Today's headlines: Daily news refresh for Czechia

The country's top news in brief for the week of Oct. 17-21, 2022.

Expats.cz Staff

Written by Expats.cz Staff Published on 17.10.2022 10:43:00 (updated on 21.10.2022) Reading time: 18 minutes

Oct. 21, 2022

ENVIRONMENT Activists hand climate petition to government

Climate-awareness organization Greenpeace today gave representatives from Czechia’s government a petition signed by 55,000 people requesting the government to better protect the climate, as reported in ČTK.

Larger support for home insulation, energy-saving initiatives and the development of renewable-energy sources were some of the issues raised in the petition. 

"Current measures to reduce global emissions are not sufficient to limit global warming. The climate crisis has already resulted in extreme droughts, typhoons and floods, and therefore the international community must do more to solve it," said Miriam Macurová, co-ordinator of the Greenpeace climate campaign.

A climate-related protest took place in Prague’s Old Town Square earlier afternoon, as part of the Eastern European Climate Strike. European reliance on Russia for energy was one of the themes of the protest.

ELECTIONS Almost half of Czech voters have no favorite for presidential election

Less than three months before the first round of Czechia’s presidential election, 44 percent of Czech voters have no favorite among the announced candidates, according to a poll by the STEM/MARK polling agency released today to Aktualne.cz.

However, the share of undecided voters has been gradually decreasing, the poll taken in late September and early October found.

General Petr Pavel leads recent presidential opinion polls, with former Prime Minister Andrej Babiš – who has not yet announced his candidacy – trailing him. Danuše Nerudová, a former university head, polls in third.

"The fact that less than three months before the elections, almost half of voters have not yet chosen a favorite, may send a certain message about the quality of the present candidates," STEM/MARK director Jan Tucek said.

Voters who were undecided tended to fall in the 45-60 age category and were people whose living standards substantially worsened in the past three months.

ENERGY EU leaders announce plans to combat high energy prices

President of the European Council, Charles Michel, announced today that EU leaders have decided on action to take against high energy prices in the bloc.

Voluntary joint purchases of fuel, capping of gas prices and a price-correction measure in case of exceptional price growth were among the measures discussed, according to ČTK.

Energy inflation in the eurozone rose by a striking 40.7 percent year on year in September, as was reported by Euronews.

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A point of contention during the meeting was the capping of gas prices. Germany in particular rejects the notion of a price ceiling, despite the fact that a majority of EU countries favor its introduction. 

"I firmly believe that we will feel the results of this agreement very soon," said Michel after the 10-hour meeting. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said  that "we [EU heads of state] now have very good leads to continue working on the issue of energy prices.” She noted that the Commission will present its proposals formally next Tuesday.

MEDICINE Czechia faces penicillin shortage

Penicillin, one of the world’s most-used antibiotic drugs, is in short supply in the country. Many pharmacies across Chzecia can no longer access it. “Those who don’t have it cannot order it because it is not available,” notes the spokesperson of the Czech Chamber of Pharmacists, Michaela Bažantová, in Aktualne.cz.

Bažantová notes that the cause of the shortage is a supply-side failure on the side of Czech production companies who are making the drugs within the country’s borders.

Although doctors can prescribe other similar antibiotics for patients’ ailments, this carries risks, says Chairman of the Association of General Practitioners, Petr Šonka. According to him, other antibiotics should be used only for specific causes, and not as a general “replacement” treatment.

Czechia’s State Institute for Drug Control expects the resumption of normal supply in late November or early December.

POLITICS CZK 18 billion budgeted for rise in state employees' salaries

In 2023, almost CZK 18 billion extra will be spent on the salaries of state employees from the state budget, as written in ČTK.

The number of state jobs available is also estimated to rise by 7,961 vacancies, and the average monthly gross salary for the public sector will increase by about CZK 2,361, from CZK 40,571 currently.

Politicians and judges will benefit from the highest increase in state salaries, with a year-on-year rise of 12.7 percent.

The salaries of soldiers and other members of the security forces will rise by ten percent from Jan. 1. A total of 600 extra positions will be added in the Ministry of Defense.

POLITICS Czech Deputy Prime Minister to temporarily head environment ministry

Prime Minister Petr Fiala has asked his deputy, Marian Jurečka, to lead the Ministry of Environment temporarily from the end of this month, ČTK reports.

The originally nominated candidate for the position and current Deputy Mayor of Brno, Petr Hladík, was earlier this week questioned by police over a wide-scale subsidy and corruption case in Brno regarding the privatization of municipal flats.

