The 21st century has caught Prague City Council really unprepared. A city that, for the past 10 years, had mainly been struggling with a plastic card and a tunnel seems really uneasy about all the new technologies arriving at the gates. We cannot say that the arrival of services such as Uber and AirBNB were handled poorly, as they literally weren’t handled at all. And while regular taxi drivers in Brno and Prague are taking this issue into their own hands, the city is now focusing on the accommodation services platform AirBNB. It all started a few weeks ago when the mayor, Adriana Krnáčová, expressed concerns that AirBNB would make it easy for terrorists to find accommodation in Prague. Anyone who has been through the AirBNB verification process will find it odd that terrorists would voluntarily shove their ID cards in front of a camera to be able to get a flat in Prague, but let’s leave that argument to one side for a moment. All this merely shows that Czech politicians are unable to introduce rational, up-to-date regulation. So while other major European cities have already reached an agreement with AirBNB, in Prague there are still complaints about rising rents and the mayor of the Prague 1 district fears that his neighbourhood will turn into a giant hotel with no permanent residents. But no hint of a reasonable solution was forthcoming.
Just can't catch a break
Only a few weeks since the issue with the former finance minister Andrej Babiš was resolved, Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka seems to be in no better condition and his prospects of remaining the Social Democrats’ leader continue to shrink. Last week, it was announced that he is ready to step down as party leader, while intending to remain prime minister (at least until the October general election, of course). Many parties have tried this stunt – changing leadership right before an election. Needless to say, it has sometimes shored up declining support, but not for long. The last party to do this was the Civic Democratic Party (ODS) in 2010, and we all know how that ended. The Social Democrats have eventually decided to form a triumvirate, with Sobotka continuing as the Prime Minister, Milan Chovanec – the Minister of Interior, taking over the leadership of the party and Lubomír Zaorálek, current Minister of Foreign Affairs, becoming the election leader.
The prime minister also appears to be losing crucial allies within the party and some sharks smell blood. Just a few days ago, the health minister Miroslav Ludvík lost the battle for first place on the election list in Prague (see Stakeholder Chess). All this is happening while the party continues to sink in the polls. The Social Democrats would currently net around 12% of the vote, which would be the party’s worst election result since 1992.
All this is, unfortunately, taking its toll on the prime minister’s personal life. Last Thursday, he announced his separation from his wife. The Czech Republic has had eleven Prime Ministers and four of them have had to deal with marital issues during their term. A lamentable reminder that the Czech politics still remains a highly stressful environment and is not readily conducive to family life.
Parts of the Act on Public Health Insurance revoked
Some provisions of the Act were revoked further to a motion submitted by 20 Senators earlier this year. In its ruling, the Constitutional Court said that the law was not clear enough in explaining what patients were and were not entitled to, mainly encompassing medical equipment such as crutches, wheelchairs, hearing aids or contact lenses, and meaning that the insurance companies had the discretion to decide for themselves. According to the Court’s president, Pavel Rychetský, this goes against the constitutional right to free health care and will only lead to an uncontrolled environment in the hands of the insurance houses. The Court established an 18-month time limit for the law to be amended. Succumbing to the Court’s decision, the biggest insurance companies and the ministry agreed to work on a new proposal.
Who you wanna bet on?
With only five companies licensed under the Czech Republic’s new gambling regulation, the real competition started last week with the two sports betting giants Fortuna and Tipsport filing complaints with the regulator and the Financial Analytical Office that their major Czech competitor, Sazka, is in breach of the new AML law. That legislation requires operators to perform “face-to-face verification” and physically identify all new players. Sazka does indeed avoid this obligation and is perhaps relying on the fact that it is not mandatory for lottery operators. However, Sazka also enables its players to bet on sport events, and that’s where the law clearly says that verification is essential. The origins of this are pretty obvious. Fortuna and Tipsport are the only operators with permanent branches all over the country and therefore the only companies capable of running verification with their own resources. They want to exploit this status quo to the max.
Social Democrats select election leader in Prague
In a very strange battle for the 2017 election leader in Prague, Miroslav Ludvík, current health minister and close ally of Prime Minister Sobotka, lost to Petr Dolínek, city councillor and party vice-chairman. Ludvík lost only by 14 votes, with many (app. a quarter) of votes rendered invalid. Oddly enough, the Social Democrats had also decided that the runner-up would lose the chance to run for a parliamentary seat altogether. Ludvík therefore announced his dissatisfaction with Prague politics and decided to withdraw from active political life. He will therefore not run for re-election as the party’s leader in Prague.
With further problems wafting in from the south, the party’s prospects hardly look bright.
May the DUP be with you
This month, the Brussels Corner is not from Brussels, but it will nevertheless have a large impact on the EU’s future. As you already know by now, the incumbent UK Prime Minister Theresa May lost/won (depending on your narrative) the general election held on 7 June.
As for the implications and whether we will see another election in the autumn, you can read up on this in our Brexit bulletin. Even Nigel Farage told the BBC that he thought the UK was now headed towards a “Norway-like situation”.
Definitely not the period of stability and certainty May was hoping for.
More information here.