The Czech government has hit back at a European survey which described Czech Roma or gypsies as the most discriminated against in the European Union. Minister for Human Rights and Minorities, Michael Kocáb, said on Monday that the Czech Republic had many Roma intellectuals who knew how to identify discrimination and spread news about it. A study for the European Union Agency For Fundamental Rights said 64 percent of Czech Roma were subject to discrimination during the preceding year and 42 percent subject to criminal attacks. The head of the government’s office for Roma affairs suggested that the situation was worse in Slovakia and Romania where the segregation of the Roma community was more marked.
At least seven people are believed to have died during a Siberian cold snap in the Czech Republic over the weekend. Two homeless people in Prague and two in Olomouc were among the victims, as was a man found in an unheated flat in Ostrava. Autopsies will have to be carried out to establish the final causes of death. Temperatures dropped to minus 24 degrees Celsius in the north-east of the country with forecasters warning of record lows in the coming days. Prague emergency services say 13 deaths have been caused in the capital by the cold so far this winter.
Concentrations of airborne dust particles in parts of Moravia and Silesia are almost nine times the established limits, according to the Czech Hydrometeorological Institute. Such high levels have been found during recent measurements at Třinec in the far east of the country where levels were 436 micrograms per cubic metre. The limit is 50 micrograms. Another three sites had measurements above 400 micrograms and eight above 300 micrograms. According to some reports, air quality in the region is the worst in the European Union. Small dust particles cause breathing and heart problems with the elderly and young babies especially at risk.
Czech Prime Minister Jan Fischer held talks with Minister of the Environment Jan Dusík on Monday over a high profile decision on whether to approve plans for a new coal-fired power plant in the north-west of the country. Plans by state-controlled power company ČEZ for modernisation of the Prunéřov II plant have attracted submissions from a federation of Micronesian states highlighting its likely contribution to climate change and rising sea levels. Environmental groups at home have charged ČEZ with building the new facility on the cheap with outdated technology and higher pollution levels than needed.
Prime Minister Fischer pointed out on Monday that employers and employees both wanted construction to go ahead as soon as possible, adding that the ministry was beginning to have problems with the dossier. The ministry must give an environmental impact assessment on the new plant, including whether it employs the best available technology. A spokesman for the ministry said Mr. Dusík outlined its approach, adding that an announcement on the environmental assessment is not expected this week.
Czech Minister of Finance Eduard Janota on Monday predicted economic growth this year of 1.3 percent. The prediction came out on the same day as the International Monetary Fund released its report into the overall state of the Czech economy. This includes a forecast of 1.5 percent growth this year following on from the estimated 4.25 percent decline in 2009. The IMF report, while generally upbeat, warns that a government following elections to the lower house in May will have to take bold steps to counter the mounting budget deficit and push through steps to reform the health and pensions systems. Hesitation in taking steps to deal with the deficit could spark a crisis in international confidence in the economy which has held up so far, the head of the IMF delegation warned.
Confidence in the Czech economy grew in January according to figures released by the Czech Statistical Office. Overall confidence rose by 2.2 points compared with December thanks to increased optimism among businesses. Confidence among consumers actually fell back. Compared with a year earlier, the confidence index is 11.4 points higher. Confidence in the Czech economy fell to a low point in the first quarter of 2009 before starting to pick up.
The Czech government postponed for two weeks adoption of a programme mapping out the steps needed to adopt the single currency euro on Monday. Ministers said they wanted more time to define deficit cutting measures. The so-called convergence programme was due to set a target date for the switch to the euro in 2016. But the qualification criteria to achieve that should be achieved by 2013. Minister of Finance Eduard Janota has outlined a package of spending cuts and tax increases aimed at curbing the country’s ballooning budget deficit. This should eventually cut the deficit by around 100 billion crowns a year and slim last year’s budget deficit of 6.6 percent of Gross Domestic Product to 3.0 percent, the ceiling for euro adoption.
The Czech Republic’s biggest clothes manufacturer has been made subject to insolvency rules. The regional court in Brno decided the move at the request of OP Prostějov on Monday. The move follows the company’s failure to win a four-month breathing space from three banks which are its main creditors. The clothes manufacturer, which employs around 1,500 people, has racked up debts of around 1.6 billion crowns — more than its total annual turnover. The insolvency regime gives a framework for a deal with creditors to be found and protects against an immediate seizure of assets.
An investigation into an horrendous arson attack last year in which a baby girl suffered 80 percent burns has been completed. The attack on the house of a Roma family in the eastern town of Vítkov in April last year sparked denunciations of what was perceived as mounting racism. The attack left two old Nátalka in hospital fighting for her life. She was only allowed to leave hospital in December. Four men linked with a far-right extremist group have been investigated for the crime. They have been able to consult the investigation dossiers since the end of last week. Charges could be finalised is February, according to the state prosecutor.
The amount of Czech land devoted to commercial production of vegetables fell by around 17 percent to 9,100 hectares last year according to the industry group representing growers. In spite of the fall, actual production increased by around 4.0 percent to nearly 280,000 tonnes. Producers complain that one of the decline in land devoted to vegetables is the disappearance of domestic industrial processing facilities, for example freezing units for peas, spinach and cauliflower. Cultivation of vegetables in the Czech Republic is estimated to have almost halved since the country joined the European Union in 2004.
Forecasters have warned of a sharp drop in temperatures by Wednesday with thermometers reaching minus 25 degrees Celsius. They add that record lows could be set at sites across the country. In comparison, last winter the lowest temperature was minus 20 degrees Celsius. Later in the week heavy snow falls and high winds are expected.