Today's headlines: Daily news refresh for Czechia

The country's top news in brief for the week of Jan. 2-6, 2023.

Expats.cz Staff

Written by Expats.cz Staff Published on 02.01.2023 08:32:00 (updated on 06.01.2023) Reading time: 17 minutes

Jan. 6, 2023

LAW Babiš continues self-defense in court

During the final hearings of today’s Čapí Hnízdo court case, former Prime Minister Andrej Babiš has said that he is being persecuted for his political past.

“I would never be standing here if I had not entered politics. I still do not know why Jana Nagyova [his former assistant] and I are tried in court," Babiš said.

He noted that journalists and politicians had made the former prime minister’s son – with whom Babiš said he once had a “wonderful relationship” – turn against him, leading to Babiš Jr. testifying against his father in court. 

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Babiš noted that his son’s schizophrenic condition affected the veracity of his statements.

INDUSTRY Czech industrial production growth slows

Industrial production growth in Czechia slowed to 0.5 percent year on year in November, data from the Czech Statistical Office shows. This represents a fall from 3.1 percent growth in October.

Analyst at investment company Cyrrus, Vít Hradil, said in ČTK that “a combination of rising costs and declining demand,” is behind the slowdown. The construction industry is among the worst affected areas, owing to rising material prices, a plateau in supplies, and rising energy prices. 

Hradil estimates that December also registered a decline in industrial production.

MEDICINE Antibiotics shortage due to 'excess consumption' – Health Ministry

Deputy Health Minister Jakub Dvořáček has today said that Czechia’s current shortage of antibiotics is mainly caused by the unexpectedly excessive consumption of the drugs, ČTK describes. The issue is prevalent across most of the EU.

In a press conference today, Dvořáček said that a lack of one antibiotic caused others to be prescribed in its place, leading to a “domino effect” of shortages.

"I have never experienced anything like this in my entire career,"  Chairman of the Association of General Practitioners Petr Šonka remarked.

iDnes earlier this week reported that the shortage of the medicine is to last all winter.

LAW Babiš court trial to get verdict on Monday

Closing arguments in the Čapí hnízdo subsidy-fraud court case featuring former Prime Minister Andrej Babiš are to be heard today, before a final verdict is announced Monday, Seznam Zprávy writes. Babiš is accused of illegally claiming an EU subsidy fraud that his company had not been eligible for.

Babiš’s defense lawyer Eduard Bruna emphasized it has not been proven that “the withdrawal of Čapí hnízdo from the Agrofert holding had a causal connection with the receipt of the subsidy.” The connection of the Agrofert corporation with Čapí hnízdo would disqualify the latter's eligibility for a subsidy.

The prosecution accuses Babiš of continuing to co-own Čapí hnízdo, but Bruna states that Babiš “taking an active interest” in the project does not prove any wrongdoing. 

With the presidential election one week away, a verdict charging Babiš will indubitably have negative consequences on his campaign.

EUROPE Czechia to vouch for entry of Bulgaria and Romania into Schengen

Czechia will continue to encourage the acceptance of Romania and Bulgaria into the Schengen area next year, Minister of Interior Vít Rakušan said in a press conference yesterday. He said that Czechia was “disappointed by the attitude of Austria” for being opposed to these countries joining the zone, ČTK reports.

“It is advantageous for our citizens: no queues at the borders inside the Schengen area, no use of passports, an easy trip for the summer holidays," said Rakušan. 

He also commented that the unification of visa agreements for countries in the Western Balkans would help reduce illegal immigrants flowing into Czechia.

CYBERSECURITY Hacking attempts on country's data boxes reported

Hacking attacks have recently been taking place against the country’s data boxes (Datové schránky), announced Minister of Interior Vít Rakušan. However, the security of the data is unaffected, according to ČTK.

“The situation is being resolved, currently the attacks are still ongoing,” said Rakušan on the situation. The newly established National Headquarters against Terrorism, Extremism, and Cybercrime will be tasked with combating the issue.

The attacks come shortly after a coordinated hacking attempt on the website of Czechia’s state railway carrier, České dráhy. The perpetrators are unknown.

Jan. 5, 2023

POLITICS Three-year suspended sentence proposed for ex-PM

Public prosecutor in the Čapí hnízdo subsidy-fraud case Jaroslav Šaroch has recommended a suspended sentence of three years with a five-year probation period and a CZK 10 million fine for former Prime Minister Andrej Babiš, due to his role in illegally claiming a CZK 50 million payment from the EU.

