Press Conferences

2. 7. 2008 12:33

Press Conference after the Meeting of the Government, Held on Wednesday 2nd July 2008

Jana Bartošová, Government spokesperson: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen, I ask you for patience as we are still waiting for the Minister of Industry and Trade, Mr. Martin Říman. So, good afternoon once more, welcome to the press conference after the meeting of the government. I welcome members of the government, the Prime Minister, Mr. Mirek Topolánek, the Minister of Industry and Trade, Mr. Martin Říman, the Minister of Agriculture, Mr. Petr Gandalovič, and the Minister of Education, Youth and Physical Training, Mr. Ondřej Liška.

Mirek Topolánek, Prime Minister of the Czech Republic: Thank you for the floor. In the introduction I must say that, and perhaps I have right to do so, I regard the vote of the last Wednesday as absolutely crucial; nevertheless, I do not have a feeling to have learnt about it from Czech media. That was my introductory complaint, because I regard as very strange if the discussion in media is limited itself only to the retirement age and the issue of using of radars in towns. As for today's meeting of the government, apart from regular programme goals of the government, the Minister of Industry and Trade will inform you on the Amendment of the Energy Act. Petr Gandalovič will inform you on the transformation of agricultural cooperatives and on the amendment to the Act no. 42/1992 Coll. The minister of Education, Youth and Physical Training will inform you on relatively important amendment to the Education Act. We also approved the amendment to the Civil Procedure Code and certain other laws. As to me I would like to make some comments on the proposal of the Green Party for a referendum on the direct presidential vote. After a discussion in the morning, we decided to take a neutral stand to it. It means neither approval nor disapproval. The Legislative Council of the Government submitted great number of comments of the legislative character, but the crucial decision of the government was that the government commissioned the Minister of Justice to submit to the government a proposal for the direct vote of the President by 31st August 2008, as we are of the opinion that the real solution of this problem should be done through the Parliament of the Czech Republic, whether I mean the Chamber of Deputies or the Senate, than through a referendum. Finally we agreed on it and the vote was unanimous. In spite of the fact I never disclose information on voting, in this case it deserves your attention. That is all from my side.

Jana Bartošová, Government spokesperson: I thank the Prime Minister and now the Minister of Industry and Trade, Mr. Marti Říman has the floor.

Martin Říman, Minister of Industry and Trade: Good afternoon. The government debated and approved today the amendment to the Energy Act, which resulted in great number of changes. First, changes concerns reduction of administrative burden of entrepreneurs in the sphere of energy, as certain bureaucratic regulatory activities are reduced, which had to be carried out by entrepreneurs. For example, the state authorization of construction of power stations is revoked, as it was a duplicity process with the building permit procedure. The process of licence granting is simplified, number of regulatory statements which are submitted to the ERÚ (Energy Regulatory Office) is reduced. Further change is that the electricity operator and gas operator are combined into the only one institution – market operator. Further change consists in reduction of regulation of prices in heat production; it means there will be fewer possibilities when the ERU will be allowed to influence the heat production. Certain provisions were omitted as they had sense in connection with forming the market several years ago. A passage which will be of interest of media is that concerning electricity and gas connections and the question who will pay for them. The proposal extends the circle of connections paid by a distributor. According the existing wording, connection up to 50 meters was paid by a distributor. We propose that all connections in settlements, even over 50 meters, should be paid by a distributor. Out of built-up areas of settlements, the existing state is preserved. As to the gas connections, the Union of Towns and Villages required applying the same principle as in case of electricity, but the government preserved the existing state. It means that it is not possible for a distributor to pay for all those connections because in case of electricity, there is no substitution possible. However in case of gas, there is such a substitution possible which leads to the situation when there are lots of unused connections. We also implement certain environmental measures, for example the duty to protect birds from damage caused by electricity on high-voltage pylons. Further important matter is establishment of Regulatory Council, which an institute similar to that which stood the test of time in case of the Czech Telecommunication Office. Based on the proposal of the Minister of Informatics of that time, Mlynář, a five-member regulatory council was established and it contributed to the stabilization and higher transparency of the decision-making process of authorities. Therefore, we propose to establish a similar institute in case of Energy Regulatory Office. These are the most principal changes out of several tens of changes which are included in the proposal. Thank you.

