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V4, Austrian premiers discuss energy, EU funding and migration in Prague

Prime Minister Andrej Babiš and his Visegrad Four counterparts met in Prague on Thursday to discuss energy and climate change with Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz.

The V4 summit attended by the Austrian chancellor focussed on energy and EU climate change policy, areas where the positions of Austria and the V4 (which includes Slovakia, Poland and Hungary) differ significantly.

Unlike Austria, the V4 countries say achieving carbon neutrality by 2050 is not possible without building more nuclear power plants.Austria does not like the idea that EU money paid to help phase-out coal mining and boost alternate energy sources should be used for nuclear power.

PM Babiš argues that in the interests of “energy security” and ecomomic growth, the Czech Republic must build new nuclear units even if it contravenes European Union law.

The talks also covered EU funding and migration where the heads of government found more common ground.They agreed on the need to fight illegal migration,rejected the idea of obligatory migrant quotas and stressed the importance of defending the EU's outer borders.

Since the talks were held on the anniversary of the death of student martyr Jan Palach, the prime ministers laid flowers at the Palach memorial at the top end of Wenceslas Square where Palach set himself on fire in protest against growing public apathy to the Soviet-led invasion.

Czechs commemorate student martyr Jan Palach’s self-immolation

Czechs are marking the 51st anniversary of the self-immolation of Prague university student Jan Palach, who set himself alight in protest at apathy in the face of the Soviet occupation.

Memorial ceremonies have been held in Palach’s Central Bohemian hometown of Všetaty, where his childhood home recently became a museum in his honour, and towns and cities around the country.

In Prague people have gathered to pay homage to his memory on Wenceslas Square where he set himself alight, at Charles University, where he studied, and at Olsany Cemetery where he is buried.

Jan Palach died in agony on January 19, three days after setting himself on fire. Some 200,000 people turned out for his funeral. In death, he would become known as “the conscience of the nation”.

Czech Army establishing unmanned systems battalion

The Czech Army wants to buy at least one large combat drone for its new Unmanned Systems Battalion, Chief of the General Staff Aleš Opata said in Prostějov on Thursday at a ceremony marking the creation of the new army unit.

The combat drone, an unmanned machine weighing several hundred kilograms will complement the already used smaller drones.

The Unmanned Systems Battalion which will have up to 300 members should start operating in October of this year and become fully operational by 2025.

Czech economy increasingly dependent on foreign labour

The Czech economy is increasingly dependent on foreign labour. According to figures released by the Czech Statistics Office foreign workers made up 13 percent of the labour force last year. In 2010 it was just 6 percent.

The majority of foreign workers in the country are Ukrainians, Slovaks and Vietnamese nationals, but there is also a growing number of workers from Russia, Poland, Bulgaria and Romania.

According to the last available figures there are 567,000 foreign workers registered in the country, of which 290,000 have permanent residency, 275,000 are here on a temporary basis and 2,500 are foreigners who have been granted or are seeking asylum in the country.

Václav Havel Airport handles record number of passengers, nears capacity ceiling

Prague’s Václav Havel Airport last year handled a record 17.8 million passengers, which is an increase of one million year-on-year. The most frequent destination was London.

The growing trend in passenger numbers is expected to continue this year, which will stretch the airport’s capacity to the limit.

Passenger numbers have been growing steadily since 2013. Last year’s 6 percent increase has exceeded the airport’s expectations which were at around 4 percent.

The growth is due to more direct links to exotic holiday destinations as well as more connections to the most frequented European cities.

Czech Republic will not introduce blanket deposit system on PET bottles

The Czech Republic will not be introducing a deposit system on PET bottles which would see them recycled outside the system of plastic waste recycling, Environment Minister Richard Brabec told journalists in Prague on Thursday.

He said the country can meet the new European rules by improving the existing sorting system. By 2025 packaging will have to be made from at least 25 percent recycled material.

He said there was no law which would prevent producers of soft drinks putting a deposit on their PET bottles.

The e-shop Košík.cz and Mattoni have started testing a deposit system on PET bottles, available on the online sales platform.

Advocates of the system cite a study by the Institute of Circular Economics which shows that the introduction of a blanket deposit system on PET bottles would reduce the environmental impact by 28 percent compared to the current method of plastic waste management.

Weather forecast

Friday should be partly cloudy to overcast with day temperatures between 0 and 5 degrees Celsius.