Action plan finalised to help put underdeveloped Czech regions on new course

Sokolov, photo: CTK

The Czech Republic’s three most underdeveloped and economically disadvantaged regions were this week given a last chance to shape a wide ranging government plan aimed at sparking their revival. In many cases the problems are deep rooted but the government hopes they can be put on a new track.

Jana Mračková Vildumetzová | Photo: Czech Television
A metamorphosis of the butterfly kind, not the Franz Kafka – that is the Czech government target for a wide ranging action plan to help three of its most disadvantaged regions, Karlovy Vary, Ústí, and Moravia-Silesia. This is how the head of the Karlovy Vary region, Jana Vildumetzová, described its specific problems.

ʺWe are really facing a series of problems. These include the lowest number of inhabitants [in any region], which is still falling. We have the worst levels of education, the highest proportion of people with basic education and the least with university education. There is not one single research or scientific institution in our region. Like the other regions, we lack a qualified workforce and higher education is not developing here. We don’t have good transport links with the capital. Regarding unemployment, the rate in the Sokolov district still stands at the high level of 7.0 percent. We also have districts with high levels of social exclusion."

Sokolov,  photo: CTK
The three regions between them have some of the lowest wages rates and highest mortality and unemployment rates in the country. The Karlovary Vary and Ústí regions have probably never fully recovered from the expulsion of their mainly German speaking population at the end of WWII. Moravia-Silesia, an industrial post-war power house for engineering, steel, and hard coal production, has more recent problems as some of these industries shed workers and decline. Ústí’s brown coal industry is also on an inexorable slide.

Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka was accompanied by four other ministers as the government seeks to put the last touches to a wide ranging revival action plan for the three regions. It is the first such wide ranging plan in the country modelled on the experience of other countries such as Austria and Germany. Prime Minister Sobotka said past support had helped avoid the worst but it was now time for a concerted effort to try and turn the regions fortunes around.

Ústí nad Labem,  photo: Romanzazvorka,  CC BY-SA 3.0 Unported
"The past help that was directed to these structurally disadvantaged regions without doubt helped prevent a total social and economic collapse. The trend of a widening gap between these three regions and the rest of the country is still, however, continuing. To turn around this trend we must fundamentally help these regions.ʺ

Some of the ideas are to encourage higher education or research facilities into physiotherapy and balneology in the spa region of Karlovy Vary. Incentives will be given for foreign investment and jobs offering relatively high wages Lithium extraction and the new technologies linked to high performing batteries could be a boost for the Ústí’ and Karlovy Vary regions. In terms of cash, around 42 billion crowns has been earmarked to 2019 for the 65 measures currently being recommended in the action plan. Some of these measures will be regionally specific but most will cover all three. The government hopes to finalize the action plan by the end of this month.