Daily news summary

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Czech Republic taking European Commission to court over halting of subsidies for Agrofert

The Czech Republic is taking the European Commission to the European Court of Justice over the freezing of subsidies to Agrofert Holding, Deník N reported. The government approved the lawsuit proposed by the minister of agriculture, Miroslav Toman, on Monday, the news site said.

The subsidies were halted over the possible conflict of interest of Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš, who founded Agrofert. He put the huge company in trust funds but European Commission audits said that he still had control over it.

The deadline for filing the action will expire next Monday, 10 February. The government wants to take the matter to court despite the fact that last week representatives of the European Commission reportedly said during talks with Czech officials that it would eventually reimburse all Agrofert companies’ projects except one costing CZK 1.6 million.

Responding to this, a Ministry of Agriculture spokesperson said it was taking the matter to court as a matter of principle.

ČNB revokes licences of three Prague “zero commission” currency exchange offices

The Czech National Bank (ČNB) has revoked the licences of three currency exchange offices in central Prague for violating new obligations stipulated under the Foreign Exchange Act. It is the first time the Czech central bank has taken such action.

The exchange offices in question are operated by PEMEX change, Exclusive Change, and CHIVAS INVEST. Apart from revoking the licences, the ČNB also imposed fines ranging from 2 million to 3 million crowns on the companies.

The Prague City Council has promised to shut dishonest exchange offices that advertise “zero commission” rates targeting foreign visitors to the Czech capital. In reality, the rates are around 16 crowns to the euro while the official exchange rate set by the ČNB is over 25 crowns per euro.

Two such Chequepoint outlets were closed in November 2018. Prague City councillors said this January they were looking at around two dozen other problematic currency exchange offices which may follow suit.

Exchange offices set their rates independently of the official exchange rates announced by the ČNB. The Foreign Exchange Act allows customers up to three hours to cancel a currency exchange transaction they find to be highly disadvantageous and get their money back.

Inspections by ČNB staff revealed PEMEX change, Exclusive Change, and CHIVAS INVEST posted confusing information on specific, so-called VIP rates, which is expressly prohibited by law. Their exchange rate lists also did state as required by law their customers’ right to cancel the transaction within three hours.

Ukraine foreign minister urges Czech parliament to recognise Holodomor as “genocide”

Foreign Minister of Ukraine Vadym Prystaiko has called on the Czech Parliament to recognize the Holodomor – a man-made starvation of Soviet Ukraine in the 1930s that killed millions of people – as an act of “genocide”.

Prystaiko’s call, which he announced on Twitter, came following a working visit to the Czech Republic on Tuesday, for the first session of the Ukrainian-Czech Forum, opened by the Czech foreign minister Tomáš Petřiček (Social Democrats).

The Holodomor was part of the wider Soviet famine of 1932–33, which affected the major grain-producing areas of the country. Since 2006, it has been recognized by Ukraine and 15 other countries as a genocide carried out by the Soviet government under Stalin.

In a related development, foreign ministers Petřiček and Prystaiko on Tuesday signed a memorandum on the collaboration of the Czech and Ukrainian national historical archives.

Czech government to help China combat coronavirus with material aid and money

The Czech Republic is to purchase CZK 5 million in medical supplies to help China combat the coronavirus emergency, the minister of foreign affairs, Tomáš Petříček, told reporters. He said that acquiring the materials from Czech companies would not threaten the availability of such medical aids on the Czech market. Another CZK 5 million in financial assistance will be donated to the World Health Organisation to help fund its efforts to keep the coronavirus under control.

The Czech prime minister, Andrej Babiš, had earlier said that the country would only help China financially and was not in a position to send medical supplies.

Czech Senate set to elect new chairman in wake of Kubera’s death

Czech Senate party and caucus leaders expect to begin talks on Wednesday towards naming a possible successor to the late Senate chairman and speaker Jaroslav Kubera.

The reported favourites are Miloš Vystrčil (Civic Democrats) and Jiří Růžička (Party of Mayors and Independents). Their respective parties currently represent the strongest groupings in the upper chamber of the Czech parliament.

However, Vystrčil will likely gain support from senators in the Prime Minister's ANO party as well as from the Christian Democratic Party during the vote scheduled for February 19.

Jaroslav Kubera died on January 20 at the age of 72 of heart failure. The Civil Democrat politician was elected to the Senate in 2000 and named speaker of the upper-house in 2018. He was also the mayor of Teplice for over 20 years.

Prague Symphony Orchestra staging ‘Tribute to Beethoven’ to mark 250 years since his birth

The Prague Symphony Orchestra (FOK) is commemorating the 250th anniversary of Beethoven's birthday with concerts on Wednesday and Thursday.

Beethoven was born in late 1770, but the exact date is unknown. The composer was baptised on December 17 of that year.

The Prague Symphony Orchestra performs under the baton of German conductor Michael Sanderling at the Prague Municipal House (Obecní dům).

Apart from works by Beethoven, the programme includes Absolute Jest, a concerto for string quartet and orchestra by American composer John Adams.

Czech photojournalist Roman Vondrouš wins AIPS award for horse-racing series

Czech News Agency (ČTK) photojournalist Roman Vondrouš has been honoured for his series of photos from the world of competitive horse racing.

The international sports press association, known by its French acronym AIPS, presented the award to Vondrouš in Budapest earlier this week.

The Czech photojournalist was among 27 sports photographers rewarded in eight categories, in a competition that considered a total of 1754 works received from 125 countries.

Apart from awards for sports photography, he has also won Czech Press Photo awards in Lifestyle and Daily Life categories, in the years 2018 and 2015, respectively.

Weather

Thursday morning should be clear to partly cloudy, with scattered light snow expected later in the day especially in the Bohemian region. Daytime highs should range from 1 to 5 degrees Celsius.