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Week in Lithuania. Lithuania mulls minimum needs basket of 240-250 euros

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The Lithuanian Government is considering introducing a minimum needs basket of around 240 to 250 euros that will show what minimum monthly income a person needs to survive.

Romas Lazutka, an advisor to the social security and labour minister, says that some social payments could be tied to that basket starting next year.

«It should be clear by the end of this half-year (whether the basket is to be introduced). We want all benefits, at least most of them, and even the basic pension, to be tied to this value,» he told members of the parliament’s Committee on Social Affairs and Labour on Wednesday, February 8.

Lazutka mentioned that the Ministry mulls pegging the minimum wage, which currently stands at 380 euros, to the basket. In his words, the minimum needs basket, which would amount to 238 euros at 2016 prices, is based on statistical data on household expenditure and nutritionists’ information on the minimum food requirements.

The basket would be indexed to price changes. According to figures from the Social Security and Labour Ministry, an average of 88,000 people applied for social benefits monthly in 2016 and 110,000 in 2015. Some 60.7 million euros and 77 million euros were paid out to them, respectively.

US tanks brought to Lithuania

Ten tanks of the United States Armed Forces arrived in Lithuania on Friday, February 9, in an effort to deter Russia and demonstrate the US commitment to NATO’s collective defence. Other equipment transported to the Gažiūnai station in the Jonava district, central Lithuania, includes five Bradley infantry fighting vehicles, cross-country vehicles and trucks. All of the equipment will be used by a company of US troops consisting of about 120 soldiers. US land troops were first sent to Lithuania in the spring of 2014 in response to the Russian annexation of the Ukrainian region of Crimea and have been rotating ever since.

Grybauskaitė thanks German president for troops

President Dalia Grybauskaite has thanked her German counterpart, Joachim Gauck, for his support in the shape of sending troops to the international NATO battalion stationed in Lithuania. At Gauck’s meeting with the Baltic leaders in Riga on Thursday, February 9, Grybauskaitė expressed gratitude to the German leader for his personal contribution to the deployment of German Bundeswehr troops and munition in Lithuania, as well as the decision to take the lead in the formation of NATO’s forward presence battalion in Lithuania. The Lithuanian  head-of-state underscored that conventional and unconventional threats posed by Russia required not only enhancing NATO’s defence and deterrence, but also made Europe assume greater responsibility for its own security.

EC to demand Astravyets NPP stress tests

The European Commission (EU) will demand that stress tests at the Astravyets Nuclear Power Plant under construction in Belarus, says Lithuania’s Energy Minister Žygimantas Vaičiūnas said after meeting EC officials, adding that no exceptions would be made. If Belarus refuses to conduct the stress tests, which show a nuclear utility’s ability to survive accidents, it will put resumption of dialogue with the European Union at risk, said Vaičiūnas.

In his words, the warming relations between Belarus and the EU will also depend on the implementation of the Astravyets project, which can become «an obstacle for resumption of the relations.»

Lithuania: Ukraine needs constant support

Ukraine is in need of constant attention and support, Lithuania’s Foreign Minister Linas Linkevičius said after meeting with Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko in Kiev on Thursday, February 9. He spoke amid escalated fighting in Eastern Ukraine over the past few weeks, as a few dozen lives were lost. In his words, Ukraine mainly asks the Western world for political support and objective view of the situation in Eastern part of the country, which has been locked in fighting between Russia-supported separatists and Kiev forces since 2014. The Lithuanian diplomacy chief is in Ukraine after resumed fighting in the Donetsk region claimed more than 30 lives. The fighting mainly took place around Avdiivka.

Security chief uneasy about Zapad exercise

Zapad 2017 military training to be held in Belarus and Russia this year will be the main challenge to Lithuania’s national security, says Darius Jauniškis, director of the Lithuanian State Security Department. He warned about the scope of the training and its usual character to be targeted against NATO, although did not provide any specific data about the exercise.

