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Wednesday 28.06.2017 | Name days: Kitija, Viesturs, Viestards
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Week in Lithuania. Parliament declares Belarus' N-plant a threat to national security

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The Lithuanian Parliament has decided that Belarus’ nuclear power plant under construction in Astravyets, a mere 50 kilometres from Vilnius, is unsafe and poses a threat to national security, environment and public health. The respective bill was passed on Thursday, June 15, with 104 votes in favour.

Vytautas Bakas, the chairman of the Seimas Committee on National Security and Defence, said that the law would be of paramount importance. According to Bakas, in building the unsafe plant, Belarus violates three international conventions and the project is not transparent. The Seimas has recently passed a law aimed at restricting electricity imports from Belarus and Russia.

Jurbarkas district asked to return 1 million euro in EU money

The district of Jurbarkas, which borders the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad, is to return almost 1 million euros in EU funds to the Lithuania-Poland-Russia Cross-Border Cooperation Program, the daily Lietuvos Žinios reported on Friday, June 16. The district received funding for three projects under the program during the EU’s 2007-2013 budget period. Problems arose due to a project for improving the ecological condition of the Nemunas River by building sewage collection and treatment infrastructure in the Lithuanian village of Skirsnemunė and in Neman, on the Russian side of the river. The authorities both in Jurbarkas and Neman had until late 2014 to complete the work, but the Russians missed the deadline. Therefore, the Polish Finance Ministry demanded back in April that Jurbarkas, as the leading partner in the project, return the 962,000 euros that had been used for the project.

President signs Labour Code amendments into law

President Dalia Grybauskaitė has signed into law amendments to the country’s new Labour Code. «The president signed the amendments on Wednesday,» Skaistė Plaušinytė, an advisor to Grybauskaitė, said in a statement on Thursday, June 15. The president’s office gave no further comment on the reasons for the president’s decision to sign the amendments. The Seimas passed the amendments to the Labour Code, which comes into force on July 1, last week. Supporters say that more flexible labour relations are necessary to create new jobs and attract new investments. Critics warn, however, that the new Labour Code will make it easier for employers to dismiss employees. The more liberal Labour Code was passed in June 2016, but it was vetoed by Grybauskaitė shortly afterwards.

MP leaves ruling party’s fraction

MP Dovile Šakalienė has decided to leave the political group of the ruling Farmers and Greens Union (LFGU) in the Seimas and joint the group of the opposition Liberal Movement. The lawmaker said that she was disappointed with the LFGU’s position on the children’s rights protection reform and that she had realized that she and the party were «light years apart» in their values.

PM calls for parliamentary investigation on MP

Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis calls for a parliamentary probe into allegations that Artūras Skardžius, a member of the Seimas’ Energy Commission, represents the interests of wind energy companies he leases land to, and for a broader analysis of business groups’ influence on lawmakers. «We should carry out a parliamentary probe and then decide, based on the gathered facts, whether or not to refer the matter to law-enforcement. But from what is reported, the situation does not look nice at all,» he told the Žinių Radijas radio station on Thursday, June 15. According to Skvernelis, there appears to be a conflict of interest, at the very least. The prime minister believes that a broader analysis should be made to look into what influence businesses are having on lawmakers’ decisions and what the scope of that influence is.

Eurostat: food prices in Lithuania among EU’s lowest

Prices for food and non-alcoholic beverages in Lithuania last year were among the lowest across the European Union (EU), figures from the EU statistical office Eurostat showed on Thursday, June 15. The level of food prices made 78 per cent of the EU average in 2016 (78 per cent in 2015), with lower prices reported in Poland and Romania (62 per cent of the EU average) and Bulgaria (71 per cent). In 2016, prices for alcoholic beverages in Lithuania made 73 per cent of the EU average, among the lowest rates in Europe, while prices for clothing made 104 per cent, car maintenance 83 per cent (lowest in the EU), electronics 95 per cent and restaurants and hotels 65 per cent of the EU average.

Parliament votes down co-habitation bill

An attempt to recognize in law civil partnerships for both unmarried opposite-sex couples and same-sex couples in Lithuania on Thursday failed to clear the first hurdle in the parliament. The respective amendments to the Lithuanian Civil Code did not passed the first reading in the Seimas, with 29 lawmakers voting in favour, 59 against and 20 abstaining. The bill was not returned for improvement, as often happens, but was completely rejected. The amendments would have defined a partnership as cohabitation of two individuals building a family relationship without registering a marriage and would have allowed two adults who are not relatives and are not partners of other persons to sign a partnership agreement and have it certified by a notary public.