Jana Bartošová, Government spokesperson: I thank the Minister of Industry and Trade and now I ask the Minister of agriculture, Mr. Petr Gandalovič for a few words.

Petr Gandalovič, Minister of Agriculture: Ladies and gentlemen, the government approved today a new bill. It is not only an amendment to the Act no. 42 on Transformation of Agricultural Cooperatives. It is a new law, the purpose of which is to accomplish the process of transformation of agricultural cooperatives. The law enables the entitled persons, who have not attained their right, to finish the transformation process in case they prove that the so called "second transformation" restricted possibilities for their justified claim settlement. I should emphasize that this law does not introduce any new circle of obligators; it does not cause new injustice or something like that. It just uses the same principles which are stipulated in the Civil Code; it means that if somebody owes his/her creditors and carries out property transfers, these transfers are objectionable from the side of creditors. In case of entitled persons, about whom I am speaking, this principle of objectionability could not be unfortunately applied as there were that seven-year blockage period, during which the entitled persons were not in the position of creditors and thus they could not object to property transfers. Therefore they received only absolutely illiquid assets after the settlement. It concerns tens of thousand or perhaps one hundred thousand entitled persons. These justified claims varied between tens of thousand, sometimes up to hundreds of thousand crowns and I am convinced that the law creates possibility for entitled persons to attain their justified right, and it does not create any injustice in the agricultural sector.

Jana Bartošová, Government spokesperson: I thank the Minister of agriculture and now I ask the Minister of Education for a few words.

Ondřej Liška, Minister of Education, Youth and Physical Training: Good afternoon, let me inform you on the amendment to the Act no.561 on Pre-School, Primary, Secondary, Higher, and Other Education, in other words on the Education Act. This amendment contains about fifty changes; ten of them are important and essential changes, systemic changes I would say, and now I would like to draw your attention to the most important ones. First, we introduce preparatory classes of elementary schools especially for education of disabled pupils. Furthermore, we revoke limits of pupils in classes and schools. This change should bring about a very important positive effect. It concerns especially small settlements where schools had to be liquidated because of these limits were not reached. We do not want to liquidate a single school unnecessarily. It is very easy to liquidate a school but it is very complicated to re-establish it. Now it will be a matter of founders, who will decide whether to continue in funding these schools in case that limits are not reached. It is a response to requirements of great number of municipalities where temporary lowering of population or children in schools took place, but within two or three years it is possible to expect their increase. If municipalities decide, and it will be their political decision, they will have a possibility to run such schools. We are of the opinion that it is a right step and we also meet our obligation resulting from the Programme Declaration of the Government, to support schools in small settlements. Thanks to this amendment we introduce several tools aimed at enhancement of flexibility of the labour market. All of us are aware of the lack of skilled manpower; it is an issue connected with higher education and we introduce a possibility for those applicants, who gained secondary education with a certificate of apprenticeship, to gain a second certificate of apprenticeship in a different field in a simplified regime; it means within two or three years. It should enable higher flexibility of manpower and also to solve the problem of the lack of skilled manpower. Further tool which we introduce in this respect concerns extension courses; these courses will not be possible to open only at schools that have a branch of study finished by a school-leaving examination. It means that the offer of schools which will be able to introduce these extension courses will markedly increase. The objective of the government is also to reduce bureaucratic burden which concerns schools and headmasters. If you ask anybody of them what they think of this problem, they will confirm that the administration regulation means a great burden which distracts them from governing of schools and from their development. Now we remove part of duties of schoolmasters, the regime will be simplified and thus bureaucracy will be reduced. Regarding further changes I will still mention two of them. Based on this amendment, it will be possible to repeat a class at elementary schools from health reasons. Perhaps you are surprised at the fact that it was not possible up to now. You are right; the Education act which was adopted by previous social-democratic coalition government contained lots of provisions that did not stand the test of time, some of them were even counterproductive. We are trying to rectify whole range of those discrepancies. And the last of all matters, we want to increase transferability of the educational system; based on this amendment it will be possible to accept a student of an eight-year grammar school to the first class of a six-year. It is also a logical thing which is missing in the existing system. Thank you.