Earlier this week police entered the Brno Town Hall and other administrative buildings in an investigation into the falsification of documents when trying to purchase apartment buildings. Seven people are currently in custody, according to Brno police.

Hladík’s party, the KDU-ČSL, supports him and do not plan to impose any punishment.

"For me personally, the fact that someone is approached by the police, goes to give an explanation, or makes available a tour of his office and his correspondence, is not a reason for me to remove a person from political and public life," said Jurečka, who also is head of the KDU-ČSL.

Oct. 20, 2022

RUSSIA Top Czech politician calls for special Russia-Ukraine criminal tribunal

Speaker Markéta Pekarová Adamová of the Chamber of Deputies is calling for the creation of an international criminal tribunal for crimes of Russian aggression in Ukraine, ČTK reports.

"Mapping and information on war crimes is essential, because sooner or later the perpetrators must be punished. And in this context, I want to support and call for the establishment of an ad hoc international criminal tribunal for crimes of aggression in Ukraine," said Adamová.

The European Union has not yet issued formal plans to establish a tribunal solely for the Russia-Ukraine conflict and encourages Ukraine to direct matters to the International Criminal Court.

TRANSPORT Two dead in Central Bohemia train accident

Two men tragically died this morning after a van collided with a passenger train at a crossing near Kostelec nad Labem in Mělnicko, Central Bohemia.

A third man, the driver of the van, is in a serious condition and receiving treatment at the University Hospital of Královské Vinohrady. One passenger on the train is also reported to be injured. The police are investigating the cause and circumstances of the accident, as reported by ČTK.

The estimated damage to the train is CZK 200,000, according to an inspector of the Czech railways, Martin Drápal.

POLITICS Mayor of Brno re-elected amid city-wide investigation

Markéta Vaňková of the Civic Democrats was re-elected as the mayor of Brno today. She will continue in office as part of a broad coalition consisting of the Civic Democrats, TOP 09, ANO, KDU-ČSL, STAN and the ČSSD. The coalition has 42 mandates out of a total of 55.

The Pirate Party had been part of plans to join the coalition but pulled out earlier this week after a police raid in Brno investigating large-scale subsidy fraud and corruption in the purchase of municipal buildings. Petr Hladík, the deputy mayor of Brno, was questioned by police after authorities searched his office and computer equipment. 

This will be Vaňková’s second term as Brno mayor, after assuming the position in 2018.

COVID Former Czech PM announces Covid diagnosis on Instagram

Former Czech PM Andrej Babiš has announced that he has Covid. The former PM took to Instagram to share the news with his followers.

"For the first time in a while. Honestly not feeling too well right now, had a fever this morning and a headache. I need to lie down. My doctor ordered me isolation until Wednesday."

Testimony in Babiš's fraud-subsidy trial resumed earlier this week. Babiš who has been vaccinated against the virus with three doses since last October was the first person in the Czech Republic to receive a jab.

Politics Czech ambassador summoned over Czech House disagreement

The Russian Foreign Ministry Wednesday summoned Czech ambassador Vitezslav Pivonka due to the alleged escalation of the situation related to the Czech House in Moscow by Czech supreme representatives, the Russian news agency TASS writes.

Russian authorities had part of the fence of the Czech House in Moscow removed, which the Czech Foreign Ministry considers a serious violation of its property, and Prime Minister Petr Fiala says the move won't go unanswered. The Russian ministry pointed out that the situation with the fence of the land around the Czech House has a long history and has no connection with the current state of bilateral relations. The premises are the largest owned by the Czech Republic abroad.

Economy More Czech companies can draw support amid energy crisis

Following a Wednesday govt. the meeting, Minister of Industry and Trade Jozef Síkela announced that support will be given to more large companies in the face of rising energy costs, reports ČTK The government will extend its aid program to all sectors of the economy. Support will not be given to sectors that are subject to a tax on windfall profits and to businesses that are subject to ceilings on electricity and gas prices. The government is negotiating the extension of the program until the end of 2023.

INNOVATION Czech govt. supports building of gigafactory

The Czech govt. announced that it supports a plan to build an area for the production of batteries for electric cars that would bring in tens of billions to the Czech economy, reports iDnes.cz. The factory could feasibly be built at the reserve army airport near Pilsen. According to preliminary information, the state is prepared to invest CZK 9 billion in the eventual creation of an industrial zone. Prime Minister Petr Fiala will inform the management of the Volkswagen Group, which is considering Czechia as one of the three locations for its so-called gigafactory.

