Daily news summary

Czech government approves joining EU fiscal pact

The center-left government has approved the Czech Republic’s accession to the EU fiscal pact, the CTK news agency reports citing the government’s state secretary for European Affairs Tomáš Prouza. The move is not expected to have immediate economic consequences and the country will be bound to abide by the pact’s budget restrictions only after it joins the euro zone. At present it is seen as a manifestation of the country’s pro-European course and commitment to deeper EU integration. Economists have welcomed the move saying accession to the fiscal pact would enhance budget discipline and prevent future Czech governments from raising debts excessively.

Government aid operation to expats in Ukraine called off

The Czech government will not be providing extensive assistance to Czech expatriates in Ukraine, some of whom have asked to be repatriated to their old homeland for security reasons. Foreign Minister Lubomír Zaorálek said after Monday’s meeting of the Security Council that a team of government experts sent to the region to assess the security situation had not found grounds which would justify a large-scale aid operation or speedy repatriation. The reasons behind the requests for repatriation are reported to have been largely of a social and economic character, Mr. Zaorálek said. A planned visit to the Czech expat community in western Ukraine by the Foreign Ministry’s special commissioner for Czech expatriates Karel Kuhnl has likewise been scrapped.

Press: Finance minister wants ČEZ to pay last year’s entire profit to shareholders

Finance Minister Andrej Babiš wants Czech state-controlled owned energy firm ČEZ to pay all of last year’s profit to its shareholders, the daily Hospodářské noviny reported on Monday. ČEZ posted a net profit of 35.2 billion crowns in 2013. The Czech state, which owns a near 70-percent stake in the firm, would receive around 25 billion crowns, some 10 billion more than the year before. In recent years, ČEZ paid out between 40 and 45 percent of its profits in dividends to shareholders. Mr. Babiš’ plan is to be discussed by coalition parties; a spokesman for the company said the decision was up to shareholders.

Justice Minister Helena Válkova has apologized for insensitive statement relating to war events

Justice Minister Helena Válkova has apologized for making an insensitive statement relating to WWII events. In an interview for the news site Echo 24 Mrs. Válkova strongly condemned the post-war expulsion of 2.5 million Sudeten Germans from Czechoslovakia, saying that while the expulsion was in response to what had taken place before, nothing much had happened to Czechs under the protectorate. The statement sparked a storm of protests from opposition MPs. The center-right TOP 09 and the Civic Democrats said the words were an insult to the thousands of Jews who had suffered and died in concentration camps and a slight to the memory of the victims of Lidice and Ležáky, two villages raised to the ground by the Nazis. Mrs. Válkova explained in a statement that she had uttered the phrase as a comparison to what had happened in Poland or the former Soviet Union and said she should have expressed herself more clearly.

Government approves compensation for scrapped hospital fees

The government has approved a proposal for hospitals to get 2.1 billion crowns in 2014 as compensation for scrapped hospital fees which went to cover food and accommodation services provided to patients. In 2015 hospitals would get 4.2 billion crowns for this purpose. The money would come from a higher state contribution to health insurance for children, pensioners and the unemployed. The proposal still needs to win approval in Parliament and be signed into law by the president. Hospital fees were scrapped as of the start of this year by a ruling of the Constitutional Court which upheld a complaint that they were unconstitutional in view of the fact that patients are already paying health insurance.

Statistics reveal significant gender gap in pay

Statistics reveal a significant gender gap in pay, according to a report by the Labour and Social Affairs Ministry. The figures show that both in the private and public sector women make on average 17 percent less than men in similar positions. The gap is reportedly widest in the 40 to 50 age bracket, where women make on average 23,000 crowns a month, while men make on average 31,000 crowns.

Overall confidence in economy up in March

Overall confidence in the Czech economy grew in March, according to the Czech Statistics Office. Compared to the previous month, the confidence indicator rose by 1.4 points to 6.9 points in March. Entrepreneurs’ confidence in the economy increased by 0.9 points to 10 points while consumers’ confidence index grew from -9 points in February to -5.5 points recorded this month. A survey among consumers also found they are less concerned about possible economic slowdown and their own financial situation; they also showed less concern about rising unemployment.

Finance Ministry curbs outsourcing services costs

The Finance Ministry has ended cooperation with 13 lawyers’ offices which provided the ministry with legal advice and outsourcing services. The ministry said it would use its own lawyers for this purpose, saving an estimated 4.3 million crowns. Finance Minister Andrej Babiš has made it clear he will not tolerate millions of crowns being spent on outsourcing services for tasks that should be handled by the ministry’s own staff. He has moreover ordered an internal reorganization that should further cut administrative costs.

Work on D1 highway expected to slow traffic between Prague and Brno

The modernization of the D1 highway is entering a critical phase on Monday when road workers are expected to gradually close off large sections of the highway channeling traffic into two lanes in each direction. The speed limit along those stretches has been reduced to 80 kms per hour and drivers have been warned to expect pile-ups. The left lane in each direction is moreover only 2.5 meters wide and is not intended for larger vehicles. The situation is expected to worsen next weekend when half of the highway will be closed for repair-work, significantly slowing down the flow of traffic between Prague and Brno.

New charges brought against Czech fugitive Radovan Krejčíř

Police investigating the Czech fugitive Radovan Krejčíř have brought new conspiracy to murder charges against him, linking him to a plan to kill a top crime intelligence officer and a private investigator. Krejčíř had been suspected of involvement in the plans but was not among those charged until the police found evidence that he personally ordered the contract killings. New witnesses have also stepped forward who are willing to give testimony. Krejčíř is currently fighting a number of cases against him in courts across Gauteng. He and three others face charges of kidnapping, assault and attempted murder.