Daily news summary

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Válková to remain government commissioner for human rights

The government‘s Council for Human Rights has supported Helena Válková in the post of government commissioner for human rights in the wake of a scandal concerning her activities under the communist regime.

Two council members - attorney Tomáš Němeček and Hubert Smekal from the Faculty of Social Studies of Masaryk University – resigned in protest of the outcome of the vote.

Válková, who is accused of having defended laws which the communist authorities used to harass dissidents and co-authored an article with the notorious communist prosecutor who sent Milada Horáková to the gallows, told reporters that she had apparently managed to better explain all the circumstances of her case and had gained support in the council.

The Government Council for Human Rights has 25 members. Fifteen of them are representatives of the Office of the Government, ministries and other institutions. Ten members represent the public, among them the two who resigned. Another member of the council, philosopher Daniel Kroupa, resigned last year when Válková took up her post.

PM Babiš: Czech-Austrian relations sound despite energy dispute

The Czech Republic and Austria enjoy good bilateral relations despite differences in the perception of nuclear energy, Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš and Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz told journalists following bilateral talks in Prague on Thursday.

The heads of government found common ground on a number of issues including migration, security and business and trade.

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz noted at their joint press briefing that the Czech Republic is Austria's largest and most important trading partner in Central and Eastern Europe.

Earlier in the day he attended a meeting with the prime ministers of the Visegrad Four countries (Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland, Hungary) to discuss climate and energy issues.

Chancellor Kurz made it clear that Austria did not like the idea that EU subsidies intended to help member states phase-out coal mining and boost alternate energy sources should be used for nuclear energy.

EPP group calls for European anti-oligarch law over Czech PM Babiš

The European Parliament’s group the European People’s Party wants to initiate a new anti-oligarch law to assure a fairer distribution of EU money. Among other things, it criticizes the dual role of Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš who is involved in EU budget negotiations on behalf of his country and at the same time, is one of the biggest beneficiaries of EU funds in the Czech Republic.

Speaking at a plenary debate on the case of Andrej Babiš’ conflict of interest earlier this week, MEP Monika Hohlmeier, Chairwoman of the Budgetary Control Committee, pointed out that the Agrofert company linked to the Czech Prime Minister is one of the biggest Czech recipients of agricultural fund.

“What we see in the Czech Republic and some other member states is that a couple of oligarchs profit from EU funds at the expense of Czech and other European taxpayers. This is why the EPP Group will initiate a new anti-oligarch law on how a fairer distribution of EU money can be guaranteed,” she said.

Mrs Hohlmeier is due to visit the Czech Republic in February as part of a mission to assess the country’s management of EU funds.

Die Welt: EC led by von der Leyen to change approach to V4 countries

The European Commission headed by Usula von der Leyen wants to change its policy towards the Visegrad Four countries, comprising the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Poland, the German daily Die Welt wrote on Thursday.

Mrs von der Leyen said that while she wants to be uncompromising in questions concerning the rule of law, she also wants to lead a structured dialogue based on mutual respect aimed at diffusing tensions within the European Union.

According to die Welt, the European Commission is unlikely to propose the mandatory migrant-sharing quotas, which have deeply divided the Visegrad Four countries and the other EU member states.

That, it says, could make the Visagrad Four countries more willing to make compromises concerning future EU budget or climate policy.

Digitally restored version of Ecstasy to be screened at Lucerna

The digitally restored version of Ecstasy, a 1933 film by Czechoslovak director Gustav Machatý, is due to be screened at Lucerna cinema in Prague on Friday evening. The screening will be preceded by a performance of the Czech Radio’s Symphony Orchestra. The film, featuring Hedy Lamarr in her first major role, was first screened at the same cinema on January 18, 1933. It was highly controversial in its time because of nude scenes and its portrayal of sexual intercourse and the female orgasm.

Ecstasy was digitally restored by the National Film Archive in cooperation with the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival. Last year, it won an award for best-digitally restored film at the international film festival in Venice.

Following the premiere, the film will go into distribution in cinemas all around the Czech Republic.

Masaryk University researches set out on Antarctica expedition

Nine researchers from Brno’s Masaryk University set out on Friday on a two-month expedition to the Johan Gregor Mendel Polar Station on Antarctica’s James Ross Island. The 11-member international team, including climatologists and ecologists, will be studying the impacts of the climate change on icebergs and Arctic nature. The university-run station opened in 2006 and was named after the Moravian botanist Johann Gregor Mendel.

Another group of scientists will set off to the newly acquired polar base at Nelson Island in the South Shetlands at the end of January.

Weather

Saturday is expected to be mostly overcast with occasional rain or snow showers. Daytime highs are expected to range between -1 and 3 degrees Celsius.