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Wednesday 26.07.2017 | Name days: Ance, Anna, Annija
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BNN summary of the week: the dark side of construction and the level of state control over gas

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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: Change; Business; Fight; Decline; Truth and Growth.

Change: Latvian state should take over Conexus Baltic Grid

Latvian state should buy the controlling package of shares in gas transmission and storage operator Conexus Baltic Grid, says Latvian MEP Krisjanis Karins.

He emphasizes that Latvia’s gas market was dominated for a long time by Latvijas gaze and Gazprom. This is why it should be viewed as an opportunity for Latvia to recover control over critical infrastructure – Incukalns gas storage facility and gas pipeline.

When asked if it is not enough for Conexus Baltic Grid’s largest shareholders to sell their shares in the company before the end of the year and the state has pre-purchase and veto rights, and that regulations already govern the function of Conexus Baltic Grid on the free market, Karins said no, emphasizing the importance of having a capable company contribute to the function of the free market and the creation of a unified Baltic market.

Full article here

Business: Five European companies agree to finance Nord Stream 2

Nord Stream 2 and five European energy companies have signed the project’s financing agreement and have shown their readiness to provide funding equal to 50% of the project’s total costs, as confirmed by the company.

Current estimates state the project’s costs may be around EUR 9.5 billion. Each European company participating in the project will invest EUR 950 million.

Although funding for Nord Stream 2 will be secured by Engie, OMV, Shell, Uniper and Wintershall, Gazprom will remain the only shareholder in the project, as stated in the company’s announcement.

Company representatives note that the readiness of European companies to finance the project is proof of Nord Stream 2 project’s strategic importance for Europe’s gas market. It will benefit competition and ensure long-term and medium-term energy security, especially considering the expected decline in gas production in Europe.

Full article here

Fight: Work safety at a construction field: problem, myth or unnecessary extra

The matter of work safety in construction remains a topical and complex matter. One of the examples is the construction process of Kekava primary school, in relation to which residents have voiced serious concerns for the safety of the people at work there. Construction firm Abora, meanwhile, says there is nothing to those rumours, and that those are merely «foolish words» coming from dissatisfied workers.

BNN decided to dig into this matter.

The second stage of the construction process of Kekava primary school commenced in January 2015. After all the necessary documents and technical specifications were prepared, a tendering process was announced for the third stage of the construction process.

Abora won the tender. This company was also responsible for the previous two stages of the construction process. The contract was signed by Kekava City Council Chairman Andis Damlics and Abora board member Juris Kravalis on 18 August 2015, according to information available on the website.

BNN has since acquired photos from Kekava residents, showing that workers at the construction field have insufficient equipment. On top of that, workers themselves have expressed serious concerns about their own safety when working there.

Full article here

Truth: Lembergs continues prolonging court process; prosecutors concerned

Aivars Lembergs’ criminal case remains in court for the ninth year. The past seven months have been spent solely on listening to Aivars Lembergs’ testimony. Prosecutors are concerned that the accused may be using his testimony to prolong the court process, as reported by Latvijas Radio about the state of the criminal case and prosecutors’ opinion of it.

Prosecutors have amended charges a little bit in the criminal case revolving around Aivars Lembergs. The accused believes prosecutors are the ones who have been delaying the court process for years. Prosecutors, on the other hand, say: «The court is not the party that breaches the established term. Aivars Lembergs is the one who breaches the term.»

Lembergs has noted on Twitter that prosecutors have softened the charges against him and part of the charges has been lifted completely. «Thereby charges have been left considerably flatter». Lembergs added that this is the third variant of the charges presented in the past nine years and that prosecutors have been delaying the case for years.

Full article here

Growth: number of Baltic tourists’ trips to USA increases

In the summer season, Baltic tourists prefer to travel by air to Asia and UAE. The most popular destinations reachable by land include Italy, Spain and Germany, according to information compiled by travel agency Estravel and car rent company Budget.

