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BNN summary of the week: oligarch talks’ ownership; scandals in Lithuania; Estonia wants direct democracy

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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: Progress; Scandals; Invitation; Fight; Opinion; Decline.

PROGRESS: 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.

The parliament also invites all sides involved in the project to find solutions to existing disagreements and encouraged Lithuanian and Estonian parliaments to support Rail Baltica project.

«Political support for the project is vital to be secured from the entire parliament. This is why European Affairs Committee has prepared a decision draft. In it, we invite Lithuania’s and Estonia’s parliaments to make a step forward and secure support for Rail Baltica project,» said the chairperson of the committee Lolita Čigāne.

Mentioning that Latvia’s full integration in EU transport network is a commercial, social and security matter for Baltic States, it is mentioned in the decision that Rail Baltica is a priority project in the EU intended to create a single transport space. To realize this project, EU has allocated 85% of the necessary funding, which is estimated around EUR 5.8 billion.

Full article here

SCANDALS: Lithuania’s ruling LFGU party remains unscathed by scandals

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

Yet not the LFGU, but the opposition conservative Homeland Union- Lithuanian Christian Democrats (HU -LCD) enjoys the biggest support of the Lithuanian voters now.

If parliamentary elections were held next weekend, the conservatives would secure 17.3 per cent of the vote and the LFGU would be supported by 15.4 per cent, according to the poll conducted by Spinter Tyrimai (Spinter Surveys) pollster.

The Social Democratic Party would come in third with 8.2 per cent of the vote, just ahead of the Order and Justice party with 7.7 per cent.

In multi-mandate voting, the Liberal Movement would be the last party to cross the required 5-per cent margin with 5.1 per cent of the vote.

The parties‘ sequence in other polls is similar. That the Conservatives top polls is not surprising as being in opposition means being less prone to vulnerabilities of the political life.

Full article here

INVITATION: Protesters in Tallinn call for renewal of direct democracy in Estonia

In Tallinn, a protest in favour of direct democracy in Estonia has been held on Monday, March 12, with participants asking for the reintroduction of the direct-democratic initiative set forth by Estonia’s current constitution.

Estonian public broadcaster ERR reports that March 12 had been selected for the event as on the same date in 1934, Estonia’s period of authoritarian rule begun that took away from the Estonian people the right to introduce new draft legislation using the instrument of a direct-democratic initiative or to ask for a referendum to be held on existing laws.

Head of the Terve Rahvas (Estonian for Whole Nation) foundation, historian Jaak Valge, has explained that the reintroduction of the initiative is extremely important for the proper functioning of the Estonian people as the highest power in the state in line with the Constitution: «Direct democracy as we understand it doesn’t replace our representative democracy, but rather completes it».

Full article here

FIGHT: Slovak Interior Minister steps down amid backlash over journalist murder and politics

Slovakian Minister of the Interior has stepped down as the interior authorities in the country are under pressure to solve the murder of journalist Ján Kuciak and his fiancée.

British public broadcaster BBC reports that that the junior coalition partner, the Most-Hid group, in the Slovak government demanded the resignation of Kalinak in exchange for continued support of ruling Smer-SD as critics had claimed Kalinak could not ensure an impartial investigation into the murders, in his role as overseer of the police.

Slovakia’s President Andrej Kiska called for a «radical reconstruction» of the government or fresh elections last week to restore public faith, after all seven suspects arrested in connection with the murders were released without charge.

Full article here

FUTURE: No more than two consecutive terms for governor of Bank of Latvia

Saeima’s Budget and Finance Committee has agreed to propose an alternative legislative draft that provides for adding restrictions for the governor of the Bank of Latvia, making it impossible to take this post more for more than two consecutive terms.

The idea to expand the rights for dismissal of the governor of the central bank did not receive support from the committee.

At the same time, the committee declined amendments to the Law on the Bank of Latvia from Unity’s Saeima faction. Unity’s proposal provided to expanding the law with an option to suspend the authority of the governor of the country’s central bank if he, his deputy or council member is a suspect in a criminal process.

The declined legislative draft also provided requirements for the management of the central bank and the option for the parliament to initiate a vote for the governor’s dismissal.