Jana Bartošová, Government spokesperson: I thank the Minister of Education and now I give the floor to the Prime Minister once more.

Mirek Topolánek, Prime Minister of the Czech Republic: You must have noticed that I do not respond to media campaign, you will have to tolerate from time to time some of my general statements concerning problems which I do not usually respond to. I will speak about a certain journalists´ obsession that concerns the issue "Topolánek and transport". I ask you to survive this while. It became standard that wherever I travel it always attract criticism of journalists and opposition which run its campaign and therefore it can be understood in this case. It is wrong if I use a government's aircraft, it is wrong if I use a car. If I rent an aircraft it is wrong as well. I really do not know whether I should hitchhike or to travel to Austria by steamship, but I do not want to joke. I would like to repeat today my prime minister's rights. I would be like you to take a note of it and to pass it to your colleagues who participate in that chase, so that you could consult your notes before starting further media campaign. First, as a statesman I have right to use a government's aircraft whenever I want. There are not specified any reasons in the law. Second, I always avoid unnecessary usage of our government's aircrafts. When I travel to see a football match, I always use charter flight and I pay for air tickets. If I am officially invited to see a final match at the European Championship by the Austrian Chancellor, it is the government which approves a working visit and I use government's aircraft. I cannot see any reason for criticism of this journey. But it is worth mentioning that certain journalist, based on sources of the seat of the Social Democratic Party, are at the place of departure sooner than I, so that they could take photographs and then pretend that there is something compromising here. In the law there is stipulated that apart from a statesman, transport is ensured also for retinue in conformity with the purpose of the journey. There is not stipulated any difference between working visit and private journey. In case of statesman, it is very difficult to distinguish between private and public matters in a very tight programme of a top politician. Moreover, the Prime Minister is a protected person according to the law. Therefore it is not a matter of his free will if a car or an aircraft is used. On the contrary, he must accept the fact that it is a part of his office. Furthermore, as the Prime Minister I can use, apart from two limousines, other cars, including offroad cars, which are at my disposal anytime, even for my personal use. So, if I decided to use any car and to go away for weekend, I could. But I do not do that. If I travel somewhere in my free time, I drive my private car. According to the law I have right to use the Prime Minister's apartment. I could immediately move in the Kramář Villa as my predecessors did. As you know, I do not use it; I live in a rented flat and my right for private and the Act on Private Data Protection is constantly broken from the journalists´ side. As a statesman, I have to be under permanent protection even during my free time. This is the only one thing I cannot influence and I am obliged to respect it whether I like it or not. It means that the security service accompany me during weekends and during my holidays. I would also like to add information on a very popular media issue, on exceeding of speed. It is a driver of the security service who is responsible for the way and speed of driving. According to the law, he need not observe the traffic regulation if he uses a warning light. The only one duty of his is not to endanger safety of the road traffic. I regarded as necessary to specify these things and now it is quite obvious to you that I use less than one third of what I could use. I would like media to cease presenting me as a politician who misuse money of tax-payers for his personal purpose, because it is not true. Thank you.

Jana Bartošová, Government spokesperson: I thank the Prime Minister. Now there is time for your question.

Pavla Kubálková, Lidové noviny: I have a question to Mr. Minister Liška. You have not mentioned the payments in the last year of kindergartens. Does it mean that this proposal is not included in the amendment?