Šaroch believes that Babiš’s multi-billion Agrofert conglomerate was behind the Čapí hnízdo building, thereby making it illegible for an EU subsidy.

The public prosecutor made reference to the testimony of Babiš’s son, who refuted his father’s claim that he signed documentation entrusting him with ownership of Čapí hnízdo. 

The trial continues this afternoon and tomorrow.

ECONOMY Deloitte: Czech economy facing recession in 2023

According to accounting firm Deloitte, the Czech economy this year faces a recession induced by Europe’s energy crisis and inflation. Deloitte predicts that GDP will fall by 1.1 percent in 2023.

Real wages are estimated to fall this year – as in 2022, when they dropped by over 8 percent – and unemployment will broadly stay the same.

Deloitte estimates that average inflation will register 8.5 percent for the whole year. The firm also assessed that the state will collect less revenue in taxes from large corporations than initially expected, negatively affecting the budget balance.

POLITICS Fiala unlikely to revoke nomination of new environment minister

Following President Miloš Zeman’s announcement yesterday that he was not ready to approve the nomination of the proposed new Minister of Environment, Petr Hladík, analysts say that Prime Minister Petr Fiala is unlikely to withdraw Hladík’s nomination.

Hladík is the deputy mayor of Brno, a city in which police last year investigated a widespread corruption case relating to the acquisition of municipal properties. 

Political expert and Charles University lecturer Josef Mlejnek said in ČTK that the current government will likely wait until the new president is sworn in (March) and then appoint Hladík as the new Minister of Environment. Hladík's party leader, Marian Jurečka, voiced his support of his colleague via Twitter.

COMPANIES Amazon to cut thousands of jobs in Europe, affecting Czechia

E-commerce giant Amazon has announced that it plans to cut around 18,000 jobs globally – a decision that may affect employees in Czechia, as the firm has an office in the country.

In a message published today to employees on its website, Amazon said that the layoffs will also affect Europe-based employees. About 10,000 workers are set to be fired. 

“This year’s review has been more difficult given the uncertain economy and that we’ve hired rapidly over the last several years,” wrote CEO Andy Jassy.

Amazon has hired people in Czechia since 2013. Its distribution center near the capital employs over 3,000 permanent workers. Over 1,000 people work in Amazon’s corporate offices in Prague.

DRIVING Government eyes changes to driver-penalty laws

The government yesterday approved a draft amendment that will change penalty laws for road drivers, ČTK writes.

If the amendment is passed, three bands of penalties (two points, four points, and six points) will apply rather than the current five. Drivers caught under the influence of alcohol will be fined six points rather than seven, but will receive a higher cash penalty.

Penalties for less-serious offenses, such as not turning on car lights or parking incorrectly, will have their maximum fine amounts reduced – from CZK 2,000 to CZK 1,500.

LAW Closing arguments to be heard in Čapí hnízdo case

Closing arguments in the Čapí hnízdo subsidy-fraud case of former Prime Minister Andrej Babiš are to be heard today.

Yesterday afternoon, Babiš’s aide at the time of the scandal, Jana Nagyová, categorically denied that any illegalities had been committed when applying for a subsidy from the EU for the Čapí hnízdo building. She said there had been “no reason” to hide anything and “everything had to be absolutely clean.”

She also stated that she had been unaware that Babiš’s wife and brother-in-law had been shareholders of the Čapí hnízdo complex. Babiš yesterday denied managing Čapí hnízdo. A verdict may be announced Friday.

Jan. 4, 2023

ELECTION 2023 'Babiš should not be running for president,' say two front-runners

With nine days left until Czechia’s presidential election, candidates Danuše Nerudová and Petr Pavel both said that former Prime Minister Andrej Babiš should not be running for office because of his ongoing trial, iDnes reported today.

Pavel described the situation as “bizarre,” and Nerudová believes that Babiš is not partaking in presidential election debates because he is “afraid.” The former prime minister did not attend the first debate held by Blesk.cz earlier this week.

Earlier today Babiš announced that he would only feature in one televised debate – held by Nova TV on Jan. 12.

