The Czech economy grew by six percent last year, according to figures released by the Czech Statistical Office this week. This is the fastest pace of GDP growth since independence in 1993 and is tied with Slovakia for the highest growth in the EU. Analysts have cited soaring exports as the main engine behind the growth. The Statistics Office said that they had increased by 11 percent over the previous year, achieving a surplus of 11 billion crowns, or about 460 million dollars, the highest trade surplus in the country's history. Cars, information technologies and energy production equipment were the main articles headed out of the Czech Republic, while raw materials, especially oil and natural gas, were the chief imports. Imports of durable goods and electronics also increased.
The Statistics office also announced other figures sure to influence the elections in June this week, saying that unemployment fell in February to 9.1 percent, a drop from 9.6 percent a year ago. The annual inflation rate fell slightly last year from its 2004 figure of 2.9 to 2005's 2.8 percent. Meanwhile, foreign direct investment, another key economic figure, doubled in the Czech Republic last year to total 263 billion crowns, or about 11 billion dollars.
Spain announced this week that it will open its labor market to citizens of countries that joined the EU in May of 2004. The measure means that Czechs will be able to apply for jobs in Spain without having to attain a work permit. Great Britain, Ireland and Sweden were the only EU member states to open their labor markets to citizens of new member states when the countries joined the EU. Spain now joins Portugal and Finland in dropping the moratorium this year. Greece is also expected to drop the blocks, while Germany, Austria and Belgium have announced that they will extend the moratorium. All the remaining EU states have until the end of April to announce their stand on the issue.
Finally, Czech finance magnate Petr Kellner has landed on the prestigious Fortune magazine list of the world's billionaires. Kellner owns the PPF financial group, which includes the Ceska pojistovna insurance company and the Home Credit leasing group. The magazine calculated Kellner's fortune to be worth about three billion dollars, placing him 224th on the list of the world's wealthiest individuals. Kellner is the highest ranked central European on this list and even topped the likes of famous businessmen Donald Trump, Richard Branson and Ted Turner.
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