Oct. 19, 2022

POLITICS Politicians' and state officials' salaries to increase from 2023

Labor and Social Affairs Minister Marian Jurečka announced Tuesday that he does not plan to further freeze the salaries of constitutional officials for next year, as written in Novinky.cz.

At present, politicians, judges and public prosecutors have their salaries frozen at 2020 levels. These salary figures come before the Russian war-induced jump in year-on-year inflation in Czechia, which now stands at 18 percent.

The gross monthly salary of an ordinary member of parliament (with no extra titles) will rise from CZK 90,800 to CZK 102,000 crowns from January 2023, as reported by the daily news source Právo.

 

The salary of the prime minister, and the presidents of the House of Representatives and the Senate, will increase from CZK 243,000 to CZK 274,000 per month. The president of Czechia will stand to earn CZK 341,000 from 2023 - excluding compensation.

The salary freeze that is currently in place since February of this year has been unpopular among state officials - it is currently facing a lawsuit in the Constitutional Court.

POLITICS Government approves amendment to state budget

The Chamber of Deputies passed an amendment to the state budget Monday, agreeing to a widening of the deficit. The budget deficit will now be CZK 375 billion, from CZK 280 billion.

The new figure is CZK 45 billion more than the original proposal, and CZK 95 billion higher than the deficit of the original February state budget.

Prime Minister Petr Fiala considers the increased budget justified, ČTK writes. He cited the impacts of the war in Ukraine, which began after the original budget was prepared, and the growing costs of living caused by high inflation and high energy prices as reasons for the amendment. 

ELECTIONS Member of parliament quits ANO after promoting rival party

An ANO politician, Romana Fischerová, has announced that she is leaving the party.

This comes after sending mass messages on WhatsApp, a mobile communications application, encouraging people to support a candidate from an opposition party in the September municipal elections.

“I made a mistake,” said Fischerová earlier this week as she recounted promoting a member of the rival Civic Democrats (ODS), instead of ANO’s own candidate, Milan Pour, who was standing for office in Milovice, central Bohemia.

Fischerová has had long-standing disputes with Pour regarding ANO’s internal affairs in the central Bohemian region.

She will keep her position as a member of the Chamber of Deputies, writes Seznam Zprávy.

Oct. 18, 2022

POLITICS Deputy Mayor of Brno questioned by police amid raids

Petr Hladík, the First Deputy Mayor of Brno and the proposed new Minister of the Environment for the Christian Democrats (KDU-ČSL), was questioned by police for information about a wide-scale fraud operation concerning the privatization of municipal buildings in Brno. 

Police raids took place in the city today investigating cases of corruption and fraud. 10 people have been detained thus far, Seznam Zprávy reports.

"The subject of the investigation is the activities that took place in connection with the activities of a specific municipal company and also in connection with the privatization of townhouses in Brno, and subsidy fraud committed," Petra Lastovecká of the High Prosecutor's Office said.

Leader of the KDU-ČSL Marian Jurečka has asked to postpone Hladík's scheduled meeting with President Miloš Zeman, due to take place Thursday.

Jurečka has said that he and his party will discuss Hladík's suitability as the next Minister of Environment in the coming days. However, the party leader noted his belief that Hladík has no intention of causing problems for the government, when speaking to journalists at Prague's Chamber of Deputies today.

RUSSIA Removal of fence section at Czech House in Moscow sparks anger

The surprise removal of part of a fence at the Czech House, a Czech governmental building in Russia, has prompted irritation in Czechia.

National Czech television channels yesterday reported that Russian authorities Monday night removed part of the fence of the Czech House in Moscow, arguing that fence construction had not been permitted.

The Czech House is the largest foreign compound owned by Czechia and makes up a part of the Czech embassy in Russia. It has been largely vacant since the Czech government's decision to suspend regular operations in protest against Russian, anti-Ukrainian aggression.

The Czech Foreign Ministry has released a statement considering the move a serious violation of its property.

ELECTIONS Petr Pavel ranks first in presidential opinion poll

General Petr Pavel would win the first round of the Czech presidential election (to take place in mid-January 2023) with 27.7 percent of the vote, according to a survey by Ipsos polling agency, reported by ČTK.

Former Prime Minister Andrej Babiš came second in the survey, with 23.3 percent. Danuše Nerudová, the former head of Mendel University in Brno, was third-most popular, with 16.9 percent.

