Pending minister for industry and trade, Jiří Havlíček, has followed in the footsteps of his predecessor with a brewing dispute with finance minister and ANO leader, Andrej Babiš. Havlíček said after his meeting with the head of state that he would oppose a proposal for the Ministry of Finance’s company Prisko to make a bid to take over insolvent hard coal mining company OKD. Havlíček said that one of the industry ministry’s companies, Diamo, was much more suitable for the job. Diamo has been used to mastermind the rundown of the country’s uranium mining activities and follow up clean up operations. The Cabinet earlier this year opposed a proposal that Diamo purchase OKD for a token one crown.
President Miloš Zeman will appoint deputy minister Jiří Havlíček as the new minister of industry and trade next week. Havlíček announced the news following a meeting with the head of state on Monday. He said that the president’s priorities in the sector echoed those which he announced last week. Havlíček was unveiled as the proposed new minister last week. The appointment follows the sacking of previous minister Jan Mládek at the end of February after a fall out with the prime minister over how to curb high mobile data charges. Prime minister Bohuslav Sobotka temporarily appointed himself stopgap industry and trade minister after the dismissal.
The Prague Municipal Court has ruled that a rare painting dating back to 1350, Madona z Veveří, belongs to the Czech Catholic Church. The court thus rejected an appeal from the National Gallery which tried to lay claim to the painting on the grounds that the Catholic Church lost it before the onset of the communist regime, so it could not be reclaimed within the church restitution law. The Municipal Court ruled that the state had only declared ownership of the painting in 1958 and could not lay any claim to it today. After several appeals, Friday’s verdict is legally binding.
Eighteen senators from the upper house of parliament, the Senate, have filed a complaint with the Constitutional Court targeting the current system for paying political parties for election success. They say the system is unfair to the smallest parties and excessively rewards the bigger ones. The specific target of the complaint is a 6.0 million a year payment to parties that obtain 3.0 percent or more votes cast in elections to parliament. The sole reward for parties falling short of that target is 100 crowns for every votes gained. The court previously dealt with a similar complaint in 2003 when it refused to rule against the system. Most of the senators making the complaint come from the small STAN party.
A group of Czech senators are calling on the Constitutional Court to abolish certain provisions of the recently approved anti-smoking bill, including a ban on smoking in restaurants and sale of alcohol in vending machines. The senators have succeeded in collecting the minimum twenty signatures needed for the Constitutional Court to deal with the matter.
Czech finance minister and ANO party leader Andrej Babiš has released the results of the audits of his past incomes. The minister and billionaire businessman ordered the audits in reaction to media speculations about a suspicious origin of his property. The auditing firms confirmed his earlier statement that his overall income between the years 1996 and 2015 amounted to 2.4 billion crowns. The server Echo24 has reported that the amount Mr. Babiš spent purchasing bonds in his company Agrofert a few years ago was considerably less than his declared income at the time. In reaction to the allegations, Babiš said that apart from the above incomes that were subject to taxation, he had untaxed incomes of 650 million crowns from the sale of firms and shares, as well as from previous businesses.
A meeting of the Permanent Control Committee on Military Intelligence will take place in the Lower House on Friday over the case of a military intelligence officer who was allegedly surveilling the villa of interior minister Milan Chovanec. The news website SeznamZpravy.cz reported on Wednesday that a military intelligence officer was arrested in Prague last week while taking photographs in the vicinity of a villa belonging to the Ministry of the Interior and used by Mr Chovanec. The head of military intelligence, Jan Beroun, has strongly denied speculation about his agents surveilling the house.
President Zeman’s decision to run for a second term in office was widely anticipated on the Czech political scene. And although the president has no party backing, and many are stressing the need for change, there is still no strong rival on the horizon to challenge him for the top post. I asked the head of the STEM polling agency Jan Hartl to assess how strong Mr. Zeman’s position is after four years in office and whether potential rivals stand any chance of replacing him.
A happening took place outside Prague Castle on Friday, calling attention to the website platform President 21, where people can choose their candidate for the upcoming presidential election. So far, nearly 60,000 people took part in the game, suggesting over 500 candidates. The think-tank Institute for Democracy 21, which organised the event, plans to hold similar happenings around the country. Supporters of the current President Miloš Zeman have also gathered on the Hradčanské Square to collect signatures supporting Mr Zeman’s candidacy for a second five-year term in office.