Liepaja, Ventspils and Jurmala – these three Latvian cities are now able to use finances from the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund. This money was not previously available to them because it was mainly used in rural regions, De Facto programme of LTV reports.
The entire coast, except for Riga, is now considered fishing territory. Such changes were proposed by Agriculture Ministry and heavily defended by Agriculture Minister Janis Duklavs. This is no surprise, considering the ministry and the aforementioned cities are managed by representatives of the same party – Union of Greens and Farmers.
Jūrnieka ligzda [Sailor’s nest] is a leisure site created on the coast of the Baltic Sea. Its owners had submitted multiple projects during the previous fund period. All of them received support from the Fisheries Fund.
EUR 14 million will be available for the support programme in the current planning period. This money is divided among local action groups that accept and evaluate projects submitted by businessmen, associations and municipalities.
However, the money available for this planning period will have to be divided differently than usual. This time the programme and its funding are available exclusively to coastal regions.
In addition, Agriculture Ministry’s condition for this money to be used for the development of fields and villages located close to the coast was unexpectedly changed. Now this money is to be divided among three coastal cities – Liepaja, Ventspils and Jurmala. This came as an unexpected surprise for NGOs. ‘It was not possible to catch anyone red-handed. In any case, it would only be an opinion and viewpoint, but the process in which cities were added so suddenly and nearly over the course of a single night without first consulting local action groups may suggest that this decision had not undergone the usual democratic process and instead had been processed through a different set of doors,’ – says Chairman of Latvian Rural Forum Valdis Kudins.
At a discussion with the Fisheries Advisory Council, Agriculture Minister Janis Duklavs, defending the opportunity for large cities to gain access to finances of this fund, said that ‘LEADER programme is not available in large cities’. Agriculture Ministry attempts to justify its decision with the fact that Ventspils and Liepaja house the majority of people employed in the country’s fisheries sector.
Agriculture Ministry’s Fisheries Department Director Normunds Riekstins said: ‘Of course, the entire territory should be allowed an opportunity to develop. We would all be happy if our fisheries sector spanned the entire coastline and not be concentrated in certain points. But there are many risk factors involved. This includes fish stores and different problems with the market. We cannot forcibly create or create now and wait until everything dies later, because there would not be any point in developing something like that. Unfortunately, that is how we are in Latvia’.
But there is some controversy here. One of the main objectives of the action programme is to reduce inequality and support creation of jobs along the coast. Opportunities for cities are considerably larger. Those who have gotten their hands on finances are satisfied. Martins Abols, head of Liepaja City Council’s Development Office, notes: ‘One thing is certain – there was no such opportunity in the old planning period of the European Fisheries Fund. And it is clear that we are all happy and satisfied that Agriculture Ministry decided to listen to what large cities have been saying for a while – division of territories into rural areas and cities in regions for fisheries is not exactly correct.’
Two years ago, it was mentioned during one of the meetings that discussed the fund’s action plan that inclusion of the three aforementioned cities in territories important to fisheries would be ‘a political decision and such a matter will not be considered’. When proposals were finally submitted to the government, Environmental Protection and Regional Development Ministry protested against Liepaja’s, Ventspils’ and Jurmala’s inclusion. But arguments were not taken into account.