The cabinet has approved a new 2013 draft budget, reflecting the present economic situation and government-proposed austerity measures. The new budget proposal has a projected 100 billion crown deficit and a net decrease in revenues and expenditures of 4 billion crowns, compared to the previous budget proposal. The deficit set by the proposal makes up 2.9 percent of the GDP. This is the third budget proposal that the Finance Ministry has submitted. The Chamber of Deputies is set to hold the first hearing on the budget next Wednesday.
Milan Štěch from the Social Democratic Party has been re-elected as chairman of the Czech Senate. The deputy chairpersons elected on Wednesday were Social Democrats Alena Gajdůšková and Zdeněk Škromach, along with the former senate chairman for the Civic Democrats Přemysl Sobotka. Christian Democrat senator Jiří Čunek did not receive enough votes in either of the two rounds of voting. According to the head of the Christian Democratic club in the Senate, this invalidates an agreement between the senate clubs made after the October senate elections. The club will have to find a new candidate for the position.
The prime minister has announced that the Czech delegation to Brussels will strongly voice their disapproval of the proposed EU budget for 2014-2020 at an EU summit later this week. Yet, the prime minister said on Wednesday that he is not planning to veto the long-term budget proposal, unlike a number of other EU members. The priority for the Czech Republic is to remain a net recipient of EU funds and to prevent a decrease in spending for cohesion policies.
Prime Minister Petr Nečas announced Tuesday that people will not be required to use the recently introduced social benefits S-Cards for payment purposes. The S-Cards will be used for identification purposes, but people will not be required to receive electronic pension, welfare and benefits payments on the cards. Following political and public criticism of the scheme that was launched last week, the prime minister and the new Labor and Social Affairs Minister Ludmila Müllerová opened talks with the Česká spořitelna bank, which is in charge of operating the S-Cards, to change the current agreement the company has with the ministry.
The government approved a proposed amendment to the anti-discrimination law, which should improve conditions for whistleblowers in the workplace. The amendment provides for better legal protection for those who report illegal activities of their employers. Anti-corruption measures and support for whistleblowers are both part of the current government’s programs, yet this is the first legislative proposal of its kind that has been approved since Prime Minister Petr Nečas took office in 2010. According to some experts, the proposed amendment does not provide enough protection, and fails to create incentives for whistleblowers. The Deputy Prime Minister Karolina Peake was charged with presenting the full legislative proposal by the end of April.
Negative attitudes among Czech towards the Roma minority have stayed the same since last October, but violence towards the group is more frowned upon, according to the latest survey by the STEM agency. Seventy-one percent of the respondents expressed some level of dislike for Romani people, only 4% less than in April 2011. Yet, 69% of people are opposed to violence against the Roma, which is a third more than at the same time last year. Those supporting violence make up 16% of the respondents, while a year ago it was also 25%. According to the survey, almost a quarter of the population has no opinion about or views members of the Romani community the same as any other, while 5% percent have a good or very good opinion of the minority.
The new Labor and Social Affairs Minister Ludmila Müllerová (TOP 09) wants to carry out personnel changes at the ministry in order to cut ties with the former first deputy Vladimír Šiška, according to the Lidové noviny daily. Vladimír Šiška was charged with bribery in October, after which the then labor minister Jaromir Drabek resigned from his post.
Deputy Prime Minister Karolina Peake has submitted a number of proposals that would combine certain ministries, to help reduce spending. Ms Peake has suggested unifying the Health Ministry and the Labor and Social Affairs Ministry, as well as joining the Transportation and the Industry and Trade ministries. Eventually, the deputy prime minister wants the Regional Development Ministry to be scrapped completely. The savings that would result from these changes could be up to 7.7 billion crowns. The proposals, which are meant to come into effect in 2014, are currently being discussed by other ministers. Ms Peake expects that her colleagues will approve at least one of her proposals.
Meteorologists declared a smog alert for the region of Central Bohemia in the early hours of Wednesday where air pollution exceeded the permitted levels two days in a row. High levels of smog were registered in the towns of Kladno, Beroun and Mladá Boleslav. People with chronic lung-related problems and heart condition as well as elderly people and children have been recommended to limit outdoor physical activities. The authorities have also appealed to drivers to reduce their travels, one of the major factors behind the increased pollution levels. Meanwhile in the Moravian-Silesian region, airborne dust concentration levels were measured on Thursday morning to be three times the normal limit, which is 50 micrograms per cubic meter. Meteorologists in the Olomouc region have also issued smog and air pollution warnings.
The bishop of the Plzeň diocese, František Radkovský, has asked legal counsel to prepare a request addressed to the Vienna auction house im Kinsky to hand over an 18th century statuette that was stolen from a church in the town of Úterý in the Plzeň region. The sculpture of a saint was stolen in December of 1991, before the Plzeň diocese was founded. The Czech clergy learned of the statuette’s whereabouts after im Kinsky announced the auction of the piece last week. The auction house took the statuette off the roster after being informed by the police that it is a stolen item.