Daily news summary


PM Sobotka questions proposed VAT cuts

The Czech Finance Ministry’s plans to cut the two existing VAT rates by one percent to 20 and 14 percent, respectively, in 2016 have not been approved by the coalition parties and would have an disproportionate impact on the state budget, Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka has said. Mr Sobotka’s remarks came in a reaction to the daily Mladá fronta Dnes’ report on Wednesday detailing the plans. The Finance Ministry would also like to introduce a third, 10-percent VAT rate next year that would apply to drugs, books, and baby food; the prime minister said this was a reasonable compromise.

EC criticizes Czech restrictions of EU nationals’ political rights

The European Commission announced on Wednesday it would continue its proceedings against the Czech Republic, along with Poland and Latvia, over the countries’ restrictions of EU nationals’ political rights. Under Czech law, citizens of other EU member states are not allowed to join a political party or form their own, and are at a disadvantage to local citizens when exercising their right to stand as candidates in local and European elections. That is contrary to EU law and goes against the principle of non-discrimination on grounds of nationality, according to the European Commission. The Czech Republic and the other two countries now have two months to address the issue or face proceedings at the EU Court of Justice.

Poll: 60 percent of Czechs perceive foreigners as problem

Foreign nationals who moved to the Czech Republic in the past five years are perceived as problematic by 60 percent of Czechs, according to a survey by the CVVM agency released on Wednesday. Meanwhile, some 32 percent of people who took part in the poll said foreigners did not present a problem on the national level. Locally, however, foreign citizens are perceived as problematic by 25 percent of Czechs. The poll also founded that some 70 percent of Czechs believe foreigners permanently residing in the country increased unemployment; 65 percent said they contributed to rising crime levels and 57 percent suggested foreigners presented a health risk.

TOP 09 launch petition against concentration of media ownership as part of Euro elections campaign

As part of their campaign ahead of next month’s European Parliament elections, TOP 09 and the linked Mayors group will gather signatures on a petition calling on the European Commission to pass legislation against excessive concentration of media ownership, Eurozpravy.cz reported. TOP 09 MP Stanislav Polčák said they also want the European Commission to address the question of media owners who are simultaneously in public office. The move seems targeted against billionaire ANO chief Andrej Babiš, who is minister of finance and owns the company behind two of the Czech Republic’s leading newspapers as well as the country’s most listened to radio station.

Average mortgage rates drop to all-time low

The average mortgage interest rate dropped to a historic low of 2.93 percent in January, according to an index compiled by the Fincentrum advisory firm. It is the lowest average rate since 2003 when monitoring began. In March, nearly 8,300 clients took out new mortgages, which was around 2,500 more than in the previous month. The overall volume of new mortgages grew last month to 13.8 billion crowns, some 4.3 billion more than in February. The decrease in rates has been fueled by competition among banks, and could continue for months to come, an analyst for the Fincentrum firm said.

Over 10 percent of Czechs suffer from disabilities

Around 1.07 million people in the Czech Republic, or 10.2 percent of the country’s population, suffer from some form of disability, the Czech Statistical Office said. Since 2007, the percentage of people with disabilities has increased by 0.4 percentage points; however, the average period during which people suffer from disabilities has shortened from 13.6 years in 2007 to 12.4 years. The figures, based on patients’ registers, also suggest an increase in the number of people with innate disabilities; in 2007, 12 percent of disabled people were born with their handicap while this year, it was 14 percent.

Amnesiac found in Norway not planning to return to Czech Republic over fears linked to past

A Czech man found suffering from amnesia in Norway says he is afraid he could be attacked in the Czech Republic in relation to unclear events in his past and wishes to start a new life elsewhere as soon as he has acquired new documents. The man, who is 36 and calls himself John Smith, claimed in an interview for the Norwegian station TV2 that he was involved in a financial crime investigation for four years but was evidently afraid to hand in a report on the matter and left the country. He was discovered in a snow drift in Oslo in December and identified last week after Norwegian police released his picture. They suspect he was the victim of a crime and are conducting an investigation.

Large Bohuslav Reynek exhibit opens in Prague

A large exhibition of works by the graphic artist Bohuslav Reynek opens at Prague’s Waldstein Riding School on Wednesday. Entitled Reynek – A Genius We Were Supposed to Forget, the exhibition presents some 80 graphic pieces by the artist who lived in seclusion in his country house until his death in 1971. Heavily influenced by Catholicism, Reynek’s work was not publicly displayed after the 1948 Communist takeover; his first exhibition under communism was held in 1964. The Prague retrospective, organized by a Czech advertising firm and curated by Reynek’s granddaughter Veronika, runs until the end of July.

Czech Fair Play awards handed out

Hockey player Tomáš Slovák, bike rider David Pabiška and former cyclist Jan Smolík received the Czech Fair Play awards on Wednesday. Škoda Plzeň defenceman Slovák was honoured for admitting to the referee he had deflected a puck out of play during the decisive match of last year’s play-offs finals. David Pabiška, meanwhile, assisted an injured rider during last year’s Dakar Rally; he called a medical helicopter and waited with the injured Italian biker until it arrived. Former cyclist Jan Smolík, who won the international Peace Race event in 1964, received an award for his life-time commitment to fair play principles, the organizers from the Czech Olympic Committee said.

Football: Liberec fire manager Šihlavý

The top Czech division club Slovan Liberec have fired manager Jaroslav Šilhavý. The 52-year-old coach’s contract with the club was to expire at the end of the season but owners dismissed Šilhavý after they learned he was planning to coach regional rival Jablonec. Šihlavý joined Liberec in 2011 and won the league title with the north Bohemian club the following season. This year, Liberec is ranked 5th in the Gambrinus liga with four rounds to go, 26 points behind leaders Sparta.