The Czech prime minister, Mirek Topolánek, says the European Union is able to face the economic crisis more effectively because of the bloc’s enlargement in 2004. Speaking in Prague on Monday at a conference on the EU’s biggest ever enlargement, Mr Topolánek said a bigger EU is stronger and can better deal with economic problems.
Ten post-communist countries, including the Czech Republic, acceded to the bloc in 2004. The Czech prime minister described the enlargement as a “tiger’s leap” which benefited both old and new member states. Mr Topolánek also criticized the fact that only two of the EU’s four freedoms are being fulfilled; unlike free movement of goods and capital, free movement of services and labour is still restricted. These limitations hinder the bloc’s economic growth as well as further integration, said the Czech prime minister.
A court in the city of Plzeň, western Bohemia, lifted on Monday a ban on an extremist march, allowing radicals to “protest against Zionism”. The march, originally planned for February 21, had been banned by one of the city’s municipalities for fears it would incite racial hatred. City officials also said the person who applied for a permission to march was a well-know figure of the Czech neo-Nazi movement. The court revoked the decision to ban the march due to its “unreviewability”, saying it would publish precise reasons on Friday. A spokesperson for the court said the march can take place within 30 days of the verdict being delivered to the organizers.
An analysis by Bank of America predicts that the Czech economy will drop by 1.7 percent in 2009. According to the analysis, economies of central and eastern European countries will be affected by a falling demand from their western neighbours. Economic growth in the region will be also be hindered by problems of local banks and reduced levels of foreign investment. In 2008, the growth of Czech GDP slowed down to 3.5 percent.
In related news, the state budget ended in February with a surplus of 5.4 billion crowns, or more than 240 million US dollars, the Czech finance ministry informed on Monday. The state budget for the whole of 2009, as approved by Parliament, is expected to end with a deficit of over 38 billion crowns. However the finance ministry expects the deficit may reach 73 billion crowns.
The government approved on Monday a purchase of 107 Austrian armoured vehicles Pandur for the Czech army. The deal will cost to 14.4 billion crowns, or more than 640 million US dollars. Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek told reporters that a number of Czech companies will take part in the production. The Czech government first negotiated with the Austrian manufacturer Steyr in 2003; four years later the original contract was cancelled as the Austrian arms producer was unable to comply with its conditions.
Around 500 workers from the troubled glass giant Bohemia Crystalex Trading gathered outside the government building in Prague on Monday to draw attention to their social situation. They also protested against the government’s lack of action when dealing with the impact of the company’s bankruptcy. The protesters asked the government to allow for extraordinary social benefits; they also demanded a change in the law that would not give priority to banks over the company’s own employees when settling corporate debts.
Bohemia Crystalex Trading was the country’s largest manufacturer of glass with around 7,000 employees. In September last year, it declared bankruptcy and closed most of its plants.
The Czech Republic’s biggest health insurance firm VZP has reimbursed more than 10 000 clients who spent more than the maximum 5,000 crowns (221 USD) on their own healthcare last year, a spokesman said on Monday. The total sum that VZP has handed back to its clients totals more than 18 million crowns (797,000 USD). The insurer said that in the fourth quarter of 2008, its clients spent a total of 4.63 billion crowns (205 million USD) on healthcare fees and treatment, though medicines purchased at the chemist are not included in this figure. The government introduced a new system of healthcare fees at the beginning of 2008 – under the new system, patients must pay a 30-crown fee per visit to the doctor and 60 crowns per night spent in hospital. Those who spend over 5,000 crowns per year on their own healthcare will be reimbursed for the money they spend above that sum.
The head of Czech doctors’ association, Milan Kubek, said that female physicians performed worse than male doctors. Speaking before the health committee of Parliament’s lower house, Mr Kubek said that “feminization” was the second biggest cause behind the crisis of the Czech health care system, followed by the increasing age of Czech doctors and their retirement. Mr Kubek said that female physicians’ work commitment was lower than men’s due to their family duties. Several female doctors among MPs as well as other physicians criticized Mr Kubek’s statement, while some other Czech physicians told the daily Mladá fronta Dnes that the doctors’ leader did have a point. The Czech Republic has one of the highest numbers of female doctors of all OECD countries, with 52.7 percent female physicians.
The Czech Constitutional Court rejected on Monday a complaint by a Romany woman who underwent forced sterilization in an Ostrava hospital in 1997. Ms Iveta Červeňáková, who was 21 at the time, complained about a decision by the police to shelve a criminal case against two of the hospital’s physicians. The Court said none of her constitutional rights were infringed by that decision.
Ms Červeňáková was sterilized in the Ostrava Municipal Hospital in 1997, after giving birth to her second child. A local court awarded her 500,000 crowns, or more than 22,000 US dollars, in damages, but a higher court said last year her claim was covered by the statute of limitations.
The Czech embassy in Hanoi resumed issuing visas for Vietnamese nationals to work in the Czech Republic, the news website lidovky.cz reported on Sunday. A Czech foreign ministry spokesperson said the embassy registered great interest despite the economic crisis. The Czech government recently launched a repatriation programme for foreigners who lost their jobs. All who apply will be given a flight ticket and an allowance of 500 euro. Around 400 jobless foreigners, out of an estimated 12,000, have joined the scheme so far.
The funeral of Jan Winkler, who was Czech ambassador to the UK, took place in Prague on Monday. Mr Winkler died suddenly on February 16, aged 51. A spokesperson for the Czech Foreign Ministry said that the Czech Republic had lost one of its most capable diplomats. Mr Winkler died of natural causes. Mr Winkler became Czech Ambassador to Britain in 2005 after serving at the Foreign Ministry in Prague between 2003 and 2005.
Czech Karel Bruckner, who is 69, was fired on Monday as the head coach of the Austrian national football team due to poor results. Mr Bruckner took over the Austrian side last July and scored a surprising home win over France in the World Cup 2010 qualifier. The coach led the Czech national team between 2001 and 2008.
The start of the week will be mostly cloudy, with rain showers and occasional fogs. Highest day temperatures should range between 5 and 9 degrees Celsius.