DEFENSE Government commits to higher spending on defense

The government has today approved new legislation that will ensure 2 percent of Czechia’s annual GDP is spent on defense. It may come into effect in July, reports the Associated Press, meaning that it would apply to the 2024 budget.

This would mean that Czechia would increase its current defense spending by CZK 21.5 billion. At present, it spends about 1.5 percent of GDP on the military.

Defense Minister Jana Černochová also today announced plans to change the financing of the army’s strategic projects to ensure greater funding and stability.

HOUSING Issued mortgages decline sharply in 2022

Czech banks paid out a total of CZK 163 billion for mortgages in 2022 – just 40 percent of the 2021 level, ČTK writes. High interest rates and rising inflation are the main reasons according to Chief Executive of Hypoteční banka Martin Vašek.

The number of mortgage applications also fell last year – current mortgage rates are now among the highest they have been for a long time.

"Inflation has apparently reached its peak and its rate will gradually decrease. We can also expect a stagnation of mortgage loan interest rates. In terms of the volume of mortgage loans provided, a stabilized situation can be expected at the level of 2022," Vašek said.

LAW Former PM continues defense in court case

Former Prime Minister Andrej Babiš continued to defend himself in a hearing of the Čapí hnízdo court case today. He is accused of purposefully applying illegally for an EU subsidy for the construction of a multi-purpose complex, known as Čapí hnízdo (or the Stork’s Nest), about 15 years ago.

An expert economist hired by Babiš’s legal team stated that complex cannot be compared to – and did not compete with – other companies belonging to Babiš’s multi-billion Agrofert group. Babiš will likely be convicted if it is found that Čapí hnízdo and other of his businesses operated in the same field.

Babiš also refuted claims that his son was kidnapped. The hearing continues this afternoon.

SOCIETY Czechia marks passing of famous Soviet dissident

Czechia is reacting to the death of Viktor Fajnberg, one of the “brave eight” who protested in Moscow against the invasion of Czechoslovakia as part of the 1968 Warsaw Pact. He was a Russian philologist and well-known Soviet dissident.

He was forced to spend five years in a psychiatric hospital for his actions. He received the Medal of the President of Slovak Republic for his continued display of solidarity with Czechoslovakia.

Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala earlier labeled his actions as “heroic.”

EVENT Czech PM to attend Pope Benedict XVI's Thursday funeral

Prime Minister Petr Fiala has announced that he will represent Czechia in attending Thursday’s funeral of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, who passed away on Dec. 31. Former Prime Minister Václav Klaus will also be in attendance.

"I like his theological and philosophical works, he was one of the leading intellectuals of our time,” Fiala wrote on Twitter Tuesday. 

Fiala met with the pope in June 2022 – the prime minister said that he “was grateful for the opportunity to meet him.”

LAW Čapí hnízdo court case resumes today

The Prague Municipal Court will hold another hearing of the Čapí hnízdo (Stork’s Nest) subsidy-fraud case this morning, involving former Prime Minister Andrej Babiš. 

The court will today hear statements from the defense and assessments given by economic experts. If all the defendants’ evidence is submitted, Babiš and his fellow accused former aide Jana Nagyová could proceed to their closing arguments. 

The verdict is due to be announced very soon; ČTK reports that it could be before the first round of the presidential elections (Jan. 13 and 14).

CRIME Six charged in Czechia for approving Russian invasion

Six people were charged in 2022 over approving Russian aggression in Ukraine, ČTK cites a spokesperson for Czechia’s Supreme Prosecutor's Office (NSZ) as announcing yesterday.

In all but one of the cases, the accused were given punishments ranging from deportation to community work. A CZK 45,000 fine was also issued.

The “approval and justification” of genocide make up the basis for conviction, according to NSZ. Such actions can be made online or in public.

CYBERSPACE Ceské dráhy hit by cyberattack

State railway carrier Ceské dráhy (ČD) was yesterday evening hit by an online hacking attack, the company announced yesterday. Both the ČD website and application experienced outages for about two hours before normal service was resumed after 10 p.m.

We apologize to the passengers for the complications that we could not influence," said ČD spokeswoman Vanda Rajnochová yesterday, as quoted by iDnes.

In December it was reported that attempts to steal personal data online have increased by “hundreds of percent” on a yearly basis in Czechia.

