The governing coalition has backed down in the face of concerns expressed by the opposition TOP 09 and ODS parties with regards to crucial civil service reforms. Specifically, at a meeting held late on Wednesday in Prague, it was agreed that a contentious central civil service directorate is to be dropped in favour of a system managed by the Ministry of the Interior. The compromise would see the government approve a civil service chief for a six year term. Civil service reform laws, designed to remove political influences from the government bureaucracy, represent a key reform pledge from the current coalition government. However, trade union groups have criticised the deal, saying such reforms will not lead to de-politicisation. Jiří Dienstbier, Social Democrat minister for human rights and legislature, also slammed the compromise on Thursday, pulling out of any further involvement in the current proposals.
Jan Hamáček, Social Democrat speaker of the lower house of the Czech parliament has stated that unlike the former government, "we will not uncritically approve every policy of the centre-right government of Benyamin Netanyahu." The statement was made to Isaac Herzog, Israeli Labour opposition leader, during his visit to Prague. The comments come as the new president of Israel, Reuven Rivlin, has accepted an invitation by his Czech counterpart Miloš Zeman to visit the country. The timing of the invite by Zeman has been criticized by some observers, who accuse the president of demonstrating an excessively simplistic unflinching support of Israel in light of the recent conflict in the Gaza Strip.
Czech beer producers appeared to face a reprieve from feared retaliatory sanctions from Russia. On Thursday, PM Dmitry Medvedev followed through on announced sanctions by President Vladimir Putin the previous day, listing a specific ban on fruits, vegetables, milk, dairy products, meat and fish imports from the EU as well as US, Norway, Canada and Australia. The ban, in reaction to sanctions imposed by the EU and US over Russian alleged intervention in eastern Ukraine, will last for one year. The head of the Czech Beer and Malt Association had stated a Russian embargo on Czech beer would immediately incur losses of hundreds of millions of crowns, and could lead to job cuts as well. The Czech Republic annually exports some 500 million crowns worth of beer to Russia.
Reacting to retaliatory sanctions announced by Moscow on Thursday, Jan Veleba, former head of the Czech Agrarian Chamber, and currently a serving Senator, said that it may lead to lower domestic fruit and vegetable prices. He noted that given Russia's ban on importing EU fruits and vegetables, major producers such as Germany and Poland will likely flood nearby countries such as the Czech Republic with their now surplus produce. Similar sentiments have also been expressed by Czech Minister of Agriculture Marian Jurečka, with fears expressed over lower prices hitting domestic producers.
The Czech Republic is to create a 5,000 strong semi-professional reserve army as part of legislation set to be approved by the government in the autumn. Such a move has long been on the cards, writes iHned.cz, with the current crisis in the Ukraine exacerbating fears that the country's current roughly 20,000 strong active army personnel would be insufficient in case of a future conflict with a country such as Russia. CZK 450 million is to be set aside for the supplemental force.
A group of scholars from around the world, who had already made arrangements to move to the Czech Republic as part of an Education Ministry research project, have expressed outrage at the last-minute cancellation of the programme. The CZK 1bn. project was backed by EU funds from the Operation Program for Research, Development and Innovation and sought to attract global researchers to set up shop in the Czech Republic. But at the last minute, the programme was suspended, despite many of the participants already having made plans to shift to the Czech Republic. Eight of the eighteen scholars have published an open letter slamming the decision. The ministry has apologised for austerity-induced decision, according to Times Higher Education.
The Czech Ministry of the Interior is preparing legislative proposals to improve readiness in case of a blackout in the capital city Prague. Presently, Interior Minister Milan Chovanec has appointed a working group to examine how Prague could deal with a major power cut and also a disruption of its water supplies. Back in February, a training exercise for just such a scenario was conducted by the emergency services. This resulted in 32 proposals for how to improve readiness - something that the ministry is now in the midst of processing. The proposed measures will be finalised in September.
Customs officials at Václav Havel Airport, Prague, have discovered around 120 grams of amphetamines hidden in a computer laptop sent by post from Mexico. The discovery was made at the end of July, but was only announced on Thursday. According to airports customs spokesperson Šárka Miškovská, the drugs were wrapped in aluminum pouches and intended for a Czech addressee. So far this year, customs officials at Prague airport have intercepted 195 inbound drugs sent via the post, according to ČTK.
Prague Zoo has been named the second most popular zoo in Europe and the seventh most popular in the world, according to a new poll released by TripAdvisor. However, Miroslav Bobek, head of the zoo, was quick to play down the poll result, telling ČTK that a comparative rating of zoos was next to impossible. This year, Prague Zoo has witnessed record visitor numbers. Roughly one million people visit the zoo each year, which has become one of the country's top tourist destinations.
Sparta Prague lost 2:0 to FC Malmö in the second leg of their Champions League third qualification round tie in Sweden on Wednesday night. The Czech club won the first leg 4:2 but lost the tie on the away goal rule, and was knocked out of the completion. Sparta will now enter the fourth qualification round of the Europa League.
My Prague – Rob Cameron
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