Full article here

OPINION: oligarch talks do not belong to CPCB or prosecutor; society has the right to go through them

Documents from the oligarch talks do not belong to the Corruption Prevention and Combating Bureau, the prosecutor’s office or any other institution – society has the right to go through this information, said member of Unity’s Saeima faction Andrejs Judins.

Materials of oligarch talks do not contain any sensitive information about people’s private lives, said Judins, adding that he learned that much from working in the parliament’s investigative committee.

During a meeting of Saeima’s Legal Affairs Committee on Wednesday, 14 March, a discussion took place between deputies and representative of the prosecutor’s office. The topic revolved around oligarch talks and whether or not they should be considered containing private information. Representative of the prosecutor general’s office mentioned that the talks in question mentioned many details of participating parties’ private life.

Full article here

DECLINE: 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.

EUR 4 million of this amount was paid to riga.lv portal, EUR 1,5 million was spent financing Riga City Council Public Relations Office, EUR 1 million ended up in SIA Mediaservice, and EUR 1.4 million was spent on publication of information in mass media and organization of Ghetto Games.

Ušakovs’ publicity mechanism consists of three large blocks: advertisement contracts with commercial media for distribution of ‘Riga news’, a network of loyal NGOs who are ready to take it to the streets and voice support, and an impressive network of social media that are used to form public opinions and criticize the opposition. The strategic goal is creating an image for Ušakovs as a successful manager. In reality, however, this is one-sided communication, because the mayor is free to choose which questions to answer and how to skilfully avoid counter-questions.

Large amounts of money are put into riga.lv portal, the office of which is located close to Riga City Council. It was founded five years ago. Its team consists of sixteen people. Another eighteen people work there part-time. Its funding has grown nine times from EUR 322,000 in its first year to at least EUR 3 million in 2017. Prior to elections, EUR 1.12 million from riga.lv budget was spent on website maintenance, excluding wages and royalties, as well as screen time for advertisements on a number of media. Some of the media outlets had been paid at least EUR 3.3 million in the last three years.

Full article here

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Week in Lithuania. Economists, trade unions cautious about tax, pension reform plans

Lithuanian economists and trade union officials say that the government's planned tax and pension system reform unveiled on Monday, April 23, will lead to a rise in wages, but will not help drastically curb emigration.

BNN summary of the week: prime minister without solutions; birth rates down; organic food rules

BNN offers a summary of this week’s topical news in a variety of categories: Change; Growth; Business; Assessment; Fight; Future.

Economy Ministry: producer prices will affect dynamics of raw material prices

Producer prices in industry will grow in 2018 similarly as they had in 2017. Producer price level is largely affected by fluctuations of raw material prices in the world, as noted by Latvia’s Economy Ministry.

PUC: Gaso’s separation from Latvijas Gāze was legal

After examining documents submitted by the transmission system’s operator, the Public Utilities Commission concluded that activities performed by AS Gaso as part of reorganization of Latvijas Gāze were sufficient to ensure compliance with requirements for independence, as reported by PUC representatives.

Industrial producer prices in Latvia up 3.5%

Compared to February, level of producer prices in the Latvian industry rose by 0.2 % in March 2018. Prices of products sold on the domestic market grew by 0.1 %, but prices of exported products went up by 0.4 %.

Municipality: after meeting in summer, British Steel refused to buy KVV Liepājas metalurgs

After the meeting that took place at the end of August 2017, British Steel, which had previously voiced an interest in KVV Liepājas metalurgs, refused to purchase the bankrupt company, says Liepaja City Council chairman’s advisor for public relations matters Andrejs Rjabcevs.

SRS determines Latvian officials with the largest salaries

Thanks to real estate transactions Prison Administration Chief Ilona Spure and Healthcare Minster Anda Čakša had the largest income among state officials in 2017. The holder of the largest wage among state officials remains the governor of the Bank of Latvia Ilmārs Rimšēvičs, according to information compiled by the State Revenue Service.

Total tax debts in Latvia – EUR 1.255 billion

At the beginning of April total tax debts in Latvia, including outstanding, halted and payment extensions, was EUR 1.255 billion, which is 3.2% lower than the previous month.

Eight-year-long Latvian-Russian state border demarcation process concludes

Latvian-Russian state border demarcation documents have come to force. 21 April 2018 marked the conclusion of the two countries’ joint border demarcation process that lasted eight years, as reported by Latvia’s Foreign Affairs Ministry’s press-centre.

