Prime minister Mirek Topolánek has said that French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s proposal to ‘re-localise’ French carmakers’ foreign units is a threat to the ratification of the EU’s Lisbon treaty. In an interview with Hospodářské noviny on Monday, Mr Topolánek called President Sarkozy’s words ‘incredible’ and said that they put Czech ratification of the EU reform document in jeopardy. The Czech Republic, which holds the rotating EU presidency, is home to a joint venture between France’s PSA Peugeot Citroen and Toyota, which produced some 324,000 cars in 2008. It is also the only EU member state still to vote on the ratification of the Lisbon treaty. The lower house has postponed a debate on the treaty until February 17 at the earliest.
On Monday, French newspaper Le Monde reported that President Nicolas Sarkozy took back his comments about re-localising the French car industry, under pressure from Czech PM Mirek Topolánek. Mr Sarkozy’s suggestion that PSA Peugeot Citroen should focus on its French operations and not its plant in Kolín, Central Bohemia, also angered the Czech Chamber of Commerce, with its head Petr Kužel saying the move threatened the free market.
In the same interview with Hospodářské noviny, Mr Topolánek said that his cabinet was counting upon economic growth falling by up to two percent in 2009. The prime minister said that he was drawing up proposals with a group of financial experts to counter this fall in growth, and that these proposals would be unveiled on February 18. On Sunday, the governor of the Czech National Bank, Zdeněk Tůma also predicted a sharp downturn in the Czech economy this year. He predicted that the economy could be hit by up to 0.3 percent negative growth in 2009.
The Czech EU presidency is to hold an informal EU summit to discuss how to deal with the global financial crisis, Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek said on Monday. The summit will be held in Brussels before the end of February, said Mr Topolánek, though he added that a precise date for the meeting would only be announced on Wednesday, after he met head of the European Commission Jose Barroso.
The government has approved a bill which will pay foreign workers made redundant to go home. Unemployed foreigners will, under the new law, have their passage home paid for and be given 500 euros if they agree to leave the Czech Republic. Interior Minister Ivan Langer said that the scheme would be put into effect by the end of this month and that he predicted up to 2000 foreign workers would take part in the first phase of the project. The Interior Ministry predicts that up to 12,000 foreigners could be made redundant in the first quarter of this year. Over 68,000 foreigners’ work permits expire by the end of this year. Under the new law, it will be harder for foreigners seeking to work in the Czech Republic to obtain long-term visas to do so.
Health minister says insurers ready to fine those who refuse to collect healthcare fees
Czech health insurers are ready to start fining hospitals and pharmacies which do not collect healthcare fees, Health Minister Daniela Filipiová said on Monday. According to Ms Filipiová, such practice was violation of the law and those who refused to collect fees could be charged up to 50,000 crowns (around 2,350 USD) penalty, repeatedly if they continued to refuse. Since the beginning of 2008, Czechs have had to pay 30 crowns per visit to a doctor and 60 crowns per day spent in hospital. The law has proved controversial, and many hospitals and chemists have refused to collect the fees.
Czech President Václav Klaus received his Slovak counterpart, Ivan Gašparovič, on Monday. Top of the agenda at the meeting at Prague Castle was gas supplies. Slovakia was badly hit by the recent gas dispute between Russia and Ukraine, and relied upon gas being pumped in from the Czech Republic. On Monday, the Slovak president thanked the Czech Republic for its gas deliveries throughout the crisis. He said that ties between the two countries continued to be strong.
Addressing journalists on Monday, President Václav Klaus said that he believed the current global financial turmoil would resolve itself, and that state intervention could only ever play a miniature role. Mr Klaus likened the current financial crisis to a common cold, which, he said, took seven days to cure, with or without treatment. The president praised the Czech government for not resorting to protectionist measures in the current climate.
President Václav Klaus has ratified an EU-Montenegro stabilization and association agreement, presidential spokesman Radim Ochvat said on Monday. The agreement is the first step towards EU membership, for which Montenegro formally applied in December 2008. Some current EU members are against the country’s speedy entry into the 27-member bloc. The Czech EU presidency has, however, outlined European Union expansion as one of its priorities. In a recent report on Montenegro, the European Commission criticized the Balkan country for not doing enough to tackle organized crime and corruption, but praised Podgorica’s progress in building democracy.
Unemployment grew by more than expected in January to 6.8 percent. The number of unemployed in the Czech Republic rose last month by over 48,000 to nearly 384,000, according to statistics released by the Ministry of Work and Social Affairs on Monday. Analysts were expecting the unemployment rate to be closer to 6.5 percent. As it is, the rise in unemployment is the highest in the history of the modern Czech Republic. At the same time, the number of unoccupied positions fell by over 77,000. According to government statistics, for every one unoccupied job in the Czech Republic, there are currently over five jobless.
In related news, steel giant ArcelorMittal is to lay off 650 workers in its Ostrava plant, the firm said on Monday. The number of redundancies is higher than expected, with the firm initially saying that only office workers would be affected by the downscale. On Monday, ArcelorMittal said that it was now planning to lay off manual labourers in its North Moravian plant as well. The redundancies will take place between now and mid-March, the firm said.
It will stay cold over the next couple of days, with temperatures reaching a maximum of four degrees Celsius. Monday should be sunny, with the outlook on Tuesday a little cloudier.