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Sunday 18.03.2018 | Name days: Ilona, Adelīna

BNN summary of the week: Latvia’s 2018 budget, Vaškevičs in Austria, and coalition talks in Germany

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Baltic news, News from Latvia, BNN.LV, BNN-NEWS.COM, BNN-NEWS.RUBNN offers a summary of this week’s topical news in a variety of categories: Fight; Business; Decline; Change; Growth; Future and Opinion.

CHANGE: Saeima approves next year’s budget; more funding for health and defence

On Thursday, 23 November, the Saeima approved Latvia’s budget for 2018. Next year’s budget revenue is planned at EUR 8.75 billion, whereas expenditures are planned at EUR 8.95 billion. The largest increase of funding is planned for healthcare. Latvia’s defence budget is set to reach 2% of GDP.

The budget was supported by 59 deputies. 37 members of the parliament voted against.

The Saeima started reviewing laws associated with the budget on Wednesday and continued reviewing them today. Politicians had previously agreed that budget talks would not continue late in the evening.

Forming the budget, politicians were committed to drop the so-called deputy quotas. They also agreed that no additional funding would be allocated for parliamentarians’ proposals. The Saeima stuck to this promise and supported only a couple of proposals on allocation of additional funding. Requests submitted for the budget suggested allocation of additional finances worth EUR 223 million. However, nearly all proposals were declined in the end.

Among deputies’ supported proposals is the allocation of EUR 2.4 million to boarding schools. Deputies also supported the proposal for allocation of EUR 302,250 from the budget for emergencies to higher education to match growth of social fees.

Full article here

FIGHT: Vaškevičs feels «harsh but fair» attitude from court justice system in Austria

Former deputy director of Latvia’s State Revenue Service Vladimirs Vaškevičs, who is accused of bribery and whose extradition from Austria has been a priority for Latvian authorities for some time now, says he feels «harsh but, thank God, fair» attitude from the Austrian court justice system.

In his interview to Neatkarīga, he was asked just how safe and stable he feels in Austria. The former official said «only dead men can feel calm and stable in this world, and even that is questionable».

Vaškevičs did not reveal his plans for the future. He only said that the most important thing is «what you have now. And right now I am undergoing medical treatment and studies.»

«Forgiving a murderer – it is the greatest human virtue. It is unimaginably hard. I don’t know if I can do that. Now they are in a better situation: they live, they have power, they drink and they are merry in their homeland. And it seems to me they are completely oblivious that conscience can and will definitely force a person to pay for what they have done. It is a law of life – it works without question and without mercy. I wish them to understand this law. But as for my good name, I have it and no one can take it away from me,» said Vaškevičs.

Full article here

DECLINE: Lengthy German coalition talks collapse

The German political parties that entered the country’s federal parliament after elections in September, still cannot reach an agreement on making a coalition and a majority government, but German Chancellor Angela Merkel has evaluated that new elections would be better than a minority government.

British public broadcaster BBC reports that on Sunday, November 20, the Free Democratic Party liberals left the coalition talks with Mrs Merkel’s Christian democratic bloc and the Greens.

Full article here

FUTURE: Talks commence on restoring ferry traffic between Ventspils and Saaremaa

On Wednesday, 22 November, a delegation from Saaremaa municipality arrived at Vetnspils Freeport to discuss with representatives of Ventspils municipality and freeport the proposal to restore ferry traffic between Saaremaa and Ventspils.

It should be added that even though ten years have passed since the closure of Ventspils – Mintu (Saaremaa), both Estonian and Latvian sides still remember this ferry line. In addition, representatives of both municipalities have received many questions from residents about the possibility of restoring this ferry line.

Ventspils Freeport says that the freeport’s authority with Ventspils City Council deputy chairman Jānis Vītoliņš, Ventspils Freeport CEO Imants Sarmulis and Marketing and Development Office manager Igors Udodovs met with Saaremaa municipality representative and Mintu port CEO Mihkel Undrest and Saaremaa municipality’s attracted researchers Aado Keskpaik and Juri Sakkeus. Guests explained Saaremaa municipality’s position, saying that restoration of the ferry line is very important.

Full article here

BUSINESS: lost Russian cargoes have cost Latvia nearly 50 million in nine months

Latvia’s economy has lost nearly EUR 50 million in nine months because of missed Russian transit cargoes. While Russian Railway had approved 90% of oil and coal cargoes for transit through Ventspils port at the beginning of the year, this amount had declined to a mere 5% by September, says Baltic Association – Transport and Logistics President Inga Antāne.

I should be said that BATL has spent the last couple of years asking Transport Ministry and the government to act in order to reduce risks for the economy and employment created by Russian government’s strategic decision to divert cargoes to its own ports. It should be added that transit is the second largest sector of Latvia’s national economy.