Ondřej Liška, Minister of Education, Youth and Physical Training: Yes, it is included in the amendment, but I do not regard it as introduction of some new thing; it is rather restoration of the state which was several years ago. In the Education Act adopted by the social-democratic government this provision was revoked as the government expected increase in number of pupils in kindergartens. But nothing like that happened. This measure proved to be ineffective. On the contrary, it had negative consequences. There was a great financial burden on kindergarten founders and they were forced to break down missing funds to the first and second classes and thus to handicap parents who placed their children in these classes. It was shown that consequences were negative and therefore I am of the opinion that it is much more effective to use different measures for those children from unprivileged families for example preparatory courses at elementary schools, in which the Ministry of Education funds assistants who teach these children. They prepare them, so that they would have the same starting line as the others. It is much more effective than to attract them to kindergartens through a vague incentive. The last classes of kindergartens are free of charge not even nowadays. The founders had to get funds elsewhere, and therefore some of them were in jeopardy. Nowadays, on the contrary, when demand for kindergartens is high, founders are not able to satisfy it. Therefore it is necessary to restore the original model. It will enable founders to increase the offer and to reduce fees because fees which range between 100-500 CZK now will not be applied only in the first and second class but they will be broke down to three years. It means that fees might be theoretically lower. The last thing I would like to mention is that no economic barrier is introduced for unprivileged families. The law will enable such families to prove this fact and to ask headmasters or founders of kindergartens for reduction or excuse those fees. In such cases children would go to kindergarten for reduced fees or free of charge; it will depend on founders or headmasters. We do not introduce any economic barrier; on the contrary, we adapt the model of kindergartens so that it corresponds to time-tested practice. Thank you.

Jana Bartošová, Government spokesperson: Thank you, the TV Prima.

Tomáš Drahoňovský, TV Prima: Good afternoon, I have a question to the Prime Minister. If the Minister of Justice was commissioned to work out a proposal for direct vote of the President, does it mean that you personally feel necessity to introduce the direct vote? If not, why? And the second question – what is your attitude to the opinion presented by the Chairman of the Group of Deputies of the ODS, Mr. Tluchoř that the change of the system of voting would de facto mean a new mandate for Václav Klaus and a possibility of his repeated nomination. Thank you.

Mirek Topolánek, Prime Minister of the Czech Republic: I understood that statement of my colleague Tluchoř in a different way. So now I do not know what he thinks about it, and therefore I will not answer this question. I do not think that the Constitution enables somebody to run for President for the third time regardless the way of the vote; but it is my interpretation. I am not a lawyer specialized in the Constitution. As to the first question, it is important whether you ask me as a citizen or as the Prime Minister, because I presented the opinion of the Prime Minister. We approved a procedure which I regard as conformal. It will be debated in the Chamber of Deputies, anyway; nevertheless, it is obvious that the proposal which was submitted by deputies of the Green Party would not win necessary constitutional majority which is necessary for announcing a referendum. We chose more effective way and submitted the government bill based on which the Constitution was to be amended. I presented the attitude of the Prime Minister many times. The ODS is of the opinion that a referendum should be held only in very special and well-founded cases and it want to treat it like gold dust. It would be possible only in really well-founded cases, based on special constitutional law which would enable such a referendum. As far as the direct vote of the President is concerned the ODS has not the same opinion, as well as in many other issues. Many members support the direct vote, the percentage differs in case of deputies and senators. Many of them are against and I do not feel that it is wrong. If you want to hear my personal opinion, I am not for the direct vote and I have never concealed this. I have mentioned reasons for that many times and I am not for frequent use of referendum. But it is not important in this respect. I as the Prime Minister support what we have unanimously approved. I do not think that these opinions are self-contradictory.

Jana Bartošová, Government spokesperson: Thank you, the Z1 TV.

Helena Šindlerová, Z1 TV: You were to debate the Report on Implementation of the Government Programme. I would like to ask how it turned out. What items of the government programme are you content or discontent with?

