Czech news in brief for February 22: Thursday's top headlines

FBI Director visits the Czech Republic today, Smartwings ownership returns to stakeholders, and Czech woman faces jail in Italy for leaving child in car. Staff ČTK

Written by StaffČTK Published on 22.02.2024 07:17:00 (updated on 22.02.2024) Reading time: 5 minutes

STATE FINANCES Pension system registers highest-ever deficit

According to figures from the Finance Ministry, the Czech pay-as-you-go pension system registered a record-high deficit of CZK 72.8 billion in 2023. The state's spending on pensions and administration reached over CZK 692.3 billion, with a 17-percent increase from 2022. 

Meanwhile, revenues from pension insurance fees only grew by 8 percent. Despite two pension increases last year, the government opted for a more modest increase of CZK 15.4 billion due to rising spending. Expenditures have been growing faster than the amount collected over the long term. Last year, they rose by roughly more than 16 percent year on year, while revenues increased by 8 percent.

FARMERS' PROTESTS 2024 Minister praises peaceful farmer protest

Czech Agriculture Minister Marek Výborný praised the peaceful protests by farmers against EU policies, with only minor reservations. He agrees with some of their concerns about bureaucratic burden and excessive checks. Výborný stated that the government coalition partners should present their stance on improving Czech agriculture by the end of the week. 

He also shared his reservations about how some European Commission officials operate and the unmanageable number of inspections for farmers. The EU's Green Deal for Europe, which is being protested by farmers, must have realistic goals, according to Výborný.

MILITARY Czech, EU military heads discuss Ukraine

Czech Chief of Staff General Karel Řehka and Director-General of the EU Military Staff Michiel van der Laan met this afternoon to discuss the Czech Republic's assistance to Ukraine, the strategic importance of the Sahel region (in Africa), and their involvement in EU naval operation Aspides to protect EU vessels in the Red Sea.

Officials briefed Van der Laan on the Czech army's modernization projects and thanked the country for supporting Ukraine against Russian attacks. They also talked about the training of Ukrainian soldiers in the Czech Republic. Last year, the Czech Republic trained 4,000 Ukrainian soldiers through the EU’s assistance mission.

UKRAINE Festival to be held outside Russian embassy

On Feb. 24, a concert called Noise for Ukraine will be held in front of the Russian Embassy in Prague to commemorate the two-year anniversary of Russia's invasion of Ukraine. The event, organized by Martin Štěrba on behalf of the United Islands of Prague and Metronome Prague festivals, will feature performances by Czech and Russian musicians and DJs.

The concert is part of the Day for Ukraine, which includes other cultural events such as a benefit concert and theater productions. In addition, a screening of contemporary Ukrainian films and the release of a book by Russian journalist Yelena Kostuchenko will take place in Prague cinemas. 


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SEXUAL AND GENDER VIOLENCE One in five Czech women have been raped

A survey conducted by the MindBridge Consulting agency in 2023 revealed that in Czechia, 58 percent of women have experienced some form of sexual violence in their lives. Of these, one in five have been raped without their consent – yet only 6 percent reported it to the police. 

The study, which included 5,042 women aged 18-65, also found that 22 percent of women experienced sexual violence before the age of 15. The majority of perpetrators were known to the victims, including close acquaintances. The cost of treating the effects of sexual violence, including psychological consequences and injuries, is estimated to be around CZK 2.3 billion annually.

AGRICULTURE Thousands of Czech farmers join EU-wide protest

Czech farmers, joined by the Czech Agrarian Chamber (AK ČR), are protesting against EU policies, with 3,000 agricultural machinery pieces demonstrating at the borders with Slovakia, Poland, and Germany.

AK ČR President Jan Doležal states that the farmers' situation is "truly desperate," with several thousand joining the European-wide protest. The main concerns include excessive bureaucracy and increased inspections, which have almost doubled between 2022 and 2023. The impact of the Green Deal and the threat of cheap imports from non-EU countries are also contributing factors to the protests, some farmers say.

sanctions Czechia won't issue visas to Russians, Belarusians

Czechia will extend its ban on issuing visas and residence permits to Russians and Belarusians due to the Ukraine invasion, PM Petr Fiala announced. The cabinet, upon the Foreign Ministry's proposal, approved the extension, aiming to support those opposing the Russian and Belarusian regimes. Exceptions exist for certain categories, including family members of Czech or EU citizens and applicants in Czechia's interest.

The ban, previously set until March 31, now lacks a specific end date. Fiala emphasized the need to facilitate opportunities for opposition members and students distancing themselves from these regimes. Existing permits remain unaffected.

Politics FBI Director to talk cyber crime and terrorism

Czech Minister of the Interior Vít Rakušan will meet today with FBI Director Christopher Wray to discuss cooperation in combating cybercrime and terrorism. While details of individual meetings remain undisclosed, the American embassy and Austrian minister confirmed the visit's focus. Discussions may include collaboration between FBI and Czech elite police units, internships, and experience exchanges.

The visit underscores the FBI's global partnerships against evolving threats. Last week's visit marks Wray's first to the Czech Republic in 12 years. Czech involvement in international operations against Russian secret services and recent collaboration with the FBI in a criminal case highlight the significance of transnational cooperation.

Economy Smartwings ownership returns to Czech shareholders

Smartwings Airlines has returned fully to Czech shareholders' control, announced ČTK today. Prague City Air, a Czech company, purchased nearly half of the shares previously held indirectly by Chinese firm CITIC from Smartwings Group owners Jiří Šimán and Roman Vik. The transaction's price remains undisclosed by mutual agreement.

The purchase agreement, completed on Feb. 20, transfers 49.92 percent of Smartwings shares from seller Rainbow Wisdom Investment Limited to buyer Prague City Air. Smartwings now operates entirely under Czech ownership, consolidating control with Czech shareholders, who collectively own 100 percent of shares in ČSA and Smartwings.

Legislation Czech pension reform would raise retirement age

Prime Minister Petr Fiala aims to advance pension reform legislation through the House of Representatives, potentially with majority support from coalition parties. Fiala expressed openness to opposition backing but affirmed the coalition's determination to proceed with reform if necessary, citing the imperative of financial sustainability. The proposal includes gradually raising the retirement age based on life expectancy, recalculating pensions, and introducing a minimum pension.

Discussions are ongoing regarding early retirement for certain professions. The reform seeks to address rising retirement ages and ensure financial viability. The government emphasizes the need for cross-party support to prevent reversal of reforms in future administrations.

Crime Czech holidaymaker faces jail time in Italy

A 40-year-old Czech woman faces prosecution in Trident for leaving her two children unattended in a car while she went skiing. The incident occurred at Passo Brocón ski area earlier this week. The older child eventually left the car, leaving the four-year-old alone for about an hour until police intervened.

The woman claimed the child refused to accompany her. In Italy, leaving a child under 14 unattended is a crime punishable by up to five years in prison, with penalties escalating if harm occurs. Similar cases involving Czech tourists have been reported in recent years, prompting warnings from the Czech consulate in Milan.

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