The centre-right coalition government survived a vote of no-confidence in the lower house of Parliament on Tuesday night. The main opposition Social Democrats and Communist Party mustered 80 votes for the motion, falling short of the required 101 votes needed to unseat the government. The no-confidence motion was tabled by the opposition Social Democrats in the wake of a corruption scandal at the Environment Ministry that has divided the ruling parties. Although questions remain, emergency consultations at Prague Castle ahead of the vote won the government the support of all coalition deputies.
The scandal, involving allegations of manipulation with public tenders at the State Environmental Fund in order to raise money for the Civic Democrats, has raised the ire of the junior coalition party Public Affairs which threatened to withhold its support for the government. The scandal has also implicated Prime Minister Nečas of the Civic Democrats who has come under fire for failing to act when he was first alerted about the matter. Addressing the lower house ahead of the vote, the prime minister said he was aware of the gravity of the situation and promised that the corruption allegations would be thoroughly investigated.
The opposition Social Democrats have expressed anger over the outcome of the vote saying that the corruption scandal was being swept under the carpet and demanding that details of the agreement which restored coalition unity be made public. The main opposition party has been calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Petr Nečas, saying that he had failed in his duty as prime minister and irretrievably lost public trust by not requesting an immediate investigation into the corruption claims.
Under pressure police president Oldřich Martinů has announced he will resign at the end of the month. His announcement followed a meeting with President Václav Klaus on Wednesday morning. The sacking of the police president is believed to be at the centre of a deal between the coalition government parties which helped them survive Tuesday’s vote of no confidence. The junior government party, Public Affairs, has called for him to go over dissatisfaction with the functioning of the police service and stalled reforms. Pressure for him to go mounted when party leader Radek John accused the police chief of leaking information about his meeting with Prime Minister Petr Nečas about suspected corruption at the State Environmental Fund. Mr. Martinů said he was not responsible for leaks.
The European Commission is sending an inspection team to Prague to look into the financing of the State Environmental Fund. Wednesday’s edition of the business daily Hospodarske Noviny says the commission has requested more information about the use of EU finances which are distributed through the fund and what control mechanisms are in place. The outcome of the inspection may influence the flow of EU money to the fund in the coming months. Between now and 2013 the EC is expected to channel more than five billion euros to the suspect institution.
The Czech government on Wednesday refused to fix a target date for joining the single European currency the euro. It also said that it would not seek next year to take a preliminary step towards that by joining the Exchange Rate Mechanism. This sets a narrow band within which the Czech crown could fluctuate against the euro. The twin moves leave the government’s stance towards euro adoption unchanged. Under the 2004 entry terms to the European Union the Czech Republic is obliged to join the euro zone when it is ready. A joint report on Czech moves to achieve membership criteria by the Czech National Bank and Ministry of Finance said the current situation was not conducive to euro adoption.
World famous conductor Jiří Bělohlavek has been appointed the chief conductor of the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra. A spokesman for the Ministry of Culture confirmed the news. The contract with the new conductor apparently starts in the autumn of 2012. The 64-year-old Bělohlavek is currently head of the BBC Symphony Orchestra but his contract there expires in 2012. He is regarded as the most successful contemporary Czech conductor. The Czech Philharmonic has been without a chief conductor since Israeli conductor Elijah Inbal finished around a year ago.
Lawmakers in the lower house of parliament have passed a proposed new law calling for foreign visitors staying more than 90 days to have comprehensive health insurance cover. The provision was passed in spite of opposition from the upper house, the Senate, which returned the proposal for further debate. Social Democrat deputy and former interior minister František Bublan said the demand was intolerable for many foreigners who are staying with their families in the country. He said it would only profit the biggest health insurance companies. Other aspects of the proposed law clamp down on employment of foreigners in the country, for example, making companies responsible for their expulsion after work contracts end and uncovered health treatment.
Prague’s Ruzyně Airport said operations returned to near normal on Wednesday following a series of cancellations on Tuesday due to bad weather across Europe. Three flights to London Heathrow, one of the worst hit destinations in Europe, were cancelled Wednesday but one flight was said to be still possible in the evening. More than a dozen flights out of Prague were cancelled on Tuesday due to the weather, mainly to Frankfurt, London and Brussels.
Czech power giant CEZ announced a series of deals on Wednesday which will pave the way for it to achieve its cogeneration and gas-fired power plant ambitions in the country. The deals involve CEZ along with cash-rich Czech energy holding EPH and the country’s biggest heating company Dalkia Czech Republic, a unit of French-based Dalkia. Under the first deal, CEZ said that it will offload one of its biggest brown-coal fuelled power plants, Chvaletice, to EPH for an undisclosed sum. As part of the price for the 800 MW capacity plant in Eastern Bohemia, CEZ will take over EPH heat distribution facilities serving the northern towns of Most and Litvinov. Under a second deal, EPH has agreed with Dalkia Czech Republic to take a preliminary 5.0% shareholding in the company with an option for a further 5.0% on top of that at a later date.
Top league Czech football club Slavia Prague has been banned from the transfer market according to Wednesday’s edition of the daily Sport. The paper says the ban has been imposed by the football association’s arbitration committee due to failure to pay outstanding debts to a former player, Martin Abraham. A spokesman for the Czech and Moravan Football association later said a ban on player purchases had been imposed at the start of December but this would be lifted at the start of the year. The ban did not affect sales of players, he said, The club currently owes around 100 million crowns to former owner, British company ENIC, and had been counting of the sale of players to cut that burden.
The coming days should bring more snow with day temperatures hovering around zero degrees Celsius. Temperatures should fall to around minus one during the day on Saturday and minus four at night.