When picking their destinations, people from Baltic States most often prefer countries with a warm climate. «Thailand, UAE, Canary Islands and USA are all popular destinations. The summer season begins in May, when people mostly want to travel to Greece, Turkey and Spain,» says Estravel representative, adding that Baltic resident also often travel to neighbouring countries.

The choice of a destination depends on convenient flight routes and the overall safety level of the chosen destination. Estravel representative notes that the number of travel arrangements made to Egypt has declined. Instead, Baltic tourists more often decide to travel to United Arab Emirates.

International car rent company Budget reports that this year’s observations show that the most popular destinations reachable by land in Europe from Baltic States include Italy, Spain and Germany.

Full article here

Decline: Last year foreign travellers stayed in Latvia for longer, but spent less money

In 2016, foreign travellers crossed the border of Latvia 6.8 million times, which is 0.7 % less than during the previous year. Last year foreign travellers spent EUR 645.2 million in Latvia – EUR 97.0 million or 13.1 % less than in 2015.

In 2016, Latvia was visited by 1.8 million foreign overnight travellers (11.4 % less than in 2015), spending 12.3 % less and the expenditure amounting to EUR 474.4 million. Latvia was visited for the first time by 30.1 % of the foreign travellers. As compared to the previous year, the total number of nights spent increased by 7.6 %, reaching 8.8 million nights. Visitors stayed in Latvia for 4.9 days on average – 0.9 days more than in 2015, according to data from the Central Statistical Bureau of Latvia.

Compared to the previous year, there was an increase in the number of foreign overnight travellers from Poland – of 8.6 %, Lithuania – of 8.5 %, Germany – of 6.7 %, and the United Kingdom – of 4.8 %. In turn, there was a decrease in the number of foreign overnight travellers from Sweden – of 37.1 %, Belgium – of 34.6 %, the Czech Republic – of 23.4 %, Russia – of 20.3 %, and Estonia – of 7.0 %.

Full article here

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Government allows Bite Lietuva to become the owner of TV3, LNT and Star FM

On Tuesday, 25 July, the Cabinet of Ministers permitted Lithuanian company UAB BITE Lietuva to acquire decisive influence in Latvian media companies TV 3 Latvia, LNT and Star FM.

Latvia put on 34th place in global pension index

Latvia is on the 34th place of Natixis Global Asset Management global pension index. It is two places lower than last year, according to the index report for 2017.

Experts predict nearly half of beer consumed in Estonia will be procured in Latvia

Estimates of Estonian alcohol producers and retail traders show that nearly half of all beer and one-third of vodka that will be consumed in the country next year will be procured in Latvia. According to experts, this way Estonia will lose up to EUR 170 million in tax revenue, Postimees reports.

Latvia had the sixth smallest new vehicles registration index in Europe

Compared with the same period of 2016, Latvia has had the sixth lowest registration index for new commercial vehicles in Europe in January-June period, according to data published by European Automobile Manufacturers Association.

LAR proposes reducing micro-enterprise tax to 12%

Latvian Association of Regions proposes establishing micro-enterprise tax rate at 12% instead of 15%, as well as state that calendar year turnover for micro-enterprises is not to be reduced to EUR 40,000, as it is proposed by the government, but to be kept at the current restriction – under EUR 100,000.

Court dismisses Krums from the last of his supervised insolvency process

On Monday, 24 July, Riga Pardaugava Court dismissed the currently arrested insolvency administrator Ilmars Krums from the last one of the insolvency processes currently under his supervision, as confirmed by Insolvency Administration’s representative.

49 «quota refugees» away from Estonia for over 90 days

49 people of the refugees accepted by Estonia as part of the European Union's refugee relocation programme have exceeded the 90-day period of being allowed be away from the country.

Opinion: EU agricultural policy is not equal to all member states

Latvian Association of Agricultural Cooperatives organized a meeting with Agriculture Ministry’s and State Plant Protection Service’s specialists to discuss and search for solutions for opportunities to sow fermented summer rapeseed.

