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18-08-2014 17:57 | Chris Johnstone

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Government working group meets on Ukraine crisis sanctions impact

Czech government experts will meet for a second time on Monday to get to grips with the impact of trade sanctions caused by the Ukraine crisis on the local economy and what steps can be taken to cushion the blow for companies. Short and long term measures to help exporters are being prepared with the meeting expected to yield firm proposals for action. Russia responded to European Union and other sanctions with a blanket ban on European food exports to the country. Prague is also hoping that help for affected agricultural producers could come from Brussels.

State support for short time workers sought by sanctions group

One of the recommendations that the government sanctions working group has come up with is the introduction of a Czech framework of state support for firms which choose to cut workers’ hours due to a crisis or emergency rather than laying them off, Secretary of State for European Affairs Tomáš Prouza announced. Some of the initial costs for such a mechanism should be covered by European funds and should hopefully be put in place by the start of 2015, according to the head of the Confederation of Industry in the Czech Republic Jaroslav Hanák. Head of the biggest confederation of trades unions, Josef Středula said that such a move had been sought for the last seven years but had been blocked by former centre-right governments. The recommendations will be polished over the next week and should be put to the government by the end of the month.

Czech food companies see sanctions costing more than 250 million crowns by year end

Czech food producers on Monday estimated that Russian sanctions could cost them 250 million to 300 million crowns by the end of this year. The biggest impact is expected to be felt by producers of dairy products with dried milk and cheese among the main exports to Russia. Czech producers also fear the impact of goods from other EU countries being diverted to the Czech market forcing food prices and their earnings lower. Companies selling rabbit meat, meat pastes, poultry meat and butter are also expected to be hard hit.

President says civil service law veto hangs on changes to rules on deputy ministers

President Miloš Zeman will not veto the government’s proposed new civil service bill but only as long as changes are made ensuring that deputy ministers are no longer political appointments. If these changes were no forthcoming then the presidential veto would almost certainly be used, the president’s spokesman Jiří Ovčáček announced on Monday. Talks between the president and government would take place aimed at resolving their differences over the new law aimed at paving the way for a non-politicized and professional civil service, the spokesman added. No precise dates have yet been fixed, Ovčáček said. The new law should be in place by the start of next year with Prague under heavy pressure from the European Union in Brussels to push through the long delayed measure. Deputy ministers are frequently political appointments under the current Czech system.

Agricultural goods get cheaper while prices of industrial goods rise slightly

Farmers and service providers are continuing to curb inflation according to the latest figures from the Czech Statistical Office. Prices of agricultural products in July dropped by 2.5 percent over the month with the prices of market services falling by 0.6 percent. Prices of goods at factory gates on the other hand rose by a modest 0.3 percent and construction prices were unchanged. Over the last year, costs of agricultural products are down by just over 3.0 percent and industrial goods are almost unchanged.

Asylum applications from Ukrainians already passed 2013 total

Asylum applications from Ukrainians in the Czech Republic have jumped this year due to the crisis in the country. The Ministry of Interior says applications so far this year total 250, that is already a third higher than for the whole of 2013. It added that applications from Ukrainians are currently running at their highest level for the past six years. The current applicants include some of the injured who were airlifted to the Czech Republic in special humanitarian flights. Ukrainians already represent one of the biggest foreign communities in the Czech Republic with an estimated 112,000 living here according to the statistical office. The United Nations estimates 10,000 Ukrainians have left their homes due to the conflict, most of them relocating to safer parts of the country.

Prague honour for František Kriegl divides local council

Prague 2 district council is scheduled to debate next week a controversial proposal to make 1968 invasion hero František Kriegl an honorary citizen. Kriegl stood out in 1968 as the sole member of a government delegation who refused to sign a declaration under Soviet pressure approving the Warsaw Pact invasion of former Czechoslovakia once it was completed. The proposal from independent councillor Michal Uhl has divided the council. Centre-right members of the Civic Democrats and TOP 09 have pointed to Kriegl’s active involvement in the so-called Prague putsch which brought the Communist Party to power in February 1948. Kriegl, who joined the party in the 1930s and participated in the Spanish civil war, died in Prague in 1979.

Complaints about foreign exchange bureaus continue

Foreign exchange agencies and bureaus are continuing to use sharp practices and giving out misleading information according to a report Monday by the Czech News Agency. It said that the Czech National Bank had so far this year received 135 complaints about their activities. During the whole of 2013 the central bank dealt with 218 cases and in the worst cases imposed a total of almost one million crowns in fines, mostly on agencies active in the capital, Prague. Most of the complaints are about inadequate information about exchange rates and misleading details of charges.

New US ambassador to assume post

Andrew Schapiro, the designated new United States ambassador to the Czech Republic, is to arrive in the country to assume his post, writes ČTK. Mr Schapiro, who possesses Czech roots, will replace outgoing ambassador Norman Eisen, who has been in the post since 2011. Schapiro was nominated to the position back in March - the precise date he will present his credentials to the Czech president is not yet known.

President Zeman gives passing grade to coalition government

In an interview with Czech Television, Czech president Miloš Zeman has given a positive assessment of the current coalition government, which came into office this January. Specifically, Zeman noted that the government should be ranked on economic growth, and related indicators such as real wages and increased pensions. With this in mind, he said he believed the government has "withstood the test". But Mr. Zeman did note that if it were up to him, he would replace a few "weaker" ministers in the cabinet. The president declined, however, to name names.

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