Leaders of the coalition parties rejected on Wednesday an extension of the list of commodities exempt from the planned VAT hike. Prime Minister Petr Nečas said that value added tax will be brought up to a single 20-percent rate in the third quarter of this year, with the exception of bread, milk, vegetables and other basic foodstuffs. The list will not include fruit, books, newspapers, and other commodities. The revenues will be used to pay for the planned pension reform.
Parties of the ruling coalition and the opposition Social Democrats agreed on Wednesday on the outlines of direct presidential election, Justice Minister Jiří Pospíšil said. If direct vote is eventually introduced, the Czech president will be elected in a two-round system; any candidate will have to collect 50,000 signatures in his or her support; candidates could also be nominated by a group of 10 senators or 20 MPs. The parties are yet to discuss the details; the politicians hope that direct presidential election will be introduced so that people can elect the successor of Václav Klaus whose term expires in February 2013.
The Czech government approved on Wednesday the addition of 33 new synthetic drugs to the list of illicit substances. The additions include carfentanil, tapentadol, bulyton and other chemicals that recently became a problem in the northeast of the country. Polish firms began selling in Ostrava, Český Těšín and other towns in the region after they were banned in Poland. Several shops in Prague also began offering the new synthetic drugs. The lower house of the Czech Parliament is expected to pass the respective amendment in a shortened procedure later this month.
In related news, the government approved an amendment to the Czech Road Act imposing an age limit of 24 on drivers of motorbikes with a power output of 35 kW or higher. However, those with experience with driving less powerful motorbikes will be able to obtain their licences at the age of 20. The government hopes the age limit will improve safety on Czech roads. Last year, more than 750 people died in road accidents, many of them motorbike drivers. The amendment also prevents Czechs from having more than one EU driver’s licence.
President Václav Klaus will head the Czech delegation at an EU summit in Brussels next week that will discuss the bloc’s stance on the situation in Libya and other North African countries, Prime Minister Petr Nečas said on Wednesday. The European Union imposed on Monday sanctions against Muammar Gaddafi’s regime in Libya that include an arms embargo, a travel ban to EU member states, and the freezing of assets of Libyan officials. Last month, Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg called for a tough stance on the Libyan leader after he came into the spotlight for saying the EU should not interfere in Libya.
In related news, the Foreign Committee of the lower house of Parliament agreed on Wednesday to sanctions against the regime of Muammar Gaddafi in Libya. The MPs also denounced violence against the Libyan population, the committee’s chair, David Vodrážka, said. The committee was addressed by the Czech ambassador to Tripoli, Josef Koutský, who left the country on Sunday with the rest of the embassy staff.
Czechs’ trust in EU institutions hit a new low in February, according to a poll by the STEM agency released on Wednesday. Some 46 percent of those polled said they trusted the EU, 7 percent less than a year ago. Around 39 percent of Czechs said they trusted the European Parliament. The agency said that the waning trust in the EU might be related to the fact that few Czechs agree with the adoption of the euro.
The Czech government earmarked on Wednesday 70 million crowns, or nearly 4 million US dollars, for the establishment of a Romany Holocaust memorial at Kunštát, southern Moravia, the site of a WWII internment camp for Romanies. Half of the sum will be used to build the memorial, while the other should cover its operation and maintenance, a spokeswoman for the Education Ministry said. The government rejected a more expensive project of an educational and congress centre. Around 1,300 Czech Roma were interned in the camp during the war; more than two hundred died there while most of the others were murdered at Nazi extermination camps.
A new poll by the Factum Invenio agency released on Wednesday puts the opposition Social Democrats ahead with 61 seats in the 200-seat lower house, or 24.5 percent of voter preference. If general elections were held now, the right-of-centre ruling coalition would get 94 seats in the Chamber of Deputies; the coalition parties now have a comfortable majority of 118 seats. The poll suggests that the Christian Democrats, who failed to cross the 5-percent threshold to enter the lower house, would now get 8.8 percent of preferences and 17 deputies.
The Czech Supreme Auditing Office said on Monday that the Education Ministry spent too much on the construction of the National Technical Library in Prague. The audit office said the price per square metre increased by 38 percent during construction, and criticized the Education Ministry for wasting funds. The library, which was completed in 2009, and cost over 2.3 billion crowns, won the award for the building of the year.
Czech hockey player Karel Rachůnek, of Russia’s Lokomotiv Yaroslavl, was named on Tuesday the best defender of the Kontinental Hockey League. The highest-scoring defenseman in the league scored six goals and earned three assists in February. The 31-year-old Rachůnek, who joined Yaroslavl last year after a stint in Dynamo Moscow, has 46 points this season.
The current spell of sunny weather is likely to continue until the end of the week, with daytime temperatures ranging between 4 and 8 degrees Celsius.