A meeting of coalition leaders over the draft of next year’s budget got underway Monday. The leader of the three-party, right-of-center government coalition are set to discuss a proposed hike in VAT and further budget cuts to make up for falling tax revenues. They are, however, expected to clash over the budget draft. They Finance Minister and deputy chair of the TOP 09 party Miroslav Kalousek has floated the idea of raising the VAT rate to 19 percent, together with introducing a new round of spending cuts to bring the public finances deficit down to 3.5 percent of GDP in 2012. While Prime Minister and Civic Democrat leader Petr Nečas expressed no major objections to the plan, the junior coalition party, Public Affairs, have rejected the idea. They would instead prefer progressive taxation and higher corporate taxes.
The government on Monday presented a strategy to boost the Czech Republic’s competitiveness. The concept, which was drafted by the government’s advisory board NERV, aims to transform the country into one of the 20 most competitive economies by 2020. As part of the new strategy, Prime Minister Petr Nečas is proposing a change in constitutional law that would legally bind governments to keep a balanced budget. In addition, the strategy will also seek to transform the country’s education system. Industry and Trade Minister Martin Kocourek said on Monday that the fact that currently, 80 percent of all bachelor graduates go on to study a master’s program, is inacceptable. He said that at least in some sectors, such as the public service, a bachelor’s degree should be deemed sufficient. He added that bachelor degree programs also need to increase their focus on practical experiences and skills.
According to a fresh survey published by the Public Opinion Research Center, almost two thirds of the population is against the debated hike in VAT. Only about a fifth responded that they were in favor of increasing the tax. Of the roughly 1000 survey participants, university graduates, entrepreneurs, self-employed persons and highly-qualified workers were more likely to be in favor of the planned VAT hike, while those with a lower living standard were less likely to support the government’s plan to increase the tax gradually. The survey also revealed that 70 percent of Czechs do not understand the current tax system.
Prague tram transport marked its 120th anniversary on Monday. Hundreds of people watched as historical models, such as a rare open carriage tram, set off for celebratory routes. As part of the anniversary events, a monument in honor of Prague’s tram transport was unveiled near the National Technical Museum, which together with the Prague Public Transport Company organized the celebration. The first electric tram line, which was less than 800 meters long, started operating in Prague on July 18, 1891. It was designed by the well-known engineer and inventor Frantíšek Křižík and was built in the Letná neighborhood, where the National Technical Museum is located today. At present, Prague’s Public Transport Company operates nearly 1000 tram carriages on 33 lines, with the tram lines overall spanning a length of 538 kilometers.
A policeman who was behind the wheel of a car that crashed off the Hlávkův bridge in the center of Prague on Saturday, plunging into the Vltava river, died on Sunday, a police spokeswoman said on Monday. The 35-year-old driver had been rescued after 25 minutes under water following a collision with another vehicle that had pushed his car over the railing and into the water. The car he was driving belonged to the protective services division of the Czech police, Czech TV reported on Sunday. The division is in charge of protecting government and other officials. Police have asked any witnesses to contact them.
The Foreign Ministry has not been able to sell the buildings of Czech embassies and consulates that have been closed down around the world due to the government’s austerity measures. Currently, a total of ten locations in countries such as Venezuela, Yemen, Germany or Brazil are for sale, with a combined value of nearly 290 million Czech crowns. The most expensive realty is the former seat of the Czech embassy in Bonn, which is on the market for 105.7 million crowns. According to a ministry spokesman, the buildings have been on the market since the beginning of this year; however, they are priced too high to be attractive for buyers in the times of an ongoing financial crisis. He added that by closing down these embassies, the ministry is nonetheless saving tens of millions of crowns.
The disciplinary senate of the Czech Supreme Court has dismissed a prosecutor of the Kladno region court from her office due to an incident that happened in February. The prosecutor got intoxicated while on the job and later harassed guests and staff of a restaurant near her workplace. A waiter said that when he attempted to remove the prosecutor from the premises, she urinated in the booth where she had been sitting and the restaurant staff had to call the police to make her leave the restaurant. The decision by the disciplinary senate cannot be appealed.
The 6th World Shakespeare Congress got underway in Prague on Sunday. The six-day event, held under the auspices of Czech President Václav Klaus, is entitled “Renaissance Shakespeare: Shakespeare Renaissances”. The congress, which is organized by the International Shakespeare Association together with Prague’s Charles University and the National Theatre, will draw some 600 literary historians, theatre experts, historians and other scholars to the Czech capital, including the leading Czech Shakespearean expert, Professor Martin Hilský.
The funeral has taken place in Brno of Czech ice hockey legend Jaroslav Jiřík, who last week died in a small plane crash at the age of 71. Jiřík, who appeared over 130 times for Czechoslovakia, was the first Eastern Bloc player ever to play for an NHL club when he turned out for St. Louis Blues in the 1969-1970 season. Among those who attended Monday’s funeral were former team-mates from the national team, including Jozef Golonka, Gustav Bubník, František Pospíšil, Vladimír Nadrchal, Jaroslav Maixner, Josef Černý and Jan Havel.
An 11-year-old boy died on Sunday following a collision with a car in the Jeseník district of the Moravian Olomouc region. The driver of the car, a 30-year-old woman, overlooked the boy, who was riding a bicycle alongside the street and not wearing a helmet. He crashed into the front of the car and suffered severe injuries. The boy died on Sunday, after being brought by helicopter to the nearest hospital for treatment. Police are investigating the cause of the accident. The woman was not under the influence of alcohol when the accident happened.
An intercity bus crashed into a tree by a motorway near the West Bohemian town of Karlovy Vary on Monday morning. Seven of the sixteen passengers were injured and were taken to the nearest hospital for treatment. According to paramedics the injuries they suffered were not severe. Police are investigating the cause of the accident. The motorway was closed down for three hours in both directions.
The start of the week will be colder, mostly overcast, with occasional rain showers and storms in places. Daytime highs will range between 20 and 24 degrees Celsius.