Mirek Topolánek, Prime Minister of the Czech Republic: Well, that material shows unambiguously that overwhelming majority of projects which were included in the Programme Declaration are either in progress or finished. Certain projects have not been started yet because some consequence of steps must be ensured, and their start is scheduled for the second half of our term of office. If I am to state the reason for visiting all the ministries by government's holiday, I will be speaking to ministers and their deputies, or other employees and I will ask them about their successes, about the individual projects and their implementation stage, about the extent to which they managed to enforce projects of executive or legislative character and what remains to do, so that our priorities would be reached; I mean reduction of bureaucracy burden, reduction of number of employees , issues connected with various types of institutions receiving contributions from the state budget. I am content with the progress, if I say it in such a general form, as we managed to do what we had planned and only a few amendments remains to be pushed through the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate. Therefore if you ask me about the assessment of the government programme, I am content. You can read the material where it is specified concretely.

Jana Bartošová, Government spokesperson: Thank you, Hospodářské noviny.

Hospodářské noviny: Mr. Prime Minister, I would like to ask you whether you imposed any requirements on Minister Pospíšil concerning preparation of the Act on Direct Vote of the President. I mean some limits regarding power or number of votes?

Mirek Topolánek, Prime Minister of the Czech Republic: The only one limit is the date 31st August. If you ask me more concretely, I suppose that he will submit several alternatives, as there are different opinions here. I think it has been debated several times and perhaps it would be waste of time to repeat it. It is possible to choose the simple system, it means that a candidate would be elected either in the first round or two candidates can participate in the second round. Or, there is a model which has been enforced by the ODS, it means to determine certain percentage which would enable participation in the second round. If you ask me about increase of competences, the basic requirement is not to increase competences of the President in the framework of that simple amendment of the Constitution. That is the mandate of the Minister.

Jana Bartošová, Government spokesperson: Further question, please.

Ondřej Malý, Lidové noviny: I have a question to Mr. Minister Gandalovič. Mr. Minister, what will be the the approval procedure like of your law in the Chamber of Deputies? I think that the KDU-ČSL expressed its opinion that it wdid not favour that law and the opposition did not favour to it either. Could you express your opinion on it?

Petr Gandalovič, Minister of Agriculture: We have been debating this law for one year. I should say that the first variant was stricter towards existing legal entities. They would have to prove that property they were using had already passed the process of claim settlement. In this case we really acknowledged that certain fears of destabilization of greater part of the sector were well-founded. The existing wording of the law is unambiguously based on principles which are used in general laws – the Civil Code, the Bankruptcy Act. It means the principle when creditor can object to legal actions in case of transfers of the property on the side of debtor or, a creditor can even demand a redress retroactively. Thus we respond to the main argument which had been mentioned, and it was retroactivity. I should say that greater part of the burden of proof is transferred to entitled persons. I think it is fair because if somebody wants to gain the property, he/she should assemble evidence and to prove that by property transfers his/her right was limited. Why do I say that? I am convinced that the reason of the attitude of the opposition and the KDU-ČSK to this law was caused by the lack of information on the last version. I am convinced that the last version which is based on the debate at the Legislative Council of the Government is a good basis for the debate at the Chamber of Deputies. I am optimistic and I think that many of those who have refused this amendment, will learn, after they get information on it, that the amendment does not establishes new injustice, but on the contrary that it finally establishes justice.

Jana Bartošová, Government spokesperson: Thank you, the Czech News Agency and then the Czech TV.

Jakub Dospěva, Czech News Agency: As to the presidential vote, I would like to ask whether you will involve the opposition into the debate on the proposal, or whether you will leave it to the debate at the Chamber of Deputies. Thank you.