Compared with a July poll by Ipsos, Pavel improved upon his position by 4.1 percent. Babiš's performance tanked, with support of the former leader declining by 8.4 percent.

A survey by a different pollster (Median agency) also found Pavel beating Babiš in terms of preference.

It is still uncertain as to whether Babiš will even run for president, with him failing to confirm his candidacy as of yet.

TRAFFIC Multi-vehicle collision causes disruption in Prague

A multi-vehicle accident took place on Palackého náměstí in Prague this morning, ČTK reports. It occurred at about 8:30 a.m Tuesday morning near Palackého bridge in the Prague 2 district.

According to the police, six cars were damaged in the accident. Five people were injured, but no one is in critical condition.

"We are now taking care of five injured people from the crashed cars. Fortunately, none of them are in a critical life-threatening condition, they are all conscious," the ambulance service tweeted, following the crash Tuesday morning. Police recommend that drivers avoid the scene of the accident to avoid undue delays.

COVID-19 Public interest in Covid-19 revaccination increases

Numbers of people getting revaccinated against Covid-19 was almost 2.5 times higher in the last week compared with end-August, according to data from the Health Ministry.

On Oct. 14, health workers administered more than 20,000 doses - mostly booster doses. This amount is the highest since February, when the first wave of revaccination ended.

Since it became available on Sept. 21, more than 107,000 people have received another booster dose as part of the revaccination campaign, and almost half of them received it last week.

Over 18 million vaccine doses have been administered in Czechia since the start of the pandemic, according to covidvax.live. The Pfizer vaccine is by far the most popular, followed by Moderna.

ELECTION Former head of Charles University to run for president

Tomáš Zima, a previous rector of Czechia’s oldest university, collected the necessary number of signatures for the January presidential election. He has 13 senators’ signatures, and the required minimum is ten, Deník.cz writes.

He is also collecting signatures from citizens: Zima states that he has about 37,000, with 50,000 being required. However, as he has a sufficient amount of signatures from Czech senators, he can still run for president if he does not reach this number.

The first round of the presidential election will take place in mid-January 2023. 

The deadline to nominate oneself as a candidate for the presidency is not far away. Potential candidates have to secure provisional support from citizens until Nov. 8th.  

Speculation continues as to whether former Prime Minister Andrej Babiš will run for election. Petr Pavel, a former army general, is presently the favorite to win the election according to polling agency Median.

DEFENSE Czechia negotiating purchase of new F-35 aircraft

Czechia is in talks about the possible purchase of F-35 combat aircraft with the U.S. administration, the Czech Defense Ministry told ČTK

The Czech government decided earlier this year that the country would like to get 24 F-35 fighters. The "F-35 Lightning II" is a high-powered combat aircraft manufactured by the U.S. Czechia entrusted Defense Minister Jana Černochová with negotiating with the U.S. about the details of the purchase by October 2023. 

The government will decide whether the F-35s would replace the Gripen fighters that the Czech military is currently using. The Gripens are a Swedish aircraft that have been leased from the Scandinavian country until 2027. 

The Ministry of Defense decided earlier this year that it would add an extra CZK 1 billion to its budget, according to CZdefence.com. Czechia will also receive USD 106 million (about CZK 2.7 billion) from the U.S. for its military modernization.

Oct. 17, 2022

LEGAL Czech judiciary grossly underpaid, according to court chairpersons

Chairpersons of the Czech judiciary have said that the national judiciary is facing a collapse, as it has long been underfunded. In a statement to the Czech Supreme Court, it said that court employees' salaries are "desperately low" despite the repeated promises by the government to increase them, reported iRozhlas.cz.

"The starting gross salaries of between CZK 20,000 and 23,000 are not only undignified, but above all, they prevent courts from securing their personnel. The average pay in the judiciary is about CZK 10,000 lower than that in the public sector," the judges’ representatives complained.

Lower pay may save the state money, but will have unwelcome side effects relating to efficiency and output, according to the chairpersons.

"The lack of [good-]quality staff will be reflected not just in the length of proceedings and subsequent rise in the level of compensation for delay, but also in security risks and overall worsening of the protection of the rights and freedoms of this country's inhabitants," the court chairs concluded.

HEALTH Doctors want higher price rise of medical services

The Czech Medical Chamber (CLK) disagrees with the government’s draft law that provides healthcare facilities an 8-percent year-on-year increase in reimbursements from insurance companies, insisting instead on a 13-percent rise, CLK president Milan Kubek wrote in a letter to Prime Minister Petr Fiala, as per EuroZprávy.cz.

