Czech news in brief for February 1: Thursday's top headlines

Interior Ministry announces new security measures in wake of university shooting, German airport personnel strikes to impact Czech flights, and more. Staff ČTK

Written by StaffČTK Published on 01.02.2024 09:07:00 (updated on 01.02.2024) Reading time: 5 minutes

ENERGY ČEZ launches country's largest battery system

The ČEZ Group has today activated the largest battery system in the Czech Republic, located in Ostrava-Vítkovice. With a capacity to meet the daily energy needs of 1300 households, the system plays a crucial role in stabilizing the power grid and maintaining the required electricity parameters. Costing over CZK 200 million, it comprises 1,360 battery modules and utilizes 90 tons of lithium. 

Its unique design, without an internal corridor, allows for a 20 percent higher capacity than standard accumulators. Operating alongside modernized Energocenter gas energy blocks, the system primarily regulates network frequency by supplying or storing electricity as required. 

LEGAL Pavel appoints last of Constitutional Court judges

Czech President Petr Pavel has appointed attorney Milan Hulmák as a new judge of the Constitutional Court in a ceremony held today at Prague Castle. Hulmák’s appointment completes the 15-member team of judges. He replaces Jiří Zemánek, whose 10-year term recently ended. 

The president expressed concerns about the increasing number of political cases being brought before the court, emphasizing the need for impartiality and resilience in the face of pressures from politicians and the media. Pavel believes that Hulmák's expertise will enhance the diverse range of skills and personalities within the Constitutional Court. Hulmák won 51 of 73 votes cast in a secret ballot in the Senate.

society Report outlines Roma-Ukrainian tensions

The Czech Ministry of the Interior has today reported on extremism in the second half of last year, noting an increase in attacks against Ukrainians and the exploitation of real and fictional incidents by misinformers on social media. The extremist scene is dominated by the “anti-system” (or anti-establishment) movement, which often idolizes the Russian regime and disrespects the Czech state. 

Disinformers also 2023 sparked tensions between the Roma and Ukrainian communities, with some radicalization within the Roma community. However, some figures within the Roma community tried to ease the situation. The report also mentions negative attitudes towards Ukrainians, including accusations of criminality and sympathy for Nazism.

EDUCATION Minister moots extension to school applications

Education Minister Mikuláš Bek has assured the Czech public that the technical error in the electronic application system for secondary schools will be fixed and the system will launch as planned. He urges applicants and their parents not to lose faith in the system and to submit their applications once it is up and running. 

Director of Cermat Miroslav Krejčí apologized for the mistake and announced that the system would be operational by Friday night at the latest. Bek also stated that he would consider extending the deadline for application submissions due to technical issues.

ANIMALS Czech birdwatching census soars in January

For the month of January, the Czech Ornithological Society reported that the annual birdwatching census – known as the Bird's Clock – recorded the highest number of observed birds so far, at 792,600. Over 35,000 volunteers participated in the census, with the tit being the most spotted species, with over 88 percent of birdwatchers finding it. 

The census also revealed that the other most frequently seen birds were the field sparrow and house sparrow. Seven in 10 people saw the blue tit, and 69 percent of birdwatchers spotted a blackbird. Ornithologists say that the higher detection of birds is due to the colder weather compared with 12 months ago: low temperatures cause birds to interact more with humans in a bid to be fed.

UKRAINE Czechia welcomes EU's Ukraine aid deal

EU leaders have reached an agreement on providing financial support to Ukraine for the next four years, demonstrating the bloc’s ability to come to a consensus on complex issues. Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala praised the prompt agreement, noting that it was a positive development for the Czech Republic as well. 

This financial aid was part of the EU's multiannual budget, which was approved at a December summit with the involvement of 26 countries. Despite initial hesitation from Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, all 27 member states, including Hungary, have now agreed to it.

Shooting New security measures presented after shooting

Minister of the Interior Vít Rakušan presented a proposal of 33 measures to the State Security Council, addressing the response to last year’s shooting at Charles University. The multi-sector proposal includes enhancing police analytical tools, improving procedures and training, increasing awareness in soft target areas, and preparing a new method for firefighters to provide quick public information.

The plan aims to strengthen security after the tragic December shooting that claimed 14 lives. President Petr Pavel participated in the meeting, showing solidarity in addressing key security decisions. Budget details will be finalized in June.

Education Secondary-school registry system faces glitches

The electronic secondary school application system, scheduled to open on Feb. 1, faced technical glitches this morning. The Center for Assessing Education Results (Cermat) website displayed a notice about the imminent launch without specifying the time. Cermat had hinted at a post-midnight start earlier but kept the exact time undisclosed.

The system allows electronic or paper applications until Feb. 20, offering students three choices for school preferences. The Digital and Information Agency increased system capacity by 45 percent to handle user traffic. Officials urged applicants not to wait until the last minute, emphasizing that the submission time does not affect admission chances.

Economy Tax hikes for tobacco products take effect today

Today marks a 10 percent increase in consumption tax on tobacco products, including cigarettes, cigars, and smoking tobacco, and a 15 percent hike for heated tobacco; excise tax is extended to electronic cigarettes. The move is part of the government’s strategy to stabilize public finances. Tobacco companies estimate an eight-crown rise in cigarette prices and a three-crown increase for heated tobacco.

The consumption tax for electronic cigarettes will be CZK 2.50 per milliliter this year. Excise tax on tobacco products is set to increment annually until 2027, aiming to counter a 6.2 billion-crown decline in last year’s collection attributed to changing consumer preferences towards electronic cigarettes.

Travel Prague flights impacted by German airport strikes

Strikes by security personnel prompted the cancellation of all take-offs at Berlin, Stuttgart, and Hamburg airports, with major disruptions reported across Germany. Only Munich maintained regular flight schedules during the protest, causing flight cancellations for Czech passengers, including the Prague-Düsseldorf route. Domestic air traffic was severely impacted, leading travelers to reschedule or explore alternative transportation.

Some flights were rerouted to different airports with organized bus transfers. Airports such as Berlin Brandenburg, Stuttgart, and Hamburg issued statements advising passengers of the flight cancellations and recommended contacting airlines. The strikes aim to negotiate higher wages for 25,000 airport security employees. The Verdi union is also planning a broader strike for improved regional and urban transport conditions on Friday.

Society Most Czechs support returnables initiatives

A recent Ipsos survey reveals that three-fourths of Czech citizens support the proposed deposit system for PET bottles and cans, which is expected to be implemented by mid-2025. Only one in seven opposes the initiative. The study, conducted in January, highlights the significance of recycling for nine out of ten respondents, with women and younger demographics showing greater interest in container deposits.

Supporters emphasize environmental protection, waste reduction, financial incentives for eco-friendly choices, and raw material reuse. Opponents cite concerns about transporting containers, changes in shopping habits, space requirements at collection points, and doubts about the system’s intentions.

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