Canada has announced its decision to lift visas for Czech nationals as of
November 14. The Canadian ambassador to Prague, Otto Jelínek, made the
announcement at a press briefing on Thursday saying the move had been
linked to the introduction of a stricter asylum law in Canada. Visa-free
travel will be possible for a period of up to six months.
Ottawa reimposed visas on Czechs in 2009 following a wave of Czech asylum seekers. It had come under increasing pressure from Prague to remove the travel restriction, with Czech officials linking the issue to the country’s approval of a key trade agreement between Canada and the EU.
President Miloš Zeman has requested a meeting with Social Democrat leader Bohuslav Sobotka on November 21st, the president’s spokeswoman Hana Buriánová told the ctk news agency on Thursday. The president is expected to officially task the Social Democrat leader with forming a new government. Mr. Sobotka said after his first meeting with the head of state on Wednesday that the president had clearly indicated he meant to entrust him with the task. As the head of the strongest party to come out of the elections, Mr. Sobotka is the natural candidate to lead the talks, although he has had to fight off a rebellion from party members who blame him for the Social Democrats' lackluster victory.
The Social Democrats have initiated talks with church dignitaries on a possible revision of the law on church restitutions. Party leader Bohuslav Sobotka told the CTK news agency on Thursday he had requested a meeting with Cardinal Dominik Duka and the head of the Ecumenical Council of Churches Joel Ruml. The Social Democrats are hoping to reach a new agreement with churches which would lower the burden on the state budget. The matter is also being debated with the Social Democrats’ potential coalition partners –the ANO party headed by Andrej Babiš, which approves of the move and the Christian Democrats who are vehemently against it.
Contrary to expectations the Czech economy contracted by 0.5 percent quarter-on quarter, breaking a brief period of economic revival following the country’s longest recession ever. Year-on-year GDP contracted by 1.6 percent, according to the Czech Statistics Office. Analysts had predicted 0.5 percent growth in the third quarter. The contraction is being attributed to lower output in several key sectors, including energy, construction and agriculture. To help growth, the central bank cut its key interest rate to a record low of 0.05 percent and began using foreign-exchange interventions to weaken the crown.
President Miloš Zeman has selected two more nominees for Constitutional Court judges to replace those whose term in office expires in the coming months. They are Jiří Zemánek, an expert on European law and current Constitutional Court judge Jan Musil who would be considered for re-election. The nominations will need to be approved by the Senate by January 10th of 2014.
Communist Party leader Vojtěch Filip met with President Miloš Zeman at Lány Chateau on Thursday for talks on the post-election situation. The Communists, who came third in the early general elections, had hoped for a bigger role in national politics, but those hopes were dashed by the Social Democrats’ lackluster victory in the elections meaning that the two parties together do not have a majority in the lower house. The Communists, whose coalition potential is extremely limited, will be the strongest opposition party in the Chamber of Deputies.
Former prime minister Petr Nečas was called in for questioning in the case against his former chief-of-staff and now wife Jana Nagyová Nečasová on Thursday morning, but refused to give testimony. Mrs. Nečasová is accused of abuse of power for allegedly ordering the Military Intelligence last year to spy on Mr. Nečas’ then wife Radka. This was one of the scandals that caused the resignation of Mr. Nečas and his government this summer, after Mrs. Nagyová and a number of other high-ranking officials were unexpectedly arrested in June. Mr. Nečas was the last person the police planned to question in the case.
The outgoing finance minister Jan Fisher has rejected speculation that he is to be the country’s new ambassador to Luxembourg as of February 2014. The report appeared in Thursday’s Hospodarské Noviny which claimed that according to unnamed diplomatic sources Mr. Fischer was the only candidate for the post. The Czech Embassy in Luxembourg was closed at the end of 2012 within broad austerity measures introduced by the then centre-right government but the country’s new foreign minister, Jan Kohout, ordered its reopening, based on new foreign policy priorities.
The defense team for the American Kevin Dahlgren, accused of killing four people in Brno this spring, has filed an appeal challenging his detention. A ruling on the legality of Dahlgren’s arrest and detention will not be made before mid-February. The appeal will further delay a decision on the suspect’s possible extradition to the Czech Republic. Kevin Dahlgren is accused of murdering four Czech relatives with whom he was staying in Brno. He fled to Vienna and boarded a flight to Washington DC where he was arrested on arrival.
Czech Airlines has announced it will renew direct flights from Prague to Bratislava as of December 2013. The airline is planning three flights a week in the winter months and double that number in the summer season. Direct flights between the Czech and Slovak capitals were curtailed in 2011 for financial reasons. The price of a return ticket for the hour-long flight will be close to 2,000 crowns.