Prime Minister Petr Nečas defended the government’s pension reform on Tuesday urging more people to join the so-called second pillar, thereby putting part of their pension funds into private insurance companies. He said that in view of the aging population the only alternatives to a pension reform would be to increase taxes or cut pensions by a third. He said the second pillar of the government’s pension insurance scheme was advantageous to approximately half the working population, rather than just high income groups. Czechs have proved wary of putting their money into private insurance companies, with only 31,000 people joining the second pillar in the past four months. The government had hoped to see half a million people join by the end of June.
A group of MPs across the political spectrum are preparing an amendment to the law which would allow registered homosexual couples to adopt their biological children. Civic Democrat deputy Jana Cernochova, one of the authors of the amendment, told the CTK news agency that this was to formalize an existing state of affairs, where children already live with one of their parents in a same-sex registered partnership but cannot be legally adopted. She said the proposed amendment to the law was minimalist in order to give it a better chance of passing through Parliament.
Cyprus is reportedly planning to close down four of its embassies, including its embassy in Prague, within the framework of tough austerity measures. It is not clear when the decision will come into force. Greece, also in financial straights, is selling dozens of buildings around Europe and moving its diplomatic missions to cheaper quarters. The move is likewise expected to effect its Prague representation.
Czech-born New Zealand artist Mirek Smíšek died on Sunday aged 88. Born in Czechoslovakia in 1925 Mirek Smíšek forged a successful career in New Zealand since arriving there in 1951. He was an internationally respected potter who specialized in salt-glazed stoneware and porcelain. For close to a year he dropped all his other work to make about 700 pieces for the Lord of the Rings film trilogy.
The town of Kladno is to get 1.5 million crowns in compensation from Vaclav Havel Airport for excessive noise pollution over the summer. Maintenance work on the airport’s main runway has necessitated the use of alternate runways meaning that between now and September planes will be flying at low altitudes over densely inhabited areas. The Kladno authorities have said they will use the money for road maintenance.
The leadership of TOP 09 in Prague is set to meet on Monday evening to discuss the future of its coalition with the right-of-centre Civic Democrats at City Hall. The Czech news agency reports that it is likely the party will withdraw from the current coalition agreement. If it takes the step there are several possible outcomes, including new negotiations on a new agreement with the Civ Dems introducing changes in who oversees key fields such as public transport, property and financing, now under the competency of the Civic Democrats. TOP 09, the winners of the last municipal election, could also form a minority with support from the Civic Democrats or the Social Democrats or try and form a broader coalition. Members of the current council; have been at odds for weeks over key questions including the financing of the public transit company or the Blanka tunnel – far over budget.
President Miloš Zeman clarified on Monday the reason he refused to name well-known literary historian Martin C. Putna a university professor. Mr Zeman suggested the crux of the problem for him was a placard Mr Putna carried at Prague’s gay pride parade, which read “Catholic queers salute Bátora”. The banner referred to a highly-controversial former ministry official who opposed the parade two years ago. The president stressed that he respected peoples’ sexual orientation but suggested there was a difference between that and carrying a banner like Mr Putna’s. Mr Putna is widely-recognised as a Catholic intellectual who has focussed on the topics of homosexuality and religion. He is also a vocal critic of the president’s, ridiculing him earlier this year in a video when he was still a candidate ahead of the election.
In related news, students at Charles University have begun planning protest events over the president’s refusal to approve Mr Putna as a professor. They also called on some 24 other professorial candidates to be appointed soon to show solidarity and refuse to accept the title from the president. Mr Zeman has drawn sharp criticism from the academic community; he is due to meet with the head of Charles University later this week.
Speaking at a conference in Prague on Monday, Mr Zeman postulated presidents elected directly by citizens had a “broader” mandate than previous Czech heads-of-state (elected by lawmakers). Ahead of his victory this year, Mr Zeman made no secret he would pursue a more hands-on approach to daily politics than his predecessors Václav Klaus and the late Václav Havel. But on a number of fronts this has led to marked friction between the head-of-state and members of the current government. The president has been locked in a months’ long dispute with the country’s foreign minister, Karel Schwarzenberg, over the appointment of new ambassadors. He has also, at turns, been critical of the government. Mr Zeman said Monday he was free to criticise ministers of the Nečas cabinet, as they were to criticise him.
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