Jan. 3, 2023

ECONOMY State budget posts third-highest deficit in history

Czechia’s posted a budget deficit of CZK 360 billion in 2022, according to Finance Minister Zbyněk Stanjura. This is smaller than the envisaged CZK 375 billion deficit, but is nonetheless the third-largest deficit in the country’s history,  ČT24 reports.

According to Stanjura, increased pension payments, cost-saving energy tariffs (and energy price caps), as well as increased social benefits explained the higher-than-usual state expenditure. Last year, the government spent CZK 768 billion on social benefits and pensions. 

In 2023, the state plans to run a deficit of CZK 295 billion.

ELECTION 2023 Andrej Babiš plays down presidential debates

Presidential candidate and former Prime Minister Andrej Babiš said today that the media wants “to make a show of the presidential election,” when explaining his refusal to appear in the first official debate between candidates today.

He asserted that voters already know his opinions from his time as Minister of Finance and when he led the country, ČTK writes.

Babiš has not yet said whether he will attend the big televised debates scheduled in the next 10 days. Debates are scheduled on various channels on Jan. 8, Jan. 11, and Jan. 12.

POLITICS Petr Fiala praises Czechia's role as Council of EU president

Prime Minister Petr Fiala said at a press conference today that Czechia benefited greatly from its six-month presidency of the Council of the EU, Deník N describes.

“We gained the respect of other countries, which we should use in the future," he said. He also mentioned that Czechia managed 300 different events, 14 councils in the capital, and a visit by the European Commission.

Among the accomplishments of Czechia’s presidency are the setting of gas-price caps and pushing through a pledge to lower polluting emissions.

The presidency cost the country about CZK 2.3 billion.

LEGISLATION Government considers big changes in traffic laws

The government is tomorrow to discuss a major change to Czechia’s Road Traffic Act, ČT24 writes. The proposed new law will simplify the penalty-points system to three bands of points, rather than the current five. It also opens the possibility of lowering the driving age to 17 years (under the supervision of an adult).

Under the suggested new changes, a driver found under the influence of alcohol would be given one less penalty point but a larger cash fine – from a maximum of CZK 20,000 to CZK 25,000.

EVENT Dead mother and son in mountains thought to be murder-suicide

A woman who was yesterday found dead along with her son in the Krkonoše mountains is thought to have committed a murder-suicide, ČTK quotes police spokesperson Iva Kormošova as saying today. The woman was 40 years old, and her son was three.

The woman’s partner had reported the woman and her son missing on Friday, Dec. 30. The woman had visited the same spot last year and nothing out of the ordinary had been noticed.

On the day of the pair’s death, the woman’s son had a lesson booked at a nearby ski school.

WEATHER New weather records set across Czechia

New temperature records for Jan. 2 were set at 90 of the country’s weather stations yesterday, as an unseasonably warm spell saw temperatures reach 18.7 degrees Celsius in Jesenice, Central Bohemia, yesterday.

ČTK reports that over half of all the country’s weather stations exceeded or equaled the national record for the second day of January. The new record set in Jesence was far higher than the previous highest measure, which had been 13.7 degrees Celsius last year.

The weather will continue to be warm – although slightly less so than the past few days – until roughly mid-January, when Czechia will see a return to "real winter" weather.

FOERIGN AFFAIRS Foreign minister of Czechia aims for more collaboration with India

Czechia aims to strengthen its cooperation with India as a way to boost its strategic position against Russia and China, ČTK reports Foreign Minister Jan Lipavský as telling journalists yesterday.

"Above all, India defends its economic interests, which also explains its attitude to the question of economic sanctions," Lipavský told Česká televize when referring to India’s relationship with Russia. India has not yet imposed any sanctions on Moscow.

Through India, the Czech Republic aims to enhance its links with southeast Asia.

SPORT Czech junior hockey team through to world championship semifinals

The Czech under-20 national ice hockey team has progressed to the semifinals of the World Championships in Canada after beating Switzerland 9:1 in the quarterfinal yesterday.

The squad, led by trainer Radim Rulík, will now face Sweden in the semifinal, to be played on Jan. 4, at 15:30 (Atlantic Standard Time). 

The Czech under-20 team last won a world championship medal at the 2005 tournament, when they came home in third place.

Canada are the current holders, and have also won the most under-20 world championships.

