Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka says the EU is unlikely to go beyond the framework of targeted sanctions against Russian officials in response to the country’s aggression in Ukraine. Arriving at a two-day summit of EU leaders in Brussels on Thursday, Mr. Sobotka said he did not expect the alliance to reach agreement on a higher level of sanctions, be it economic sanctions or an arms embargo which some EU members have been pushing for. The Czech prime minister said he himself did not consider the time to be ripe for an arms embargo. The strength of the EU’s response to developments in Ukraine have divided the alliance with some urging strong measures while others advocating a more prudent policy.
The pro-Russian civic group leader Viktor Medvedchuk has said that by opening its doors to present-day Ukraine the EU is opening the way for the spread of neo-fascist tendencies in Europe. Mr. Medvedchuk, who heads the civic movement Ukraine’s Choice said the Czech EU Commissioner for Enlargement Stefan Fule, who has led talks with Kiev on an association agreement with the EU, should be aware of his personal responsibility in this matter. The attack comes just hours before the Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk is due to sign the political chapter of Ukraine’s association agreement with the EU.
An association agreement with the EU is the only way for Ukraine to become an equal partner for Russia, Czech President Miloš Zeman said in an interview for the news site aktualne.cz. The president said Russia had cold-bloodedly abused the weakness of Ukraine and the Ukrainian government and mainly the unfortunate language law which had predictably fueled protests. It is now our duty to help strengthen Ukraine and I firmly believe that an association agreement with the EU is the best way to do that, Mr. Zeman said. The Czech president also expressed the view that the Ukrainian government should get rid of "fascist extremists" and federalize the country.
The Czech Foreign Ministry will send a monitoring team to western Ukraine to assess the situation of close to a hundred expatriates who have requested to be repatriated to their old homeland. The Czech cabinet this week agreed to comply with their request saying the authorities would proceed as fast as possible in arranging residence permits. The team, led by Karel Kühnl, the Czech Foreign Ministry’s special commissioner for Czechs living abroad, is to map the expats’ living circumstances, the security situation and their immediate needs which would enable the authorities to provide targeted assistance and give them a better idea of how many Czech expats might request to be repatriated. There are currently around 20,000 Czechs living in Ukraine.
The lower house of Parliament has approved the setting up of a special parliamentary commission which would supervise the investigation of alleged dubious tenders for Prague’s controversial multi-purpose Opencard project. Stanislav Huml,the Social Democrat deputy who tabled the proposal, said the commission would not in any way interfere with the work of the police and judiciary but would monitor their progress on the grounds of the evidence collected. The closely watched Opencard case involves charges of abuse of office and manipulation of public tenders against a dozen councilors, as well as the former and current mayors of Prague, Bohuslav Svoboda and Tomáš Hudeček. Verdicts against a number of suspects have already been passed, though they are not legally binding. The 9-member parliamentary commission should be set up next week.
The Christian Democrats, a junior party in the centre-left government, say the government should reopen debate on bringing back hospital fees. Hospital fees were scrapped as of the start of this year by a ruling of the Constitutional Court which upheld a complaint that they were unconstitutional in view of the fact that patients are already paying health insurance. However hospitals argue that the money was used for food and accommodation services unrelated to health care and say the fall out is proving a massive financial burden. While the 100-crown fee per day was in force, hospitals collected about 2.1 billion crowns annually from patients for these expenditures. The government is now considering ways of making up for the loss. A proposal that the money should come from government reserves has not won broad approval.
The Czech Telecommunications Office has slapped Czech Post with a record 1.4 million crown fine for failing to deliver hundreds of items of mail to customers’ home addresses. Audits in several Prague suburbs revealed that postal employees often made no attempt to deliver letters and packages in person as they should, merely leaving a note in people’s mailboxes that the respective delivery could be picked up at the local post office. The audits were made on the grounds of numerous complaints. Czech Post has 3,300 outlets around the country and makes approximately half a billion deliveries annually.
Councilors of the south Moravian region on Thursday approved a sales offer of land to the company Amazon which is seeking to locate several warehouses in the country. Details of the offer have not been released. Regional governor Michal Hašek said the local authorities were ready to enter into negotiations with both Amazon and the agency CzechInvest in view of securing the lucrative investment deal. The offer comes just hours after the city of Brno definitively rejected Amazon’s offer of a three-billion crown investment project which would have secured around 1,500 new jobs. The prime minister said he was very disappointed by Brno’s decision.
The Czech army has signed a deal with the Czech producer Blažek to buy new uniforms, a spokesman for the Ministry of Defence said. The military will buy over 57,000 summer tunics and trousers in beige and green for around 36 million crowns. Three firms took part in the tender; one of them, Koutný, last year won a 28.8 million contract to supply all-year uniforms for the military.
Viktoria Plzeň are preparing to welcome the French club Olympic Lyonnais in the second leg of their Europa League round-of-16 tie on Thursday night. The Czech champions face an uphill task; after having lost 1:4 in Lyon last week, they need to win by at least three goals without conceding to win on aggregate. Plzeň manager Dušan Uhrin said his team made trivial mistakes in the first game, and must improve their tactics to keep their chances of advancing alive.