BATL President comments: «Day to day statistics are becoming more and more grim and only serves to emphasize the true changes in the transit sector. In the current situation the one to make quick and strategically sound decisions is the winner. The first piece of homework is improving Latvia’s competitiveness. This means dropping the plan to increase railway infrastructure fees next year, which would make Latvia a leader among EU member states in terms of size of railway fees.»

She continues: «If we cannot reach a compromise with Russia for preservation of transit volumes, we have to do all we can to make Latvia’s transit sector, including railway, more attractive to other regions. Unfortunately, our cooperation with Belarus and other countries points out just how non-competitive we are in this area.»

Full article here

GROWTH: taxes for business in Latvia – the most attractive among Baltic States

Latvia’s tax system is the most attractive among Baltic States and 13th most attractive among 190 countries of the world, according to the latest study performed by the World Bank and PricewaterhouseCoopers on tax systems around the world.

Estonia is ranked 14th and Lithuania is ranked 18th in the Paying Taxes 2018 rating.

It is mentioned in the rating that the general tax rate in Latvia is 35.9%. The time spent in Latvia paying taxes is 169 hours. The total number of tax payments in Latvia is seven. The tax rate in Estonia is 48.7%, the time spent paying taxes is 50 hours, and there are eight tax payments in total. The tax rate for businesses in Lithuania is 42.7%, time spent paying taxes is 109 hours, and there are eleven tax payments in total.

The average EU and EFTA tax rate is 39.6%, the time it takes for taxes to be administered is 161 hours, and the total number of tax payments is twelve. The average tax rate for companies in the world is 40.5%, the time it takes for taxes to be administered and processed is 240 hours, and a total of twenty four payments are required.

The most attractive tax system, according to authors of the study, is Qatar, followed by United Arab Emirates, Hong Kong, Iceland, Bahrain, Kuwait, Singapore, Denmark, New Zealand and Mauritania.

Full article here

OPINION: Ušakovs offers unhealthy policy, Harmony is used as Lembergs’ «satellite party»

«Cooperation between Harmony and Aivars Lembergs’ Union of Greens and Farmers has always existed. It existed even before Harmony first appeared in Riga City Council. The situation is the same in the Saeima, even though Harmony is in the opposition. Still, in situations when one or the other matter important to Lembergs appears, one does not have to be a great politologist to notice the ties between those parties. Other times it seems like Harmony is being used as Lembergs’ satellite party,» said former Harmony member, financier and owner of Laika stars business Vadims Jerošenko.

«The policy realized by Harmony on the inside by Nils Ušakovs is absolutely unhealthy. Right now it is beneficial for the party to be in opposition,» says Jerošenko.

He predicts that if, for some reason, Harmony forms a coalition with UGF during Saeima elections in 2018, it will be hard for Harmony to take on that kind of responsibility, because the party is not used to it.

Still, Jerošenko leans more towards the thought that UGF will not form a coalition with Harmony . «It could happen if several smaller parties make it to the Saeima. UGF’s first attempt at cooperation in the Saeima will be with the National Alliance,» he predicts. «If any of the right-wing parties manage to get a large number of deputies in the Saeima, UGF may try to form a coalition with them. But if that fails, UGF may consider forming a coalition with Harmony.»

Full article here


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Remembrance day of Latvian Legionnaires passes with shouts and two arrests

The Legionnaires’ remembrance procession in Riga on Friday, 16 March, passed peacefully. Nevertheless, several conflicts did take place among differently-minded people near the Freedom Monument. Two individuals were arrested by police.

Influenza intensity in Latvia – moderate when compared to other European nations

A comparison of influenza activity in Europe shows that it is high or very high in several countries. Latvia’s influenza intensity is considered moderate, as noted by epidemiologist Raina Nikiforova.

Hourly labour costs in Latvia grew 7.3% in 2017

Compared to Q4 2016, in Q4 2017 hourly labour costs rose by 54 cents or 7.3 %, reaching EUR 8.02. Seasonally adjusted data show identical changes – rise of 7.3 %.

Rietumu Banka claims it has not worked with high-risk clients for years

Rietumu Banka has been steadily rejecting high-risk clients for years and has significantly reduced the volume of transactions, as mentioned by the bank’s representatives.

Lithuanian and Estonian businessmen are ahead of Latvia in terms of investments

In Latvia, 36% of small and medium-sized companies have plans to invest in the development of their business this year. In Estonia and Lithuania, on the other hand, the proportion of businesses with development plans is 42% and 46%, respectively, according to results of a recent study performed by SEB Bank.

Russia pledges maximum pressure on UK amid ex-spy poisoning row

Russian top diplomat in the UK has envisaged on Friday, March 16, that the Kremlin would use maximum pressure on London as Moscow insists it has not been involved in the poisoning of a former Russian-British double agent with a Russian-made chemical weapon, as has been found by British investigators.