Audrius Navickas sworn in as MP

Andrius Navickas of the conservative Homeland Union-Christian Democrats on Thursday was sworn in as a member of the parliament. Navickas replaces Rokas Žilinskas, his fellow conservative who passed away last week. Navickas, a religious expert and publicist and a former editor-in-chief of the Bernardinai.lt portal, was the highest-placed among the candidates on the Homeland Union’s election list who did not pass the threshold to be elected to the parliament last fall. The Homeland Union’s political group in the Seimas has 31 members after Navickas joined it on Thursday, June 15.

EP lifts Lithuanian MEP Paksas’ immunity

The European Parliament on Wednesday, June 14, lifted the legal immunity of Lithuanian MEP Rolandas Paksas in order to allow Lithuanian prosecutors to bring suspicions of influence peddling against him. The European Parliament received Lithuanian prosecutors’ request for waiving of Paksas’ immunity in the spring of 2016. Lithuania’s law-enforcement officials suspect that Gedvydas Vainauskas, CEO of the media group Lietuvos Rytas, offered a 10,000-euro bribe to Paksas for influencing construction inspectors to authorize the opening of a new Norfa retail store in Prienai, a town in southern Lithuania. According to documents made publicly available by the European Parliament, it is suspected that Paksas agreed to accept the bribe on Aug. 31, 2015. A pre-trial investigation was opened on Feb. 17, 2016. Both Paksas and Vainauskas have denied the allegations, branding the case as politicized.

PM, government losing popularity

The popularity of Lithuania’s Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis and his government is declining, shows a new poll. Although respondents still see Skvernelis as the best-suitable figure for the PM position, support to the prime minister was 31 per cent in May, down from 36.9 per cent in April and 40.6 per cent in March. The nation’s support to the Skvernelis-led government is also down, with 27 per cent of those polled viewing the Cabinet’s performance positively in May, which is a sharp decline from 38.7 per cent a month ago. The ruling Lithuanian Farmers and Greens Union remains the most popular party, and the drop of its ratings remained within the margin of error. If Lithuania held parliamentary elections tomorrow, the party would secure 19 per cent of the vote, down from 19.9 per cent in April. The second most popular party was the conservative Homeland Union – Lithuanian Christian Democrats with 13.1 per cent (14.6 per cent in April), followed by the Social Democrats with 11.6 per cent (11.2 per cent in April) and the Liberal Movement with 6.5 per cent (5.5 per cent in April). Other parties would remain below the five-percent threshold to win mandates in multi-mandate voting.

Ex-MP founding movement

Arturas Paulauskas, a member of the Labour Party, is founding a public movement, which will be a new centre-left political force to unite former and current members of the party, as well as non-affiliated individuals. Karolina Pansevič, Raimundas Paliukas, former Labour MP who is one of the founders of the new force, said that the decision to found the movement titled Go Lithuania had been made by about 60 individuals from across Lithuania at a meeting on Saturday, June 10.

Parliament discussed impact of ratified Istanbul convention

Lithuania’s parliament on Friday, June 16, discussed the effects of ratification of the Istanbul convention for the Baltic state. The parliament’s Human Rights Committee hold an international conference, «Ratification of the Istanbul Convention – What Would Change?», the parliament’s Public Relations Division said. Among the participants of the event were Vilija Blinkevičiūtė, chairperson of the European Parliament’s (EP) Committee for Women’s Rights and Gender Equality, Foreign Minister Linas Linkevičius, Social Affairs and Labour Minister Linas Kukuraitis, international experts and representatives of organizations holding different stances towards the document. Supporters of the convention urge the parliament to ratify the document, saying it was the most thorough international treaty on efforts against domestic violence and abuse of women, while critics find unacceptable the definition of the social construct and the obligation to teach about unusual gender roles.

