European Union President Herman Van Rompuy is on his first official visit to Prague. On Friday morning the EU president met with the Czech prime minister, Jan Fischer, for talks that focused on the economy, climate change and the EU’s humanitarian effort in Haiti. In the afternoon Mr. Rompuy met with President Václav Klaus, a well known opponent of EU integration and the Lisbon Treaty. The two officials said little about the content of their talks, though President Klaus told journalists the meeting had done nothing to change his view of the European Union.
Only last week Mr. Klaus criticized the new working structure of the European saying that there was no clear delimitation of powers and responsibilities. Mr. Herman Van Rompuy took up the post of EU President on January 1 and has since conducted a tour of EU member states.
UNESCO has sent a team of urban experts to the Czech capital to investigate a number of controversial building projects which could damage the character of Prague’s historic city centre. One of the projects in the spotlight is the Blanka road tunnel, a vast construction scheme, which includes several multi-level road junctions just a few hundred meters from Prague Castle. Another is a highly controversial plan to tear down eleven buildings just off Wenceslas Square to make way for a huge shopping centre. The UNESCO team has also looked into the ongoing reconstruction of Prague’s Charles Bridge which some critics say has damaged the historic value of Prague’s most famous monument beyond repair. The Czech Culture Ministry has tried to dispel rumors that the insensitive approach to the city’s historic centre might lead to Prague's being struck off UNESCO's list of world heritage sites.
Fresh snowfall overnight has caused more traffic complications around the country. Czech Railways announced on Friday morning that ten of its regional tracks were impassable and had to be closed down. A number of mountain villages have been cut off from the outside world and a number of buses on inter-city bus routes ended up stuck in snow drifts. Traffic police report that many of the smaller roads remain impassable, since maintenance crews have their hands full clearing the country’s main highways. Drivers have been warned to exercise extreme caution and not set out for the mountains without chains and shovels. Fresh snow is expected in the coming days.
The heavy snow over the past few weeks is reported to have caused millions of crowns in damages. The country’s leading insurer Česká Pojištovna said on Friday its clients had filed over 4,400 claims to the tune of over 100 million crowns. The vast majority of the claims concern damage to roofs, which collapsed under the weight of heavy snow or cars demolished by falling snow and ice when the cold snap was replaced by a thaw. Other insurance companies around the country also report a steep rise in claims. The hardest hit regions appear to be central Bohemia and north Moravia.
The National Security Council has ordered mandatory swine flu vaccination for 8,000 Czech soldiers. The issue was discussed at the highest level after President Vaclav Klaus, who is commander in chief of the armed forces, intervened to prevent mandatory vaccination for 16,000 soldiers, many of whom did not want the shot. Mr. Klaus said it was unacceptable to enforce this decision unless there was a serious threat of an epidemic. He asked the country’s hygiene officer to clarify the position at a meeting of the National Security Council. After hearing the report the council halved the proposed number of mandatory vaccinations.
Thirteen percent of Czechs do not own a credit or payment card and make their payments exclusively in cash, according to the results of a survey commissioned by GE Money Bank. The reasons cited included fear of credit card fraud, the fact that they spend less when handing over cash, have a better idea of the state of their finances and the fact that there are still shops where paying with a card is not possible. Twenty one percent of respondents said they own more than one card, and 81 percent of respondents said they prefer to use a card over carrying cash. GE Money Bank says this is a big improvement on the situation three years ago when a third of the population said they did not own any kind of bank card.
According to figures released by the Czech Statistical Office the number of foreigners in the Czech Republic has been steadily growing. In 1997 they made up just over two percent of the population; in 2009 they accounted for 4 percent of the country’s 10.5 million inhabitants. The highest number of foreigners come from Ukraine, followed by Slovak, Vietnamese, Russian and Polish nationals. Despite the steady rise, the Czech Republic is still below the European average which is currently at 6 percent. Luxemburg is at the opposite end of the scale with foreigners making up 40 percent of the population.
Higher oil prices are leading Czech transport companies to refuel outside the country’s borders, according to DKV, a company issuing payment cars for motorists. Czech truck drivers are said to be topping up their tanks most frequently in Luxembourg and Spain where prices of diesel oil are currently the most advantageous, while those heading east prefer to refuel in Slovakia or Poland. At an average price of 29,39 crowns per liter in the Czech Republic, diesel oil is 12 percent cheaper in Poland and 8 percent cheaper in Austria. The increase in oil prices on the Czech market is due to a higher consumer and VAT that went into effect as of January 1.
The Czech Republic’s Karolína Plíšková has made it to the final of the Australian Open Junior’s Championship in Melbourne. The 17-year-old Plíšková could have faced her twin sister, Krystína, who was ousted in the other semi by the UK’s Laura Robson. In other tennis action, Czech player Jaroslav Levinský and his playing partner, Russian Jekaterina Makarova, have made it to the final in the mixed-doubles.
The Krkonoše or Giant Mountains rescue service has called a third-degree avalanche alert on a five point scale, warning skiers not to stray from marked ski-trails. The service said a combination of strong wind, eighty centimeters of fresh snow on the ground and relatively high daytime temperatures increased the risk of an avalanche several-fold. The Jeseníky Mountain rescue service has issued a similar warning. Hikers leaving on a day’s outing have been cautioned to follow weather reports and inform their friends or hotel management of their plans.
Fresh snow is expected over the weekend, with a strong wind which has led meteorologists to issue a warning about snowdrifts on the road. Day temperatures between 0 and minus 7 degrees, night time lows at around minus 14 to minus 18 degrees Celsius.