Latvia’s ministry: Crimea’s annexation is illegal

18 March 2018 will mark four years since the Russian Federation violated Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity by annexing the Crimean Peninsula and causing military aggression in the country’s eastern region. With its actions the Russian Federation has violated international law and basic principles of international relation, says Latvia’s Foreign Affairs Ministry.

Building gas pipe to Finland, Estonia to organise works for EUR 135 million

Continuing the works on the Balticconnector gas pipeline between Estonia and Finland, the Estonian natural gas network company Elering has stated that around 135 million euros, including a 98-million-euro funding from the European Union, will be invested in the project.

Replacement of cash registers rejected by SRS would cost half a million euros

The State Revenue Service has declined 18,000 cash registers as unfitting for requirements established by the Cabinet of Ministers. Fixing the problems found in them would cost half a million euros, as reported by LNT News.

Latvian Anti-Nazi Committee presented with protest restrictions on 16 March

Administrative District Court has compiled a shortened ruling, in which it rejected Latvian Anti-Nazi Committee’s application and preserved the decision imposed by Riga City acting CEO on 13 March 2018 on establishing restrictions on the planned gathering and protest act for 16 March unchanged.

U.S. introduces Russian sanctions for election meddling and cyber-attacks

Washington has introduced sanctions against 19 Russian individuals and five entities blaming them for attempts to sway the 2016 U.S. election and perceived cyber-attacks.

Slovakian PM Fico replaced with fellow party member

Slovakian head of government Robert Fico has stepped down after the murder of a journalist shed light on corruption in Slovakia, prompting nationwide protests. The long-standing Prime Minister had offered to resign earlier this week if the ruling coalition was allowed to finish its term.

Weekends will be cold and sunny in Latvia; next week will have volatile weather

Starting with Sunday, 18 March, air temperature in Latvia will rise above zero in most of the country, as reported by State Environment, Geology and Meteorology Centre.

Lithuania’s ruling LFGU party remains unscathed by scandals

It seems that, for now, Lithuania‘s ruling Farmers and Green Union has been nearly damage-proof despite the lambasting.

Latvian Civic Alliance: non-government sector should aim towards cooperation

Latvian Civic Alliance has invited the management of Latvia’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry to meet to discuss ongoing cooperation between organizations representing the business sector and the NGO sector.

Saeima rejects National Alliance’s proposal to make 16 March an official remembrance day

Latvia’s Saeima has decided to reject the proposal submitted by the National Alliance on making 16 March an official remembrance day.

43.6% of Latvian households have difficulties with making ends meet

In 2017 the share of households admitting that pay for usual necessary expenses with difficulty or great difficulty constituted 43.6 %, which is 1.5 percentage points more than in 2016.

Saeima voices support for Rail Baltica project’s progression

On Thursday, 15 March, the Saeima made a decision to support Rail Baltica project’s progression. In its decision, the parliament invited Latvia’s Cabinet of Ministers to provide all the necessary support for the project’s successful realization to ensure the project is realized in accordance with established terms and does not lose funding or support from the European Union, as reported by Saeima’s press-service.

Fast snow shovelling linked to cardiac fatalities, Finnish study finds

In Finish doctoral study, it has been concluded that snow should be shovelled calmly, not provoking stress and increased adrenaline in human blood that could lead to cardiac arrest.

Riga’s mayor spent at least eight million euros of residents’ money to promote himself

Over the course of the past three years, at least EUR 8 million of residents’ money has been used to promote the image of the Mayor of Riga Nils Ušakovs. This money was used to buy media, employ young members of Harmony, and finance ‘in-house protestors’ and using social networks, as estimated by Re:Baltica research journalism center.

Slovenia's head of government resigns amid protests and struggling railway investment

The Slovenian head of government Miro Cerar has stepped down from office in reaction to troubles with an expensive railway project and mounting opposition by trade unions.

NAF Commander: Latvia and Estonia have joint military procurements planned

Latvia and Estonia have joint military procurements planned, Commander of Latvia’s National Armed Forces Leonīds Kalniņš told journalists after his meeting with Commander of Estonia’s Defence Forces Riho Terras.

Estonia's switch to free higher education proved right choice, says Ratas

The switch to free higher education made by Estonia in 2013 has proved to be the right choice for a small country, even though critics have pointed to potentially less motivated students, has stated the Estonian Prime Minister Jüri Ratas.

President: we will not give away our scientists’ ideas for free

It is necessary to concentrate all resources on research performed by Latvian scientists with patent potential. This will help secure returns for Latvia’s national economy, said President of Latvia Raimonds Vējonis during his meeting with rector of Riga Technical University Artūrs Zeps.

Members of the European Parliament propose avoiding «trade wars»

MEPs emphasized in debates regarding the trade restrictions imposed by USA that European Union should not get involved in a trade war, and be ready to protect its citizens, as BNN was told by EP Information office in Latvia.

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