News Ukraine says it wants an association agreement with the EU and stable relations with Russia
The foreign minister of Ukraine’s newly-formed government, Andriy Deshchytsya, has said his country wants and association agreement with the EU and stabile relations with Russia. Following a meeting with the Visegrad goup foreign ministers in Kiev on Friday, Mr. Deshchytsya said the new Ukrainian government was prepared to open talks with Russia on stabilizing bilateral relations and in particular finding a peaceful solution to the unraveling crisis in Crimea. The representatives of the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Poland assured Kiev they would provide whatever assistance was within their means. Czech Foreign Minister Lubomir Zaoralek said that in view of the situation in Crimea the most pressing issue now was to maintain the unity of the country. Meanwhile, the EU on Friday reiterated its offer of a free-trade pact with Ukraine, saying the country would see the economic benefits within weeks of signing the agreement.
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Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka begins a two-day visit to France on Thursday, his first trip to the country as prime minister. Mr Sobotka is set to meet French President François Holland; a meeting with French Prime Minister Manuel Valls is scheduled for Friday. The Czech prime minister’s agenda is dominated by trade and investment issues as well as Europe’s energy security and EU affairs. Mr Sobotka, who is leader of the Czech Social Democrats, will also attend several events held by the French Socialist Party as part of their campaign ahead of European elections.
The Czech coalition parties have approved plans to cut the VAT rate on to drugs, medicine, diapers and food for infants from 15 to 10 percent as of 2015. Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka said the Finance Ministry would now incorporate the move into the draft of next year’s state budget; it is estimated that the lower VAT rate would cost the budget several billion crowns. The Czech government is yet to discuss the plan with the European Commission; it will consider plans for further cuts of the VAT rate only after measures to improve VAT collection are implemented, according to the prime minister.
Hockey player Tomáš Slovák, bike rider David Pabiška and former cyclist Jan Smolík received the Czech Fair Play awards on Wednesday. Škoda Plzeň defenceman Slovák was honoured for admitting to the referee he had deflected a puck out of play during the decisive match of last year’s play-offs finals. David Pabiška, meanwhile, assisted an injured rider during last year’s Dakar Rally; he called a medical helicopter and waited with the injured Italian biker until it arrived. Former cyclist Jan Smolík, who won the international Peace Race event in 1964, received an award for his life-time commitment to fair play principles, the organizers from the Czech Olympic Committee said.
The top Czech division club Slovan Liberec have fired manager Jaroslav Šilhavý. The 52-year-old coach’s contract with the club was to expire at the end of the season but owners dismissed Šilhavý after they learned he was planning to coach regional rival Jablonec. Šihlavý joined Liberec in 2011 and won the league title with the north Bohemian club the following season. This year, Liberec is ranked 5th in the Gambrinus liga with four rounds to go, 26 points behind leaders Sparta.
A large exhibition of works by the graphic artist Bohuslav Reynek opens at Prague’s Waldstein Riding School on Wednesday. Entitled Reynek – A Genius We Were Supposed to Forget, the exhibition presents some 80 graphic pieces by the artist who lived in seclusion in his country house until his death in 1971. Heavily influenced by Catholicism, Reynek’s work was not publicly displayed after the 1948 Communist takeover; his first exhibition under communism was held in 1964. The Prague retrospective, organized by a Czech advertising firm and curated by Reynek’s granddaughter Veronika, runs until the end of July.
The Czech Finance Ministry’s plans to cut the two existing VAT rates by one percent to 20 and 14 percent, respectively, in 2016 have not been approved by the coalition parties and would have an disproportionate impact on the state budget, Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka has said. Mr Sobotka’s remarks came in a reaction to the daily Mladá fronta Dnes’ report on Wednesday detailing the plans. The Finance Ministry would also like to introduce a third, 10-percent VAT rate next year that would apply to drugs, books, and baby food; the prime minister said this was a reasonable compromise.
Around 10.07 million people in the Czech Republic, or 10.2 percent of the country’s population, suffer from some form of disability, the Czech Statistical Office said. Since 2007, the percentage of people with disabilities has increased by 0.4 percentage points; however, the average period during which people suffer from disabilities has shortened from 13.6 years in 2007 to 12.4 years. The figures, based on patients’ registers, also suggest an increase in the number of people with innate disabilities; in 2007, 12 percent of disabled people were born with their handicap while this year, it was 14 percent.
Foreign nationals who moved to the Czech Republic in the past five years are perceived as problematic by 60 percent of Czechs, according to a survey by the CVVM agency released on Wednesday. Meanwhile, some 32 percent of people who took part in the poll said foreigners did not present a problem on the national level. Locally, however, foreign citizens are perceived as problematic by 25 percent of Czechs. The poll also founded that some 70 percent of Czechs believe foreigners permanently residing in the country increased unemployment; 65 percent said they contributed to rising crime levels and 57 percent suggested foreigners presented a health risk.
The European Commission announced on Wednesday it would continue its proceedings against the Czech Republic, along with Poland and Latvia, over the countries’ restrictions of EU nationals’ political rights. Under Czech law, citizens of other EU member states are not allowed to join a political party or form their own, and are at a disadvantage to local citizens when exercising their right to stand as candidates in local and European elections. That is contrary to EU law and goes against the principle of non-discrimination on grounds of nationality, according to the European Commission. The Czech Republic and the other two countries now have two months to address the issue or face proceedings at the EU Court of Justice.
The average mortgage interest rate dropped to a historic low of 2.93 percent in January, according to an index compiled by the Fincentrum advisory firm. It is the lowest average rate since 2003 when monitoring began. In March, nearly 8,300 clients took out new mortgages, which was around 2,500 more than in the previous month. The overall volume of new mortgages grew last month to 13.8 billion crowns, some 4.3 billion more than in February. The decrease in rates has been fueled by competition among banks, and could continue for months to come, an analyst for the Fincentrum firm said.