Jan. 2, 2023

POLITICS Czech president and prime minister hold new-year meeting

President Miloš Zeman and Prime Minister Petr Fiala with their respective wives, Ivana Zemanová and Jana Fialová, met this afternoon for a final official New Year’s lunch at Lány Castle in Central Bohemia. Zeman told Fiala that the prime minister delivered “a very nice speech,” iDnes reports. Fiala wished Zeman “all the best in the new year.”

According to the presidential spokesman Jiří Ovčáček "there will certainly be an opportunity to discuss current topics" during the meeting. One topic on the agenda will likely be the appointment of Brno Deputy Mayor Petr Hladík to the role of Environment Minister following a property-corruption case in the city.

HEALTH State Institute of Health warns of 'flu epidemic'

The State Institute of Health (SZÚ) has today warned that the “flu epidemic” in Czechia is continuing, ČT24 reports. A week-on-week decline in the number of patients with acute respiratory tract infections is artificially skewed by the Christmas and new-year holidays, according to SZÚ.

"Deaths due to a serious course of influenza infection have been reported mainly in people over the age of 65, in which there were 16 cases," said the institute. At present, there are about 1,660 cases of acute respiratory infections per 100,000 population.

Influenza cases in the 25-64 years age group rose by almost 30 percent.

ELECTION 2023 Petr Pavel holds marginal lead in latest election opinion poll

An opinion poll on the 2023 Czech presidential election by the Median polling agency shows former army general Petr Pavel and former Prime Minister Andrej Babiš virtually tied in popularity, at near 28 percent. Economist and former university rector Danuše Nerudová is a close third, with 25 percent of the vote.

This represents a change from a previous opinion poll by Median, which showed Nerudová as the most-popular candidate and Pavel in third place. A December poll from a different company (STEM) showed that support for the three main candidates was almost level, with Nerudova leading with 27 percent, followed by Babiš and Pavel each on 26.5 percent.

The first round of the election will take place on Jan. 13 and 14.

BREAKING Mother and son found dead in Czech mountains

A mother and her three-year-old son were found dead in the Krkonoše mountain range this afternoon following a search lasting several days, the Czech police have reported.

Jana Kovářová and her son Adam Czudek were last seen on Tuesday, Dec. 27th as they went hiking in the mountain range. Their bodies were found in the Růžová hora area of the mountain.

About 150 people – including policemen and mountain service members from Czechia and Poland – took part in the search.

WEATHER Czechia records warmest January day ever

A new weather record was set yesterday for the warmest January day since records began, data from the Czech Hydrometeorological Institute (ČHMÚ) shows.

Javorník in the Olomouc region registered 19.6 degrees Celsius on Jan. 1, beating the previous record from late January 2002, which had been 18.8 degrees Celsius.

A warm-weather record was also set on New Year’s Eve, following temperatures surpassing 18 degrees Celsius in the country. 

Much warmer-than-usual air flows from northwest Africa are said to be behind the current mild spell, according to ČHMÚ.

ACCIDENTS Fewer road deaths recorded in 2022 than in other years

In 2022 Czechia registered its second-lowest death toll from traffic accidents in the last 60 years, ČTK cites Czech traffic police head Jiří Zlý as saying. 

A total of 468 people lost their lives in road-related accidents in the country last year – two fewer than in 2021. This marks a substantial decline from 1994, when road traffic accidents killed almost 1,473 people. 

Only 2020 has had fewer road deaths than 2022, in part due to lessened traffic as a result of pandemic-related movement restrictions.

SOCIETY Last Czechoslovak chief of staff dies

The last chief of staff in charge of the communist regime in Czechoslovakia, Miroslav Vacek, died on Saturday aged 87, iDnes writes. He served as chief of staff from 1987 to 1989, and from 1986 to 1990 was a member of the Czechoslovak parliament. He served a short stint as defense minister in the late 1980s.

He was elected to the House of Representatives for the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSČM) in 1996, and was the party deputy until 1998.

NEW YEAR Czech firefighters report more fires than usual on New Year's Eve

Firefighters across Czechia responded to 286 fire-related incidents on New Year’s Eve and the early hours of New Year’s Day – an increase of about 20 percent from last year, ČTK reports.

In the first two hours of Jan. 1, 2023, the firefighters’ operations center reported receiving 186 calls, almost the same as in the previous two years combined.

The largest share of fires was “directly related to fireworks, followed by fires in dustbins, containers, ornamental trees, and grass. In the first six hours of the new year, three people were injured in fires," the Czech fire department announced.

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