Healthcare workers, out-patient specialists and hospitals all must deal with the rising prices of goods and services, he wrote. This, therefore, makes the proposed 8-percent increase in reimbursements insufficient. 

"With regard to the year-on-year inflation rate of 17 percent, not even private doctors can ignore the justified demand...by the health staff for a 15-percent increase in the base pay," Kubek mentioned.

SECURITY Czech counter-intelligence: China a real threat

According to the Czech Security Information Service (BIS), China represents a growing complex intelligence threat," writes ČTK. China has held an active interest, for example, in political developments in Czechia or in post-election scenarios, found in the BIS's recent security report. 

This may explain the operations of two "unofficial police stations" in Prague, which could be "an attempt to gain control over their [China's] own diaspora in the Czech Republic," noted Ladislav Šticha, a counterintelligence spokesman for the BIS, in Deník N. Representatives of these stations deny any malicious activity.

The BIS warns against Chinese acquisitions of Czech firms and against efforts to transfer production to China in order to safeguard sensitive technologies and data. Prime Minister Petr Fiala thanked today the work of the BIS in their threat-detection activities.

PRAGUE First stage of Barrandov Bridge repair is complete

The first stage of the reconstruction of Prague's Barrandov Bridge, which began in mid-May, has ended. Drivers can once again access the bridge in all directions. Deputy Mayor Adam Scheinherr tweeted that aside from minor work to be done on the northern part of the bridge the "reconstruction of the century" has completed its first stage.

"Barrandovský bridge is reopened. We have successfully completed the first stage of the reconstruction of the century - after 40 years of operation, the Barrandovský most has finally received its first proper repair and you can drive on the Barrandovský most again in all directions," Scheinherr wrote on Twitter.

CORRUPTION Subsidy-fraud case against former Czech PM resumes today

The Stork's Nest (Čapí hnízdo) hearing resumed on Monday morning. The case will continue at the Municipal Court in Prague with Agrofert's financial director Petra Procházková scheduled to testify today.

The outcome of the subsidy fraud case against the former Prime Minister, Andrej Babiš, and his aide, Jana Nagyová, aims to determine three things: whether the ownership of the farm at the time subsidies were received; whether the farm was a small business that was eligible for a subsidy; and whether it was connected to the former PM's Aagrofert holdings.

Babiš stands accused of assisting in EU subsidy fraud for his role in the Čapí hnízdo affair in 2007. His former adviser Jana Nagyová is meanwhile accused of subsidy fraud and damaging the financial interests of the European Union.

ECONOMY Inflation in Czechia among highest in EU

Czechia's recorded year-on-year inflation of 18 percent in September was almost the highest rate in the whole bloc. Only the Baltic states and Hungary posted higher inflation figures, as reported by ČTK. Average annual inflation for the whole eurozone was at 10 percent. In January 2022, it was significantly lower, at 5.1 percent. Out of the whole Visegrad Group, Slovakia posted the lowest inflation rate, at 14.2 percent.

To respond to the worsening situation, the European Central Bank will probably increase the base interest rate in the eurozone, now 1.25 percent, at its monetary meeting in two weeks.

IMMIGRATION Border controls on Slovak border will continue

Minister of the Interior Vít Rakušan has stated that border checks on Czechia's border with Slovakia will continue after Oct. 28th. The border-control measures, which had been imposed on Sept. 29th, were introduced to stem the tide of illegal refugees entering Czechia - usually making their way via the Balkans and into western Europe.

Rakušan has noted that the government has the option to extend the deadline by one more month, to Nov. 28th. He did not exclude the possibility of border checks continuing beyond then, reports Novinky.cz.

The number of refugees entering the EU illegally increased by 70 percent on a year-on-year basis from January 2022 to the end of September.

ECONOMY Czech-German Economic Forum takes place today

Representatives of Czech and German firms will meet at the Czech-German Economic forum in Prague today, ČTK reports. The main topic will be the transformation of energy, industry and foreign trade.

Czech Minister of Industry and Trade Josef Síkela will also feature in the conference. Ministers will discuss the European response to high energy prices and how to help companies during this tricky period.

This comes amid 18 percent year-on-year inflation in Czechia in September. Natural-gas prices in the country increased by a seismic 85.9 percent year on year, according to September data from the Czech Statistical Office.

 Other topics will include digitization, supply chains and sustainability.

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