In Jauniškis’ words, the intelligence will have to keep an eye to see whether the character of the exercise is defence or assault. The department’s director said the alarming aspect of the war games is that they are always «aimed against the Western side.» On Thursday, February 9, the VSD chief briefed the National Security and Defence Committee on the review of national security threats.

Top prison system officials suspended

Edvardas Kviatkauskas, head of the Kaunas Remand Prison, and Živilė Mikėnaitė, a former head of the prison and now director of the of the Prison Department, have been suspended from duties, the Justice Ministry said on Thursday, February 9.

The Prison Department launched an in-house probe after media reports about possible procurement-related transgressions at the Kaunas prison. The Justice Ministry took over the probe from the department, as instructed by Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis.

The Public Procurement Office, the National Audit Office and the Chief Official Ethics Commission have decided to look into the situation at the Kaunas prison. Prosecutors have launched an investigation as well. Rasa Kazėnienė, the Kaunas prison’s chief accountant, has turned to law-enforcement bodies over possible abuses and violations at the prison.

More Ukrainian workforce in Lithuania

More professionals from Ukraine are expected to come to Lithuania after the government has made it easier for businesses to hire third-country nationals in certain occupations, Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis said on Thursday, February 9.

According to the prime minister, the government has put in place sufficient safeguards to ensure that the employment of foreigners do not adversely affect the salaries of local workers. The government has approved a list of 27 professions, including programmers, IT specialists, engineers of various specialties and technicians, that require high professional qualifications and for which there are not enough local workers. It will be easier for such professionals from non-EU countries to get employment in Lithuania.

Jewish property compensation funds used properly

The Lithuanian National Audit Office (NAO), which in previous years identified certain irregularities in the use of compensation funds for Jewish religious communities’ immovable property, says that the latest audit of the Good Will Foundation, which administers the money, has revealed no problems.

The NAO said that the audit of the foundation’s use of funds in 2016 had found no irregularities. Previous audits found that the foundation had used part of the money allocated between 2012 and 2015 for purposes not provided for by Law on Good Will Compensation for the Immovable Property of Jewish Religious Communities, that is, for financing its administrative costs. The Seimas amended the law in 2016 to allow using compensation funds for the foundation’s administrative expenses.

Prosecutors hail President‘s amendments

Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaitė on Wednesday, February 9, put forward amendments that would enable prosecution of financial offenders who have fled the country. Prosecutors say that the new instrument would ensure a faster handling of cases where suspects hide abroad, but lawyers point to a lack of specific provisions to guarantee suspects’ right of defence.

Grybauskaitė proposes allowing in absentia pre-trial investigation into all crimes that have caused major damage to the state or an individual. Prosecutor Darius Karčinskas of the Prosecutor General’s Office said that the amendments would help expedite investigation of cases and court proceedings when suspects are in hiding abroad.

However, Ignas Vegėlė, chairman of the Lithuanian Bar Association, said that the concept of «major damage» used in the draft amendments was too abstract. He also questions the proposal that the prosecutor, rather than the court, should be able to state that damage has been incurred.

Student numbers to go down until 2025

Lithuania’s higher education network needs restructuring is needed not only to ensure better quality but also in response to demographic numbers, as the number of university student will be on the downward scale up until 2025, says Lithuania’s Education and Science Minister Jurgita Petrauskienė.

At the same time, she noted that doing nothing and waiting for some universities to vanish themselves, would be too expensive for the state. Under the restructuring proposed by the minister, Lithuania should have up to five state universities instead of the existing 14 state universities and a few dozen colleagues.

The Research and Higher Education Monitoring and Analysis Centre (MOSTA) has developed a study on optimization of the network of higher schools in Lithuania to leave 3-5 universities by 2025, as well as one or two arts academies and the Military Academy.

New Russian defence attaché accredited

Russia’s new defence attaché, Captain 1st Rank Vitaly Timofeyev, was accredited to Lithuania on Monday, February 6, the Lithuanian Defence Ministry said. Timofeyev succeeded Colonel Jevgeny Prokopenko, whose term of office expired. Karolis Aleksa, director of the ministry’s International Relations and Operation Department, said during the accreditation ceremony that «Lithuania stood ready for dialogue with Russia in multilateral NATO and OSCE formats and expressed a hope that Russia would uphold the principles of openness and transparency and would ensure their implementation», according to the ministry’s press release.