UK’s chief of defence staff visits Vilnius

Air Chief Marshal Sir Stuart Peach, the Chief of the Defence Staff of the United Kingdom, paid a working visit to Vilnius on Wednesday, June 14, and Thursday, June 15, the Lithuanian Defence Ministry said. Sir Peach met with Lithuanian Defence Minister Raimundas Karoblis, Vidmantas Purlys, the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry’s political director, and Lithuania’s Chief of Defence Lieutenant General Jonas Vytautas Žukas and discussed the security situation in the region, the implementation of NATO’s deterrence measures, the fight against terror and military cooperation issues, it said. Officials from the Lithuanian Armed Forces’ Joint Staff briefed the UK’s chief of the defence staff on the Armed Forces’ capabilities and development plans, and officials from the Armed Forces’ Strategic Communication Department will present an analysis of information threats to him.

Resort wants no yacht to be used as hotel rooms

The heads of Lithuania’s Curonian Spit municipality of Neringa are concerned over the practice of renting out yachts docked at the Nida port to tourists as hotels, the daily Lietuvos žinios reported on Friday, June 16. The national park’s authority says, however, that yacht owners are not banned from offering accommodation aboard their boats.

Court upholds extension of arrest

The Vilnius Regional Court on Wednesday, June 14, dismissed an appeal filed by a lawyer of Evaldas Rimašauskas, a Lithuanian national who is wanted in the United States on large-scale fraud charges, and upheld the Vilnius District Court’s decision to extend his arrest for three months. According to the regional court, there is information in the case that provides reasonable grounds to believe that Rimašauskas could have committed the crimes he is charged with. The court also noted that the Lithuanian citizen has connections abroad as he has lived in Latvia and Russia for a long time and that his wife is a Belarusian citizen and that he has a valid Belarusian visa and frequently travels to the neighbouring country.

Lithuanian troops left for Mediterranean Sea operation

Twelve troops of the Lithuanian Armed Forces’ 2nd Ship Maintenance Group left for southern and central part of the Mediterranean Sea on Friday, June 16, to join the European Union’s (EU) military operation Sophia. The troops replaced the 1st Ship Maintenance Group for three months after it served in Germany’s naval support vessel FGS Rhein since March 6 of this year. Just like the 1st team, the 2nd team consists of troops of the Navy, the Military Police and the Special Operations Force. The team is headed by an officer of the Navy. The group’s main task in the operation is to intercept, inspect and detain ships on the suspicion of carrying unlawful weapons and migrants.

Lithuanian, Swedish foreign ministers visit Ukraine

The foreign ministers of Lithuania and Sweden, Linas Linkevičius and Margot Wallstrom, visited Ukraine on Wednesday, June 14. During the two-day visit, the ministers visited Kiev and Odessa, Lithuania’s Foreign Ministry said. The agenda in Odessa included opening of the Days of Lithuania, ministerial meetings with Odessa university students and representatives of non-governmental organizations, injured Ukrainian troops and Odessa region officials. On Thursday, the ministers in Kiev attended opening of the Swedish-Ukrainian business forum and meet with officials of the Ukrainian administration.

Parliament asks for constant updates on Brexit

Lithuania’s parliament passed a resolution on Tuesday, June 13, calling for constant updates on the course of the Brexit talks, as they are crucial importance. By the document, the parliamentarians urged the government and the Foreign Ministry to provide constant and thorough updates on the course and the results of the negotiations between the United Kingdom and the European Union on the country’s withdrawal from the organization. The parliament also emphasized the importance of ensuring rights of Lithuanian citizens living in the UK.

Lietuvos Geležinkeliai plans restructuring

Lietuvos Geležinkeliai (Lithuanian Railways, LG), the state-run railway company, plans to restructure the group and give up some of the unnecessary property. Mantas Bartuška, the company’s CEO, does not rule out entering the stock exchange in the future. In Bartuška’s words, the administration includes many unnecessary executives and will have about 300 jobs slashed. As some of the positions are already vacant, the number of people dismissed will be smaller. Bartuška said this would allow saving 9 million euros annually.

Lithuania to appoint new ambassadors to Germany, Italy, Vatican

On Tuesday, June 13, the Foreign Ministry registered draft legislation on the appointment of new ambassadors to Germany, Italy and the Vatican. Darius Jonas Semaška, the outgoing ambassador to the Netherlands, is likely to take office as ambassador to Germany on July 11. Ričardas Slepavičius, the director of the Foreign Ministry’s Personnel Department, is planned to be appointed as the country’s envoy to Italy starting on August 1. Petras Zapolskas, the director of the ministry’s State and Diplomatic Protocol Department, should become the new ambassador to the Holy See on August 4.

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