The Constitutional Court has revoked the government’s 2011 austerity package, effective as of the end of this year. The ruling satisfies a complaint filed by opposition Social Democrats who argue that the package was illegitimate because it was fast-tracked through Parliament unconstitutionally, in a state of legislative emergency. The government had resorted to the move shortly after the Senate elections, in which the governing parties lost their majority in the upper chamber and the opposition threatened to block the bills. The decision still gives the government leeway to pass the wide-ranging cuts in the standard way during the course of the year.
Government leaders say they will respect the ruling, though they strongly disagree with it. Prime Minister Petr Nečas said that the government would conduct an analysis and take the appropriate legislative steps to avoid increasing the public deficit. In a statement he said that his cabinet agrees that legislative emergency had been necessary for the passage of the austerity package and that it had prevented extensive economic damages. Finance Minister Miroslav Kalousek, who is currently in Brussels, said that the government has the strength and the means to pass the package again.
The Constitutional Court is also hearing the first complaint against a legal amendment allowing revenue from solar energy to be taxed at a rate of 26%. The measure was introduced by the government at the end of last year in order to curb an increase in the price of electricity for end users in 2011; it entails a three-year tax on electricity from solar plants built in the last two years, which are blamed for the cost increases. The petition has been filed by a group of senators who say that the law was passed hastily and without appropriate debate. According to the senators, the law may result in the country facing a large number of lawsuits and having to pay an inestimable amount of financial compensation.
Party representatives are meeting with legal and political experts on Monday to discuss the next round of debates on introducing direct election of the president. The parties have thus far agreed that the election should consist of two rounds, and are still undecided on the powers that a directly elected president should wield. These authorities include the naming of judges and members of the board of the Czech National Bank, immunity from investigation and impeachment. The establishment of direct presidential elections would require a constitutional amendment approved by the coalition parties and the opposition Social Democrats. The Czech president is currently elected by Parliament.
Speaking at the meeting, the president’s chancellor Jiří Weigl said that President Klaus is not in favour of direct presidential elections. Mr Weigl said that the president’s view is that primary legitimacy in the country is with the Parliament rather than in a presidential republic. Mr Klaus believes that the Czech Republic is not prepared to discuss a comprehensive alteration of its constitution and that changing the method of presidential election without altering presidential authorities would be senseless. Mr Weigl was asked by Mr Klaus to present his opinions only in brief, as he does not feel he should actively influence the selection of his successor.
The Military Police Inspectorate is reviewing the circumstances of last Friday’s raid on Czech Television. A separate inspection will also be made by the Ministry of Defence. Military police chief Vladimír Ložek has yet to comment on the situation, saying only that he has not received any more detailed information since Friday. General Ložek has been put on temporary leave by Defence Minister Alexandr Vondra, who says the raid was handled inappropriately. Offices of Czech Television were stormed on Friday by heavily armed army commandos searching for a military intelligence file that one a reporter had acquired. Czech Television said it was filing a criminal complaint against the military police for abuse of authority and has demanded the immediate return of all confiscated computers, notebooks and phone numbers confiscated in the raid.
Police are continuing to assess video recordings of a clash between ultra-rightwing supporters and their opponents in the town of Nový Bydžov on Saturday, and say more people may be charged. 13 right-wing extremists have so far been charged with riotous conduct in connection with an injured Roma man. Over 500 demonstrators had gathered at the event to express their views for and against the town’s policy in dealing with problematic inhabitants, mainly Romanies.
The Trebbia foundation for artists and art benefactors has awarded its prize for lifetime achievement to 100-year-old director and screenwriter Otakar Vávra. The ceremony was held in Prague’s Municipal House and was broadcast live by Czech Television. Prizes in other categories were awarded to Slovak photographer Tibor Huszár, Hundarian actor János Bán and Russian actor Oleg Tabakov. Otakar Vávra has written more than 80 screenplays over the course of his career and fifty feature films.
Former President Vaclav Havel remains in the care of the Prague Military Hospital with a respiratory tract inflammation; a hospital spokeswoman told reporters on Monday that his doctors do not yet know yet when they will release him to home care. Mr Havel, who is 74, was admitted to the hospital on March 8 and has been on antibiotics. His office expects him to attend the premiere of Leaving, his film debut based on his own theatre play, scheduled for the end of March. Mr Havel is prone to this type of ailment and it is risky for him; he had a half of a lung together with a malignant tumour removed in late 1996. Havel was a chain smoker for many years and his health was also affected by his imprisonment by the communist regime in the 1980s.
The population of the Czech Republic grew last year by 26,000 according to demographics published on Monday by the Czech Statistical Office. The figure is one-third lower than that of 2009, showing a decrease in the number of children born and immigrants to the Czech Republic. There were 10,300 more births than deaths in 2010 and 15,600 people moved to the country; substantially less than in the previous year. The report also shows a decrease in marriages and a rise in the number of divorces. The population of the Czech Republic was put at 10,532,770.
Conditions over the coming days are expected to be cloudy to partly cloudy with a chance of rain and daytime highs of around 14° Celsius.