Press Review

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The continuing blockades of the Czech-Austrian border, the still fruitless hunt for the escaped killer Jiri Kajinek, and the presidential elections in the United States dominate the headlines in Czech newspapers today.

Today's LIDOVE NOVINY informs its readers about a plan put forward by Czech doctors to offer above-standard services, at a price, as of January 2001. The doctors claim that one third of the Czech population would like to pay for the possibility to have extra care, and that the scheme would not affect ordinary health care. The paper quotes Minister of Labour and Social Affairs Vladimir Spidla, who expressed concerns that standard care will inevitably be affected, since doctors may give priority to the banalities of paying patients over the serious conditions of those who choose not to pay for extra services.

Elsewhere, LIDOVE NOVINY carries an interview with the outgoing US ambassador to the Czech Republic, John Shattuck. He is convinced that traditional ties with Yugoslavia predestine the Czech Republic to play an important role in consolidation of the Balkans and sees the participation of the Czech Republic in democratisation of the Balkans to date as one of the greatest achievements of the Czech government and armed forces. Ambassador Shattuck also assures the Czech Republic that it will receive US support in building its position within NATO, as well as in its efforts to join the European Union.

MLADA FRONTA DNES writes that half of the captains of Czech industry after 1989 are undergoing criminal prosecution. While one of them was arrested just a few days ago, others are already awaiting trial. These people, the paper notes, were entrusted with managing the largest industries in the country after privatisation, but brought their companies to the verge of bankruptcy. The list includes, for example, Lubomir Soudek, the former CEO of Skoda Plzen, Vladimir Stehlik of Poldi Kladno, and Jiri Marousek, the infamous head of the company CKD Holding. Lawyers and economic experts, however, warn that it might be hard to prove them guilty, since the Czech laws that were in force five years ago were full of loopholes and allowed certain property transactions that are illegal in other countries.

The business daily HOSPODARSKE NOVINY warns that indirect taxes, such as consumer tax and VAT are bound to rise in the Czech Republic. A chart indicates that these taxes are lower in the Czech Republic than in many EU countries. The Finance Ministry considers increasing indirect taxes as a way of curbing the widening public finance deficit. The paper writes that the ministry has no intention of reforming the structure of mandatory expenditures, which account for 80 percent of the state budget. However, the paper points out that economic analysts see an overall reform of state expenditures as the only real solution to the growing state budget deficit.

And the same newspaper presents a gloomy prospect for all beer lovers. Growing malt and petrol prices have made some of the largest breweries consider a price hike. The largest Czech beer producer, the Pilsner Urquell group, has been the first to announce a price increase of less than ten percent. But as HOSPODARSKE NOVINY notes, most Czech breweries have been impatiently waiting for Pilsner to take this step, since they too need to compensate for rising costs.