The Czech Senate on Thursday approved four new Constitutional Court judges, accepting all the nominations proposed by President Miloš Zeman. The new judges are Jaroslav Fenyk, Jan Filip, Vladimir Sládeček and Milada Tomková. There were three vacancies in the 15-member court to date and another seven seats are to be vacated by the end of the year. Ahead of the vote President Zeman urged the upper house to vote prudently saying the Constitutional Court was on the brink of collapse and must be stabilized. The head of state has promised to submit four more candidates in June.
The leader of the opposition Social Democrats Bohuslav Sobotka on Thursday unveiled the line-up of the shadow cabinet. His ministerial team is 14-strong, with a newly added youth and sports portfolio. Jan Mládek whose candidacy for shadow finance minister was shaken by a highly imprudent remark made at the last party conference, is on the team. Jiři Dienstbier whose position was weakened after he failed to secure a post in the party leadership is shadow justice minister. Lubomir Zaorálek is shadow foreign minister and Vladimir Špidla, a former EU commissioner for employment, social affairs and equal opportunities, is shadow environment minister.
Trade unions and employers on Thursday failed to agree on a planned minimum wage increase in 2014, leaving the decision in the hands of the government. While trade unions demanded a 600 crown raise, employers would not go higher than 400. Social Affairs Minister Ludmilla Mullerová said she would present both options to the cabinet for a final decision. The minimum wage is currently 8,000 crowns before tax and has not been raised since 2007.
The equestrian statue of St. Wenceslas on Prague’s main square is once again chained off to protect it from vandals. The chain was removed eight years ago after members of the Balbin Poetic party, a pseudo-party which regularly meets in a pub to criticize the shortcomings of Czech society and politicians, demanded its removal arguing that having a chain around the nation's patron saint did not bode well for the future and that to many people the chain symbolized the occupation of Czechoslovakia by Soviet troops. Since its removal the statue has been an easy target for vandals and there have been incidents of drunks trying to climb it.
The Czech Foreign Ministry has criticized Switzerland’s decision to
extend the validity of quotas for long-term residence permits granted to
citizens from eight EU countries including the Czech Republic. In a
statement issued on Thursday the Czech Foreign Ministry said the move was
discriminatory and called for the matter to be addressed on a European
level. The Swiss authorities announced the decision on Wednesday, bowing to
growing unease about immigration from poorer neighbours.
The EU's foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton also said she regretted the Swiss action, adding that it was contrary to the 1999 treaty signed with Switzerland on the free movement of people since the quotas differentiate between countries. Under the terms of the treaty non-EU Switzerland may invoke a "safeguard clause" which allows temporary caps on work permits if the annual influx exceeds a certain number.
The OECD, a Paris-based international organization, has warned the Czech Republic over rising levels of social exclusion in schools, the daily Mladá fronta Dnes reported. The group notes that while richer families increasingly send children to better quality schools, children from poorer families tend to attend the schools closest to their homes. That is detrimental to both groups of children, the OECD said. The Czech Education Ministry said it would address the issue and pledged more funding for regions where children achieve worse results at school.
Prague Civic Democrat councillor Boris Štastný has announced his decision to resign his seat on the city council. Mr. Štastný said he was leaving in protest against the present style of management and what he described as guerrilla warfare tactics used by rival Civic Democrats and TOP 09 on the council. Boris Štastný is a long-term critic of Prague mayor Bohuslav Svoboda accusing him of letting the city fall into debt and making incompetent decisions. He said the two-party coalition was no longer functional and he was no longer willing to accept co-responsibility for the shady deals being made.
Communist Party MEP Miloslav Ransdorf who has a 17 million crown debt has been unable to a visit from the bailiff and the confiscation of his real estate in Prague. His nine million crown house in Prague’s Libuse district and flat in Zabehlice are to be auctioned off on June 26th. The MEP allegedly owes money both to financial institutions and close friends.
On a working visit to Prague the president of the European Council, Herman
van Rompuy said the EU had weathered the worst of economic crisis and the
future of the euro was no longer at stake. He said the EU must now focus on
jump starting the economy and creating thousands of new jobs in order to
secure the return of financial stability. Prime Minister Petr Necas said
that, while it was in the Czech Republic’s best interests to help the
euro zone’s recovery, Prague was in no hurry to exchange the crown for
the euro and such a decision would have to be made on the basis of a
national referendum. Mr. Van Rompuy assured his host the European Council
would not pressurize Prague on the matter, adding that since the Czech
Republic did not fulfil the respective critieria for euro zone membership
it was not an issue of the present day.
Mr van Rompuy also met with the Czech president, Miloš Zeman. The European Council president’s visit comes some three weeks after the head of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso, attended the ceremony of hoisting the EU flag at Prague Castle.
The Finance Ministry has announced plans to withdraw 6,000 licences for video lottery terminals which were originally issued until the end of 2014. The move is being made in line with the wishes of individual town halls which aim to cub gambling. The Czech Constitutional Court recently upheld a complaint filed collectively by town halls that attacked an article of the lottery law enabling the finance ministry to issue video lottery terminal licences over their heads.
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