News in brief for May 19: Czech foreign minister meets Slovak counterpart to discuss Europe's future

The top headlines for the Czech Republic on Friday, May 19, 2023, updated throughout the day to keep you up to speed. Staff ČTK

Written by StaffČTK Published on 19.05.2023 08:49:00 (updated on 19.05.2023) Reading time: 7 minutes

PRAGUE Prague secondary schools see 70-percent increase in applications

Education institute Cermat has found that interest in secondary schools in Prague has increased by about two-thirds since 2017, according to newly published statistics. In Prague, 17,343 applicants applied to study four-year secondary school courses this year, which is 2,210 more than last year.

Cermat says that the recently provided opportunity to submit two applications during the first round of state entrance exams artificially increases the figure. The City of Prague has called on the government to provide the city with more money to help build new schools (and increase teachers’ salaries).

LAW Woman involved in Slovak journalist's murder jailed, man cleared

The Slovak Special Criminal Court has found Alena Zsuzsová guilty of mediating the murder of investigative journalist Jan Kuciak. She has been handed a 25-year jail term. Zsuzsová was an acquaintance of Slovak billionaire and convicted fraudster Marian Kočner who ordered the killing by enlisting others for help. Kočner was today acquitted.

The Special Criminal Court had acquitted Zsuzsová of charges in September 2020, but the Supreme Court canceled the verdict in 2021. The court panel also found Zsuzsová guilty of involvement in the preparation of the planned murder of Maroš Žilinka who is now Slovakia's prosecutor general.

ENVIRONMENT Mining at large Czech quarry will continue until 2033

A coal mining company named Sokolovská uhelná has confirmed this afternoon its intentions to continue operations at its largest quarry in the west of the country until 2032 – all relevant permits have been issued. 

The company expects a gradual slowdown in minding until then. The government has a long-term goal of ending all coal mining in the country within the next 15 years. Czechia reduced its production of hard coal from 11.9 million tons in 2010 to 2.2 million tons in 2021.

POLITICS Lipavský meets with Slovak counterpart, discusses Ukraine

Czech Foreign Minister Jan Lipavský and his newly appointed Slovak counterpart Miroslav Wlachovsky met in Prague this afternoon to discuss the European security situation. Both ministers emphasized the excellent relations between their countries and expressed their commitment to strengthening ties, particularly as younger generations who did not experience Czechoslovakia seek to foster closer cooperation. 

Additionally, they addressed bilateral collaboration and engagement in other Central European forums, while also discussing the security implications of Russia's aggression in Ukraine. They both pledged as much support to Ukraine as feasible. 

POLITICS Govt. media-ownership discussion postponed to June

A meeting in the Chamber of Deputies discussing a law on politicians’ media ownership has been adjourned until mid-June due to obstructions from opposition ANO members of parliament. 

Czechia’s lower house was unable to vote on a bill due to lengthy debate and will attempt to do so again in a few weeks. ANO believes that a change that would forbid politicians from owning media is an indirect attack on former Prime Minister and ANO leader Andrej Babiš. ANO also believes that the move is an “attack” on successful politicians.

sport Football captain Souček – all of Czechia will wish West Ham well

Footballer Tomáš Souček who plays for West Ham United has told journalists that “the whole of the Czech Republic” will be wishing West Ham well after the team on Thursday night secured its progression to the final of the Europa Conference League tournament in which tens of European football clubs compete.

The 28-year-old national team captain said he “was coming home,” as the final will be held in Prague on June 7 (at Slavia Prague’s stadium, where Souček played earlier in his career). Czech defender Vladimír Coufal also plays for West Ham.

BUDGET Vast majority of Czechs opposed to fiscal reform

Although 75 percent of Czechs agree that it is necessary to improve public finances, less than one-tenth agree with the government’s austerity package that was passed this week according to a poll released today by the STEM/MARK agency. 

Around seven in 10 people directly disagree with the measures in the new budget, which sets out to eliminate one value-added tax (VAT) rate and increase taxes for many people. People felt most aggrieved by the increase in social insurance payments for self-employed people and the reintroduction of sickness insurance for employees.

CONSUMERS Czech trade inspectorate recalls faulty iPhone chargers

The Czech Trade Inspection has identified a USB charger available in the domestic market that poses a potential risk of electric shock to consumers. Consequently, an immediate recall of this product has been mandated.

Specifically, the USB charger in question is an OEM charger designed for iPhone devices, and it was found on the market without proper packaging or clear indications of the manufacturer or importer. To ensure consumer safety, the authorities have taken swift action to address this issue.

