The foreign ministers of the Višegrad Four and six Balkan states on Friday signed an agreement in Prague on the establishment of a Western Balkans Fund which is to boost regional cooperation. Czech Foreign Minister Lubomír Zaorálek who hosted the meeting said the migrant crisis must not destabilise the Balkans since the region’s stability was crucial for the stability of the entire continent. The establishment of a Western Balkans Fund was proposed four year ago by the Czech Republic which is a strong supporter of integrating the Balkans into the EU. The fund, to which all the Višegrad Four states have made a contribution, will be based in Tirana, Albania.
The Czech Republic wants Britain to remain part of the EU, Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka told visiting British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond on Friday. The bilateral talks in Prague focused largely on Britain’s demands for EU reform which would enable it to remain part of the alliance. The Czech prime minister said his country was ready for a pragmatic debate on the proposed changes but stressed that the basic principles of the union, such as freedom of movement and equal rights of EU citizens, should not be abandoned.
The lower house of Parliament has approved a bill extending support for biofuels. The tax benefits, which should be in place until 2020, should amount to nine billion crowns. According to Agriculture Minister Marian Jurečka the law should help the Czech Republic meet EU requirements in the share of renewables in transport. Failure to do so could result in fines worth billions of crowns, he said. The bill, which still needs to win approval in the Senate and be signed by the president, came under fire from opposition deputies who claim that it benefits the agro-chemical group Agrofert owned by Finance Minister Andrej Babiš.
The lower house has given its final approval to a government-proposed hike in gambling taxes. The proposal, which still requires approval from the Senate and president, should see betting taxes climb from the current 20 percent to 23 or 28 percent depending on the type of gambling. Daily taxes on slot machines should also rise by around a third. The tax hike should bring an extra 2 billion crowns to state coffers.
Pensioners should receive a one-off bonus from the state next year to the tune of 1200 crowns, according to a government proposal approved by the lower house on Friday. The bonus is to make up for the low valorization of pensions in 2016 which will only amount to 40 crowns per month. The Social Democrats of the ruling coalition who raised the sum from the proposed 1,000 to 1,200 said the state could afford to be more generous in view of the healthy state of the economy.
Czech Minister of Defense, Martin Stropnický, has suggested that the country should send around 6,000 machine guns to the Kurds to help them in the fight against Islamic State in the next weeks. A Czech consignment of 10 million bullets and 5000 grenades is to be sent to the Kurds next week. The suggestion of extra aid was given a lukewarm welcome by ANO leader and finance minister, Andrej Babiš, who said Stropnický sought concentrate his attention on the ministry budget.
Slovakia’s keeper of Communist era archives, the National Memory Institute, has lodged an appeal with the country’s Supreme Court to overturn the decision this summer of a regional court which confirmed that ANO leader Andrej Babiš was wrongly recorded as an agent of the secret police, the StB. The institute maintains that the decision was based on material that should not have been permitted in court, namely testimonies of former StB agents. Babiš, the Czech minister of finance, fought to clear his name of the suggestion in archives that he was a confidant of the Communist secret police in 1980 and two years later upgraded to an agent.
The police’s financial crime unit Kobra has cracked down on more members of the so-called “fuel-mafia”, charging 18 people with tax evasion to the tune of 1.4 billion crowns. According to a Kobra spokesman the organized gang dealt in gasoline and diesel fuels across several European states, with a string of fake companies to cover their tracks. In a number of raids the police confiscated 30 million crowns in cash. If convicted the suspects could face up to ten years in jail.
Unknown perpetrators vandalized the Brno mosque on Thursday night pouring motor oil on the façade and doors of the building, the CTK news agency reports. Security cameras reportedly show two persons, a man and a woman, pouring something on the walls and door of the mosque before making off. The incident is being investigated by the police.
A group of twenty Czech volunteers from the Help Fleeing Refugees association left for Lesbos on Friday where they are planning to form a permanent base in aid of refugees coming over from Turkey. They will have boats, diving gear, drones and medical equipment at their disposal. Since the beginning of the year over 600,000 refugees crossed from Turkey to Greece and over 4,000 refugees, including many children, drowned on the way. The Help Fleeing Refugees association has over 3,200 volunteers many of whom are assisting refugees along the Balkans route.
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