of the Witches, or Walpurgis Night. Concerts and games for children and adults will be organized throughout the country and followed by bonfires. In Prague, festivities will be held in the public parks at Ladronka and Kavčí hora, and also at the Břevnovský klášter and Malostranské náměstí. The highlight of the spring event, which is celebrated under various names throughout Central and Northern Europe, is the burning of a witch’s effigy and is believed to be a remnant of a major pagan holy day.
The end of April has been the hottest in recorded history. Records fell on Saturday and Sunday at the Clementinum in Prague, which has kept record of temperatures since 1775. The unseasonably warm weather continued on Monday, with highs of 30° Celsius (86° Fahrenheit) in places, and is not expected to let up for several days. The average temperature in late April is 10° to 11° C; the record high recorded at the Clementinum is 27.3° C in the year 1800. Meteorologists are expecting the start of May to bring rain and cooler temperatures of around 15 to 20° C.
Prime Minister Petr Nečas has nominated his science advisor, former dean of Masaryk University Petr Fiala, the position of education minister. Mr Fiala told the Czech Press Agency that he would comment on Monday. Leading members of the governing parties Miroslava Němcová and Karel Schwarzenberg called Fiala a good candidate with high professional credit. The opposition Social Democrats have taken issue with the long absence of a head of the ministry, which they also said had such a poor budget outlook that even a respected expert could not improve its situation. The ministerial post has been vacant since late March, when Josef Dobeš of the Public Affairs party resigned.
Convicted MPs Vít Bárta and Jaroslav Škárka could lose their seats on their parliamentary committees. Lower house chairwoman Miroslava Němcová reminded Czech Television on Sunday that the independent deputies, formerly of the Public Affairs party, had refused to give up their mandates as MPs and that the only thing the chamber could do would be to remove them from their functions. Mr Bárta, the de facto head of Public Affairs, was given probation for bribery in March, while his former colleague Škárka was sentenced to three years’ for perjury. Bárta is a member of the budgetary and organisational committees; Škárka is the deputy chair of the inspections and petitioning and budgeting committees.
Social Democrat chairman Bohuslav Sobotka says his opposition party will return the government’s bills more often to the Senate, where they have a majority. Speaking to Czech television on Sunday, Mr Sobotka said they will thus put pressure on the government’s loss of a comfortable majority of 118 MPs. The government received a thin majority of 105 in a vote of confidence on Friday, and some of those deputies have said they will not support all of the cabinet’s proposals.