Mirek Topolánek, Prime Minister of the Czech Republic: I do not know whether you have an idea what the amendment means. Perhaps not, because you could not ask me like that; the amendment is very simple and it does not need any consultations. Moreover, a different proposal has already been submitted to the Chamber of Deputies. So, if we want this proposal to amend so that it would not include those errors of the proposal of the Social Democratic Party, the debate will begin at the Parliament. I am of the opinion that if some change is to be enforced, the right way to it is the debate at the Parliament. 

Jana Bartošová, Government spokesperson: Thank you, the Czech TV, please.

Olga Málková, Czech TV: Good afternoon, I would like to ask Mr. Minister Gandalovič – you were speaking about tens of thousand up to one hundred of entitled persons. Is it possible to estimate what could be expenditure of the state for these compensations?

Petr Gandalovič, Minister of Agriculture: If we take into consideration the fact that an average claim amounts to tens of thousand crowns, exceptionally claims might be in hundreds of thousand crowns, then it is a question of calculation. The question is whether the entitled persons will be able to prove that the transformation caused restriction of their rights. These cases are individual. Sometimes an agricultural cooperative was already in liquidation and persons received an offer to take over shares of a new company. Such an offer was in many cases refused because shares were not tradable and people did not see any compensation in it. Sometimes they even accepted certain repayment regimes and such like. It means that the law requires proving certain restriction of claims and I cannot say in how many cases it will be possible.

Mirek Topolánek, Prime Minister of the Czech Republic: I do not think it is possible to calculate this amount now, as it depends: first, on acknowledgement of a claim, second on its amount and third, this process will be broken down in time, and therefore that figure would not be very interesting. The project may take several years as it was now. In this respect that figure is just hypothetical.

Jana Bartošová, Government spokesperson: Thank you, further question, please.

Václava Vařeková, Radiožurnál: I have a question to the Minister of Education, to Mr. Minister Liška. When you were talking on revoking of limit for pupils, so that a school could operate, do you have information on number of schools which were dissolved last year because of those limits?

Ondřej Liška, Minister of Education, Youth and Physical Training: I do not have this datum with me but I can find it out for you on request. There were cases, which are known even through media, that headmasters had to register fictitious pupils, so that not to break these limits and to preserve the school running. After approval to the amendment, it would mean that such frauds need not occur; it would be a political decision of the respective municipality or a founder whether to run that such a school or not. I visited several villages and met their representatives, who welcomed that decision because they want to fund school in spite of the fact that those limits are not met. So, it is an amendment which is positively accepted and welcomed and this amendment should enable especially small settlements to freely decide of running of a school. Concrete figures concerning number of such cases in last years will be provided later on.

Jana Bartošová, Government spokesperson: Thank you, is there any further question?

Petr Běhal, Czech News Agency: I have a question to Mr. Minister Gandalovič. Could you express your opinion on today's proposal of Finnish Minister of Agriculture, I cannot remember her name, who said that the EU should debate zero VAT rate for food, as prices of food were growing. Can you express your opinion? Thank you.

Petr Gandalovič, Minister of Agriculture: In the framework of the summit ...

Mirek Topolánek, Prime Minister of the Czech Republic: I am not quite sure if the Minister of Agriculture should comment it.

Petr Gandalovič, Minister of Agriculture: The Prime Minister as a participant of the summit can say that the European Union as a whole decided that it would not be right to take such non-systematic measures, to immediate response to the price development of any goods, whether it concerned energy or food. On the contrary, the trend should rather stabilize situation, to remove barriers in the sphere of food production and to create larger space for higher volume of production; that higher volume of production always arises from fair market conditions, from competition than from granting better conditions for somebody. I regard it as an isolated opinion.

Mirek Topolánek, Prime Minister of the Czech Republic: Australia, with regard to the report on health state of inhabitants and their obesity, chose an opposite way. It raised the VAT of food and I think I am an example that it is possible to economize on food. I do not want to lighten it, but I do not think that we will allow somebody to meddle in our tax issues.

Jana Bartošová, Government spokesperson: Thank you, it there any further question? Thank you and good-bye.

print article   email   facebook   twitter