Reform, hesitant economic recovery and blank election calendar beckons for Czechs in 2011

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For many Czechs the election and recession filled 2010 might well have been a year to forget. But what about 2011? Without the aid of a powerful crystal ball, we look ahead at what this year should bring.

I should be writing these predictions armed with a new high visibility reflexive safety vest and first aid chest, not for Radio Prague I should add, though it might be helpful, but as a result of new rules for Czech motorists that came into effect on January 1.

For the rest of the year, a mixture of cautious reform, cautious economic optimism and no planned national elections should set the tone.

School pupils look like having the most testing time in 2011. New national wide school leaving exams should kick in during May after more than 14 years of preparations. New tests will also be introduced for pupils at elementary schools in June or September.

Many schools themselves face an uncertain future this year. Preparations for school mergers and closures could shut as may as 20 percent of schools. The Ministry of Education is putting into effect reforms as part of a wider programme aimed at outlining plans for the ideal school.

Foto: Archiv Radia Praha
On the economic front, there is one certainty the not so often seen 50 crown note will disappear from circulation at the start of April. Regulated rents have also ended for around 400,000 Czechs with lawyers set to be busy for months to come as landlords and tenants haggle over what should be a fair price.

On bigger macroeconomic issues the overall picture is a bit hazy. Most analysts expect economic growth to slow down during the year, thanks in part to the government’s own austerity measures. But while the Finance Ministry sees a soft braking from 2.2 percent to 2.0 percent this year the central bank sees growth almost halving from 2.3 percent to 1.2 percent.

Around 40 percent of major companies surveyed by the business daily Hospodářské noviny say they expect a slight rise in turnover with the same number saying sales will be flat. While three quarters of companies do not expect to lay off staff they are not looking to recruit big time either.

Grim times for the construction sector look set to continue. For example, the ribbon should be cut on just 24 kilometres of new motorway this year, less than half the total in 2010. Housing and commercial building will also be depressed.

For those seeking a move abroad, German and Austrian labour markets will open up to Czech workers from May 1 after the expiry of their derogation from European Union free movement rules.

In the other direction, EU citizens will be able to snap up cheap Czech agricultural land from the start of June after a Czech ban runs its course.

Photo: European Commission
The regular 10 year census of the Czech population takes place from the end of March until the start of April. As well as the usual questions about family size and living conditions, the trawl for new facts and figures will try to put a figure on the number of homeless in the country and also try to put a number of those living in same sex partnerships.

Barring any unexpected earthquakes, 2011 looks like being a bit of a damp squib on the political front. The only major election on the horizon is that for the leadership of the main left of centre opposition party, the Social Democrats, with that issue due to be settled at a party congress in March.