Daily news summary

Prague to discuss proposal to identify vacant housing units, tax owners

The Prague City Hall coalition will meet on Friday to discuss a controversial proposal to collect anonymous data from electricity meters to identify vacant housing units.

Mayor Zdeněk Hřib said the Pirate Party is considering levying additional taxes on unoccupied apartments. In part, the aim is to give speculative property buyers an incentive to rent out flats rather than leaving them empty until sold.

Coalition partner TOP 09 in particular is against what it sees as any interference with the rights of owners to use their private property as they see fit.

However, given the housing shortage in Prague, Deputy Mayor Petr Hlaváček of TOP 09 said that if the city found that a significant percentage of apartments were vacant, the coalition would have to decide what to do about it.

Imposing such a tax on vacant units would require parliamentary approval.

Czech president begins Austria visit with trip to Danube-Oder canal project site

President Miloš Zeman on Tuesday began a three-day visit to Austria, during which he will visit the construction site of the Danube-Oder Canal, a pet project of his.

The ambitious project, partially begun already in the late 1930s, aims to link the waterways of Austria to Moravia via canals liking the Danube, Oder and Elbe rivers.

Proponents view the centuries-old vision of a canal linking the rivers as a brilliant way to open routes for the landlocked Czech Republic to three seas – a “Suez canal for Bohemia”.

Opponents see it as an exorbitant project of monumental folly that would endanger water quality in all three river basins and erase precious floodplains from the map of Central Europe.

Analysts: Czechs saving more in face of economic slowdown, Brexit fears

Czechs are saving more as they are aware of a projected continued slowdown in economic growth and concerns over the effect of Brexit, according to a survey of analysts by the state news agency ČTK.

The Czech economy is growing at a slower pace than other Visegrad countries, in large part due to a slowdown in Germany, its chief export market.

Last year, Czech GDP slowed to 2.9 percent from 4.5 percent in 2017, according to data released by the Czech Statistical Office (ČSÚ) on Monday.

Nevertheless, Czech household consumption and investment will remain the main drivers of GDP growth, economists say. In part, the higher rate of household savings stems from rising average salaries.

Ivo Schwarz, ex-Czech foreign intelligence head and Amb. to Israel, dies aged 54

Ivo Schwarz, a former ambassador to Israel and the longest-serving head of the Foreign Intelligence Service of the Czech Republic (ÚZSI), has died at the age of 54.

The Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced his death on Twitter. It said he died of leukaemia.

Ivo Schwarz was director of the Office of Foreign Relations and Information from 2007-2014, having assumed several leading posts at the intelligence service since 1999. He was named Ambassador to Israel in October 2014.

Prague mayor to Taiwan president: Human rights more important than a (Chinese) panda

Prague Mayor Zdeněk Hřib (Pirates) told President Tsai Ing-wen of Taiwan during a business trip this week that human rights are of greater importance to Czechs than getting a panda, he wrote on Twitter.

Communist China often gifts pandas to countries that embrace its “one China” policy, which does not recognise Taiwan.

Mayor Hřib, who was attending the Smart City Summit & Expo conference as part of his business trip to Taiwan, was alluding to a diplomatic incident last week.

Minister of Industry and Trade Marta Nováková (on the ANO ticket) bowed to the Chinese ambassador in asking Taiwan’s representative to leave a meeting at her ministry.

Mr Hřib said he and Taiwan’s president had discussed the possibility of direct flights between Prague and Taipei, which he said could facilitate ties. Currently, Taiwan has an Economic and Cultural Office in the Czech Republic but no embassy.

Czech Railways starts direct sales to Prague Airport via bus

Czech Railways has started selling direct tickets to Prague Airport, with the non-rail routes to be served by buses departing from various locations every 10 minutes, rather than every 15 minutes.

The state railways operator will also offer transport to Ostrava's Leoš Janáček Airport, which offers direct train connections from Ostrava and Studenka.

Plans are under discussion to connect the airports to high-speed line between Prague and Dresden, which have yet to be built.

Car-sharing service Anytime launches in Prague

The Italian car-sharing service Anytime has started operating in Prague, it said it in a press release.

Anytime operates on a per minute rental rate. The company plans to invest up to 30 million euros in the Czech Republic in the coming years, it said.

Mortgage lending down 26.9 pct in January-February

Mortgage lending fell by 26.9 percent in the first two months of 2019 to 24.5 billion crowns, according to Czech National Bank figures.

Market analysts attribute the drop to front-loading in the second half of 2018 in anticipation of stricter lending guidelines and higher interest rates.

The average mortgage rate in the Czech Republic has been steadily climbing since reaching a record low of 1.8 percent in December 2016. It stood at 3.0 percent in January.

Meanwhile, consumer bank and credit-union borrowing rose by 7.1 percent in February, to 1.66 trillion crowns.

Weather outlook

The forecast for Wednesday is varied, with thunderstorms likely in the west, sun in the middle of the country, and cloudy skies in the east. Average daytime highs should range between 14 to 20 degrees Celsius.