ECONOMY ČEZ share drop leads to significant market decline

On May 18, the shares of ČEZ Group experienced an eight percent drop, resulting in a market value decline of CZK 46 billion. The reason behind this decline is the government's decision to amend the law, which reduces the required majority of shareholder votes for company transformations. This is not the first instance where the government's actions have impacted the share price of a Czech energy company.

Last year, the government's unclear communication regarding a potential windfall tax on ČEZ caused significant fluctuations in the share value. Analysts and stakeholders, including Tomáš Prouza, advisor to the Minister of Industry and Trade, criticized the government's approach, emphasizing the importance of professional and transparent decision-making processes to maintain a favorable investment environment.

TRANSPORT Florenc metro line C closed this weekend

Due to the reconstruction of the ceiling plate at Florenc station, metro service on part of Prague's C line will be interrupted again this weekend between the main train station Hlavní nádraží and Vltavská. Those stations will be open, but the Florenc station on the C line will be closed.

The C line will run in two sections, from Háje to Hlavní nádraží and Vltavská to Letňany. The temporary interruption of metro service takes place from Saturday, May 20, 2023 (from the start of operations) to Sunday, May 21, 2023 (until the end of operations).

Politics Czech MPs to discuss top politicians' media ownership today

MPs in the Czech Republic are set to vote on tightening the ban on media ownership by high-ranking politicians. The proposal, part of an amendment to the Office for Supervision of the Management of Political Parties and Political Movements, has faced opposition from the ANO movement, causing delays in its discussion. The amendment aims to prevent public officials from bypassing media ownership restrictions by targeting the actual owners of media outlets.

It also seeks to restrict government members from receiving subsidies and investment incentives. The changes are not specifically aimed at ANO leader Andrej Babiš, as claimed by ANO deputies. The government aims to strengthen control and law enforcement functions through the establishment of a new five-member-committee within the supervisory authority. While the vote may not occur today, the coalition government may schedule a fixed date in June.

CRIME National park forest fire suspect arrested

A fire broke out near the Pravčická Gate in Czech Switzerland, close to the German border. Firefighters declared a third-level alarm and located the fire in the afternoon. Nine fire brigades responded, and two will patrol the area overnight. The road between Hřensk and the settlements of Mezná and Mezní Louka is closed.

One person has been arrested in connection with the fire, suspected of general endangerment due to negligence; Seznam Zpravý reported that the young German male was intoxicated. The fire may have been caused by pyrotechnics, and incidents related to alcohol and pyrotechnics are common during Father's Day celebrations Germans observe on May 18. The police and national park rangers are investigating the incident.

PRESIDENT Pavel heads to Germany for official visit on motorbike

President Petr Pavel will be traveling to Germany on a motorcycle, while the First Lady will use a car for their upcoming visit to Bavarian-Czech friendship Weeks. The president's security team is accustomed to such non-standard events, having previously guarded presidents on skis and behind the wheel, reports iDnes and bodyguards on motorbikes will accompany the president.

The couple will depart on Friday morning and return in the afternoon, with plans to visit a porcelain exhibition in Hohenberg.

business Czech pharmacy company sees surge in profits

Dr. Max, a pharmacy chain owned by Penta group, experienced a 10 percent increase in sales last year, reaching nearly CZK 25 billion. The boost in sales was attributed to online sales, as the company expanded its online store and increased the number of participating pharmacies. Dr. Max also opened a central laboratory in Prague to prepare drug substitutes in case of shortages.

Another pharmacy group, Pilulka, saw a significant sales increase of almost 50 percent and expanded into new markets. The profit of Česká Lékárna Holding, which operates in several countries, including Slovakia, Serbia, and Romania, grew by nearly a third to CZK 762.2 million.

CULTURE DocsBarcelona to honor Czech filmmaker Třeštíková

Czech director Helena Třeštíková will be honored at the 26th DocsBarcelona International Documentary Film Festival in Barcelona, opening today, for her lifetime achievements in filmmaking. She will receive the honorary award during the opening night of the festival. Třeštíková, known for her documentary films that follow human lives over extended periods of time, will have three of her films screened during the festival: Katka (2010), Private Universe (2012), and Rene: Prisoner of Freedom (2021).

The director will also lead a masterclass discussing her influential filmography. Třeštíková has made over 50 documentaries and has received various awards for her work, including the Czech Lion and the European Oscar.

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