Czech Republic

Czechs are fiercely proud of their beer, and especially of the fast-growing range of varieties available from the explosion of independent craft and micro-breweries established in recent years in both Prague and the country’s many spa and historic towns, as an FT special report shows.

Indeed, the boom in innovative, independent brewing is being felt well outside the tourist-packed streets of old town Prague and Cesky Krumlov.

Sixty miles to the south-east of the Czech capital is Pacov, a small town in rolling hills that fails to make the tourist radar screen. But a factory on its southern fringes knows all about the current rage among restaurateurs for making hoppy Czech ales on site. Read more

By David Binar and Nicholas Watson of bne in Prague

CEZ made big changes to its supervisory board at its AGM on June 27, reflecting the shift in power since billionaire and now finance minister Andrej Babis arrived on the political scene, as well as dissatisfaction with the way the state-owned Czech energy group has been run for the past decade. Read more

Manufacturing in central Europe’s leading economies continued to grow in May, with PMIs in Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic indicating continued expansion, although Poland appeared to show some impact from declining exports to Russia and Ukraine due to the fraught political situation in those two countries. Read more

By Nicholas Watson of bne

A simmering row is building over a memorial to the Czechoslovaks who joined the Royal Air Force during World War 2, highlighting planning issues that property developers in Prague have been complaining about for years.

This year, the British community in Prague including BAE Systems, Tesco and Royal Bank of Scotland raised about €100,000 to build a memorial (pictured below) to the roughly 2,500 Czechoslovak airmen who served with distinction in the RAF during WW2. Read more

By Tim Gosling of bne in Prague

Czech power utility CEZ said today it had cancelled a tender to expand the country’s Temelin nuclear plant. The move comes a day after the government made its strongest statement yet that it would not offer the €8bn-10bn project any public support.

State-controlled CEZ said it had informed the contending bidders – US/Japanese Westinghouse and a consortium led by Russian state nuclear agency Rosatom, as well as Areva of France, which had already been ejected – that the tender to build two additional 1,200 megawatt reactors at the plant had been halted. Read more

Nothing like a foreign policy crisis to concentrate the mind.

Poland’s potential adoption of the euro, which had been pushed off to the end of the decade under political, economic and constitutional difficulties and lacklustre public support, has been given a jolt of energy by Russia’s creeping invasion of Crimea. Read more

By Dalibor Rohac of the Cato Institute

It took Czech President Miloš Zeman 95 days since the parliamentary election to appoint the new coalition government led by Social Democrats last week. But that remarkable delay has been eclipsed by the person of the new finance minister, Andrej Babis, a highly successful entrepreneur and maverick politician of Slovak origin. His rise to political prominence can mark a new era in Central European politics – an era in which close ties between big business and the government will become not only commonplace but shamelessly so. Read more

Central Europe’s leading economies have strapped on afterburners, with new manufacturing PMI data released Monday showing a strong recovery in Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary.

In Poland, the region’s largest economy, the improvement in business conditions was the strongest in three years. The headline PMI number, in which anything above 50 marks an economic expansion, came in at 55.4 for January, up from 53.2 in December. Read more

New World Resources ended trading Friday down by 3.4 per cent, capping off a terrible week that saw the Czech coal miner’s shares plummet by 22 per cent the day before.

Hit by lower coal prices, a failure to extend its revolving €100m credit facility and a reassessment of its coal reserves, NWR announced late Wednesday that it was taking a closer look at its capital structure. Read more

Amazon’s Christmas season was marked by labour unrest at its German warehouses, and as the US retail giant expands into central Europe, building five centres in Poland and the Czech Republic, it is hoping that unions do not follow.

“In terms of unions themselves, we don’t see a need for that,” Tim Collins, director for Amazon´s EU logistics operations, told beyondbrics. “Any friction that gets between us and our associates slows down innovation, slows down change, slows down improvements on the shop floor, and we don’t see that as being good at all.”

However, the Solidarity labour union, heir to the organisation that helped end communism in Poland, plans to support any unionisation drive among Amazon’s Polish workers. Read more

Real estate can be an alluring post-crisis investment. Just ask punters who poured money into the US market a couple of years ago, or those now sniffing around Spanish property. The same applies to central European real estate, which last year saw a 31 per cent increase in investments, to €10bn.

That makes 2013 the second busiest year for transactions since pre-crisis 2008. Read more

For most people becoming finance minister is a huge professional promotion – for Andrej Babis, whose fertiliser-to-media empire has made him the Czech Republic’s second wealthiest man, it will mark a bit of a comedown.

Under a preliminary agreement to create a new coalition government, Babis looks set to take over the finance ministry, one of his demands to bring his newly formed Ano party into the government. Read more

Poland’s troubled Lot Polish Airlines is getting a helping hand from Boeing: the US aircraft manufacturer stuck an agreement with the carrier, which had complained about losses incurred after two of its 787 Dreamliner planes were pulled from service due to faulty batteriesRead more

By Nicholas Watson of bne

Road construction in the Czech Republic has long been a murky business. But insiders grumble that new depths for the industry have been plumbed following a barrage of criticism aimed at plans to renovate the country’s main D1 motorway and revelations from Prague city that the contract to build the now almost-complete €1.3bn Blanka tunnel complex was legally questionable from the start. Read more

Poland has the EU’s best growth record in the last five years, but there is a growing awareness that keeping growth high is going to be increasingly difficult in the future – which is why two recent reports on corruption and educational achievements make such good news. Read more

Central European manufacturing continues to show signs of strength in new purchasing managers index reports released on Monday, indicating that the region is rebounding from the slowdown it experienced late last year and in the first half of this year.

In Poland, the largest CEE economy, manufacturing came in at its strongest level in more than two years. The PMI index, where anything above 50 indicates expansion, was 54.4 in November, up from 53.4 in October. Read more

Poland is thinking of saving its national airline in the same way the Czechs have – by creating a holding company uniting the loss-making carrier with a more profitable airport and ground services operation.

Will it work? Read more

Sniff it and see

By Nicholas Watson of bne

There’s an old saying in the Czech Republic that if a Czech’s goat dies, he won’t pray for another but rather that his neighbour’s goat will die too. And so it was in the 1990s when even though many Czechs were weary of the limited choice from the large brewers that had dominated under communism, they spitefully boycotted an upstart called Stanislav Bernard and his new “honest, traditional unpasteurized beer.”

But today Bernard is having the last laugh. He eventually won over the recalcitrant locals to create one of the country’s largest independent breweries, and in doing so helped foster an industry that has boomed to the point where Czech craft beer makers are now looking to export their products around the world. Read more

By Nicholas Watson of bne

A new Czech government is in the final stages of being formed, but its make-up will probably mean further delays at the very least for the state utility CEZ’s costly nuclear tender.

Czech President Milos Zeman is expected on November 21 to give a mandate to Bohuslav Sobotka, head of the Czech Social Democratic Party (CSSD), which won the inconclusive parliamentary election in October, to form the next government. Sobotka has already started talks with the big winner of the election, the new ANO 2011 party founded by Slovak-born billionaire Andrej Babis, and the centrist Christian Democrats (KDU-CSL). Read more

Maybe it’s time to start preparing for a return wave of CEE migrants from western Europe, as Thursday’s flash GDP third quarter numbers show that most of the region’s economies are experiencing a sharp recovery – in contrast to stagnation in the eurozone. Read more