The Czech government on Wednesday approved an extension of the lease of Swedish Gripen fighters for the Czech Air Force, Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka said. The lease for 14 Jas-39 Gripen aircraft was extended until 2027 with a two-year option; the Czech Republic will pay around 16.5 billion crowns for the deal. Under the new lease, the fighter jets will receive enhanced ground attack capabilities; Sweden will also train 25 Czech pilots and 90 ground personnel during in the course of the contract. The Czech Republic first leased Gripen fighter jets in 2005 amidst allegations of bribery and corruption.
The Czech Republic on Wednesday marked the 15th anniversary of its membership of NATO. Addressing a conference at Prague Castle, President Miloš Zeman criticized the country's low defence spending, and said the ongoing crisis in Ukraine should speed up the establishment of a joint EU defence force. A special guest at the Prague conference is former NATO Secretary General George Robertson, who led the security alliance during the Czech Republic’s first years as a member. Czech Minister of Defence Martin Stropnický wrote on Wednesday that NATO membership was the main Czech goal after the collapse of communism and was a significant and symbolic sign that the country had been accepted as part of the West. The Czech Republic joined alongside Poland and Hungary at a ceremony in Independence, Missouri.
The chief of the Czech army’s general staff, Petr Pavel, has warned that the military is seriously underfunded. Addressing a conference in Prague marking the 15th anniversary of the country’s accession to NATO, General Pavel said the army was below sustainability levels; if the situation is not promptly addressed, the army will lose some of its capabilities, according to the chief of the general staff. This year, the Czech military is set to receive around 43 billion crowns which is some 12 billion less that it needs, according to army officials.
Czech film director Věra Chytilová died in Prague on Wednesday at the age of 85, her family said. A native of Ostrava, Chytilová became a leading figure of the new wave of Czech cinema of the 1960s with films such as Daises and Fruit of Paradies; her best-known later movies include Prefab Story, Calamity, The Jester and the Queen, and others. For many years, Věra Chytilová taught filmmaking at Prague’s FAMU film and TV school. In 1992, she was awarded the French Ordre des Artes et des Lettres, and in 1998, she received the Czech Medal of Merit. She made her last feature film, Pleasant Moments, in 1996.
The authorities in Central Bohemia on Wednesday rejected two appeals against a building permit issued to a contractor working for the US-based online retailer Amazon, paving the way for the construction of Amazon’s distribution centre in Dobrovíz, outside Prague. However, construction will only begin after a contract is signed between the municipality and the developer, a representative of the firm said, adding it was impossible to predict whether the deal would be concluded until the end of the month. Amazon is planning to build another distribution centre outside Brno, a project which also provoked opposition from local inhabitants.
The US House of Representatives has passed a resolution recognising former Czech president Václav Havel’s contribution to the fight against communism, to the Velvet Revolution of November 1989, and entry of the Czech Republic into NATO. The resolution will also result in a bust of Havel joining those of a select few foreign and US leaders in the Congress building. Only three foreign statesmen have previously received such recognition. Havel was already awarded the US’ highest civil award, the medal for freedom, in 2003.
The Czech government has approved 50 million crowns in aid to Ukraine, Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Minister Jiří Dienstbier told reporters on Wednesday. The funds should be allocated to projects aimed at reconstructing health, educational and social facilities as well as infrastructure projects across Ukraine, Mr Dienstbier said. The Czech government may also fund projects in support of Ukraine’s civil society, and provide fellowships to Ukrainian students affected by the crisis, according to the minister.
The Czech Republic’s Energy Regulatory Office has asked the European Commission to review proposed changes to the country’s energy legislation, a spokesman for the regulator said on Wednesday. The Energy Regulatory Office believes the proposal, tabled by Social Democrat MP Milan Urban), is in breach with EU law as it could establish unequal conditions for participants in the energy market. Mr Urban rejected these claims, and said his amendment sought to overhaul the structure of the regulator and reform the methods of price-setting decisions.
The coalition Christian Democrats have announced they last month held talks with representatives of the Sudendeutsche Landsmannschaft, an organisation associating ethnic Germans expelled from post-war Czechoslovakia. In a statement, the Christian Democrats said that party leader and deputy prime minister Pavel Bělobrádek, Culture Minister Daniel Herman and other party officials met with four Landsmannschaft officials to discuss cooperation between the Czech Republic and the German state of Baden-Württemberg, particularly in the area of science and research.
The number of self-employed people decreased by 17,000 to 977,000 last year, according to figures by the Czech Social Security Administration. In 2012, the number of entrepreneurs dropped by 8,000. The highest numbers of self-employed people were registered in Prague with 167,000, followed by the Central Bohemia and Moravia-Silesia regions. Self-employed people and small companies with up to nice employees account for 95 percent of all Czech firms and employ over a third of the country’s total workforce, the Czech News Agency reported.
Prague’s municipal police will increase the number of officers patrolling the centre of the capital, the mayor of the Prague 1 district, Oldřich Lomecký, told reporters on Wednesday. Mr Lomecký said Prague Mayor Tomáš Hudeček promised funds to hire at least 16 officers. The decision comes in a reaction to noise complaints outside bars and clubs in some parts of central Prague. The district of Prague 1 is also planning to ban taxis from certain streets during night to further reduce noise in those areas, the mayor said.
Two Prague restaurants, the Degustation Bohême Bourgeoise and the Alcron, have retained their Michelin stars, according to the 2014 edition of the Michelin guide to Europe released on Wednesday. Both restaurants first received one Michelin star in 2012, a rating they retained last year as well. No other eatery was added to the prestigious list this year; however, five Prague restaurants – Divinis, Aureole, Sasazu, Aromi and Sansho – received the lower Bib Gourmand rating this year from the French company.