Fast-track ratification of Lithuania-US defence deal proposed

President Dalia Grybauskaitė has submitted the treaty with the United States on the status of US troops in Lithuania for fast-track parliamentary ratification, the President’s Office said on Monday, February 6. The treaty was signed by Defence Minister Raimundas Karoblis and U.S. Ambassador to Lithuania Anne Hall on January17. The document will take effect after endorsement in the Lithuanian parliament.

Under the Lithuania-U.S. agreement, U.S. will have the right to try its troops for offenses, with the exception for Lithuania to take over the jurisdiction in cases of major importance. The agreement also envisages a right for the US to use certain military objects, which remain the property of Lithuania.

Since 2014, the U.S. has been stationing a company of troops in Lithuania. A battalion from the brigade to be deployed in Poland later this year will come to Lithuania on a regular basis for training. Latvia and Estonia also signed similar agreements with the U.S. this year.

Baltic leaders look forward to meeting US vice president

Lithuanian, Latvian and Estonian leaders plan to meet with new U.S. Vice President Mike Pence in Munich in February. The Lithuanian president’s office gave no further information about the meeting, which is planned to take place on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference to be held on February 17-19. Amid tensions over the security threat posed by Russia, countries in the Baltic Sea region seek assurances from the new US administration regarding its defense commitments.

Military instructors commence service in Iraq

Six Lithuanian military instructors on Tuesday begin service in Iraq as part of the US-led Operation Inherent Resolve to train Iraqi forces to fight the Islamic State. The group of Lithuanian instructors is assigned to the Danish contingent along with Latvian and Estonian troops. The Lithuanian soldiers will train Iraqi security forces, but will not perform combat tasks, the Defence Ministry said. More than 30 Lithuanian troops are currently taking part in international operations in Afghanistan, Mali, the Mediterranean Sea and Kosovo.

US warship USS Hue City in Klaipeda

USS Hue City guided-missile cruiser of the United States Navy arrived in the Lithuanian port city of Klaipeda on Monday, February 6, and docked in the port. The visit of the U.S. warship was not announced in advance. Ieva Labanauskienė, of the U.S. embassy, informed that the crew of the vessel would stay in Lithuania for about a week, meeting with troops of the Lithuanian Navy, visiting Lithuanian warships and taking part in social projects.

Pharmacies to be obliged to sell cheap drugs too

In an effort to encourage pharmacies to offer clients the cheapest suitable medication, pharmacies in Lithuania will be put under the obligation of issuing a certain amount of cheapest drugs. Agreements between territorial patients’ funds and pharmacies envisage a possibility to issue a certain amount of the cheapest medication, this would promote more rational consumption and use of cheaper medication, according to Health Vice-Minister Kristina Garuolienė.

Plans were also presented at the ministry to revise the existing scheme, which currently gives access to producers of pharmaceuticals to information about, for instance, discounts planned by competitors. Jūratė Šovienė, deputy chairperson of the Competition Council, said in late January the practice equalled cartel agreements. Health Minister Aurelijus Veryga also pledged to review the requirements for drugs to be included in the list of medication compensated by the state.

Lithuania stops search for fisherman

The 18-hour search for a fisherman reported missing in the Baltic Sea was halted in Lithuania on Sunday, February 5. The Lithuanian Navy’s Sea Rescue Coordination Centre said the rescue operation had been discontinued in light of the actual survival possibilities in the cold water of the Baltic Sea.

On Sunday morning, rescuers discovered a toppled fishing boat with one of the missing persons. The man was airlifted to the Klaipėda University Hospital with severe symptoms of hypothermia for medical tests. He remains in stable condition. The fishing boat with two persons was reported missing in the Baltic Sea on Saturday evening.

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