In pictures: Corsica hit by widespread forest fires

Fire-fighters in the French Mediterranean island of Corsica continued on the night to July 25 to battle forest fires covering an area of some 900 hectares.

Can Latvia expect a more rapid rise of excise tax for alcohol and cigarettes?

Finance Ministry has plans to raise excise tax on alcoholic beverages and cigarettes even more rapidly, according to proposals prepared by the ministry to the Excise Tax Law. These proposals have been submitted to the Saeima for approval in the final reading.

LCCI: e-health system will help reduce the number of dishonest patients

«Healthcare Ministry has to secure full integration of e-health system and form a policy for healthcare specialists that is aimed at returning labourers back to work as soon as possible, not issuing countless sick leave certificates,» as noted by representatives of Latvian Chamber for Commerce and Industry.

Swedish government admits «disastrous» data leak

The government of Sweden has stated that one of its agencies has committed a massive leak of sensitive data in 2015, when it organised an information technology outsourcing procedure.

Vucans: there are plenty of proposals for tax reform laws

Around 350 proposals have been received by the Latvian parliament in relation to tax reform laws. Last week, the Saeima supported tax reform laws in the first reading. This week, on the other hand, it is planned to review them in the final reading.

Greece to return to financial markets after three-year pause

Greece, which has been suffering from severe and prolonged financial problems, is expected to return to international financial markets to borrow funds.

Duda to veto Polish judicial reforms

President of Poland Andrzej Duda has stated he would not announce the controversial reforms of the Polish Supreme Court and the National Council of the Judiciary passed in the Polish Sejm that have also sparked mass protests in the country.

Dairy product prices not expected to decline in Latvia soon

Prices of dairy products in Latvia will either remain on the current level or increase even more in the next couple of months. With that, there is no reason to expect price decline in the near future, predicts head of Agriculture Market Promotion Centre Inguna Gulbe.

Five insolvency administrators suspended due to criminal processes in Latvia

Five insolvency administrators have been suspended because of several criminal processes, said Director of Insolvency Administration Inese Steina in an interview to LNT 900 seconds.

Family doctors may change the form of strike if need be

Latvian Family Doctors Association could change the form of its strike of need be, as confirmed by the association’s representative Solvita Olsena.

Baltic animal rights organisations turn attention to fur farming ban in Czech Republic

Following the fur farming ban passed by the parliament of the Czech Republic, Latvian and Estonian animal rights organisations turn the attention of communities in Latvia and Estonia to the increasingly the ethical attitude of European countries to animal rights.

Toyota sales in Latvia up 25%

5,735 new Toyota cars were sold in Baltic States in the first six months of 2017, which is 33% more than last year. Toyota’s total market share in Baltics is 14.2%, BNN was informed by the company.

Number of accidents caused by tractors and size of claims on a rise

Over the course of the past several years, the number of traffic accidents caused by specialized agricultural vehicles and the size of insurance claims has grown in Latvia, as reported by Motor Insurers' Bureau of Latvia.

Businessmen offer to help fund railway works in Estonia rejected by minister

Entrepreneurs in Lääne County, Estonia, have offered the state to help with funding the reconstruction of a railway section, by attracting private money, but the offer has been rejected by Estonian Economic Affairs Minister Kadri Simson.

International Baltic Bikini military exercises to be organized in Latvia

Baltic Bikini 2017 military exercises will be taking place in Liepaja, Latvia, throughout 24 – 28 July. More than 100 Baltic and American troops will be participating together with State Border Guard and Emergency Health Service to practice survival skills, as reported by Defence Ministry.

SRS: envelope wages will be a priority this year

More than half of Latvian employers pay their employees wages below the minimal monthly amount, said Director of the State Revenue Service Tax Control Office Sandra Karklina Admine in an interview to Rīta panorama on Monday, 24 July.

Latvians hesitant to use electronic means to request benefits

So far, Latvia residents have been rather slow in the use of electronic tools to request benefits from the State Social Insurance Agency.