Prosecutor general turns to Constitutional Court against MPC regulations

Latvia’s Prosecutor General Ēriks Kalnmeiers has submitted a case to the Constitutional Court about the non-compliance of the mandatory procurement component with the country’s Constitution.

Unity may become New Unity; Kariņš may become prime minister candidate

Unity may start in upcoming Saeima elections with a new name – New Unity. The party may pick MEP Krišjānis Kariņš as its prime minister candidate, as reported by Panorāma programme of LTV.

France to fine for naming veggie foods in meat terms

In France, vegetable-based products such as soya steaks or vegetarian sausages marketed as meat substitutes are to be banned in France for misleading consumers as it will be prohibited for food producers to use any meat terms to label products that do not contain meat.

Breach intensity on a rise near Latvia’s state border

Two groups of Vietnamese citizens were caught in an illegal attempt to cross Latvia’s border and multiple cigarette-smuggling attempts were thwarted by authorities in April, as reported by Latvia’s State Border Guard.

Latvia downgraded in openness of civic space rating

Citing Latvian laws as showing less respect fundamental freedoms since 2017, CIVICUS, the international organisation promoting and monitoring civil society and citizen participation in democracies, has downgraded the rating of the openness of the civic space in Latvia from «Open» to «Narrowed».

Authorities to check Riga City Council member Frolovs’ possibly fictive employment in Getliņi Eko

Corruption Prevention and Combating Bureau has commenced an inspection following Riga City Council deputy Juta Strīķe. In it, she detailed concerns about the possible fictive employment of city council deputy Vladimirs Frolovs in Getliņi Eko.

Jekabpils Council divides a pie, not duties; will the management change?

Disputes have commenced amidst the ranks of members of Jekabpils City Council – coalition member Kristīne Ozola from the National Alliance says behaviour of the city council’s management made her change her mind in regards to supporting the ruling coalition.

U.S. urges Moscow to address election, chemical weapons' and Ukraine issues

The United States government has asked the Kremlin to act on U.S. concerns on election meddling, the Salisbury chemical attack in UK, as well as the military developments in Ukraine and Syria.

Latvijas Krājbanka’s administrator recovered EUR 114,800 in March

The administrator of the liquidated Latvijas Krājbanka EUR 114,823 in March, which is 16.9% less than a month ago, according to the report published in Latvian Herald.

Basque militants ETA apologise to killed and injured readying for dissolution

ETA, the Basque military organisation that has fought for the establishment of an independent country in northern Spain and south-western France for 50 years, has apologised for causing harm to victims of its campaign.

Every second resident in Latvia has a loan, and every third – a missed payment

Last year, the number of private person loans had increased nearly 10%, according to the Credit Information Bureau’s data exchange system. Currently this institution’s data archive contains entries for 899 thousand assets in private persons’ contracts. 290 thousand private persons have missed some of their payments.

State Secretary: Latvia and China share good economic cooperation perspectives

To present topical issues of Latvian-Chinese economic cooperation to businessmen, as well as contribute to formation of new business contacts, officials have launched the Latvia-Ningbo Economic & Trade Cooperation Symposium, as reported by Foreign Affairs Ministry.

Wet summer boosted air travel via Tallinn Airport

In Estonian passenger aviation, a considerable 19% growth has been observed by the Tallinn Airport in 2017, which has explained the increase in passenger numbers partly with unusually bad weather conditions.

ABLV Bank urges FinCEN to withdraw «exaggerated accusations»

Lawyers of ABLV Bank, which is currently in the process of self-liquidating, urge US Department of Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network to withdraw its published proposal, which details how ABLV Bank’s management had allegedly used bribes to influence Latvian officials and breach sanctions against North Korea.

Stoltenberg: NATO has no plans to boost military presence in Baltic States

NATO does not plan to increase its presence in Baltic States, which have requested additional aid against Russia’s potential aggression, as announced by the alliance’s Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.

Mass evacuation in Berlin to defuse 500 kg bomb

In Berlin, after an unexploded bomb weighing 500 kg has been discovered, part of the German capital is being evacuated on Friday, April 20, in order to defuse the World War II weapon.

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