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Week in Lithuania. Lithuania’s new road tax on Russian trucks

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A Lithuanian border guard inspects a truck as it enters Lithuania at a border crossing with Russia in Kybartai

Following the Government’s decree, Russian carriers using Lithuanian roads will have to pay a road tax starting on December 21. The move is a response to Russia’s decision to tax Lithuanian road carriers.

Until February 2016, Russian-registered trucks weighing over 12 tonnes will be taxed at a rate of 0.02 euro per kilometre and twice as much from March 1. Initial plan had Russian road carriers taxed as of December 15. However, Lithuania’s Transport and Communications Minister Rimantas Sinkevičius said that additional time was needed to inform Moscow about the decision via diplomatic channels. Lithuania had earlier received a note from Russia informing that from November 15 it would impose a road toll on Lithuanian vehicles weighing more than 12 tonnes. Road carriers of other countries have been paying road taxes in Lithuania since 2005. Meanwhile a bilateral cooperation agreement concluded with Russia in 1992 and 1993, exempted carriers of both countries from road tolls.

Zero-alcohol rule for drivers favoured by Lithuanian PM and Health Minister

Lithuania’s Prime Minister Algirdas Butkevičius and Health Minister Rimantė Šalaševičiūtė have expressed their support the Interior Ministry’s initiative to reduce drunk driving. The prime minister said he would support the idea of introducing a zero alcohol level limit.

According to the head of Government, the proposal has to be evaluated by medical experts, as breath analysers may show presence of alcohol when certain medicines are used. The minister of health has said the initiative makes sense. On Wednesday, December 9, the Ministry of the Interior submitted amendments to the Law on Road Traffic Safetym proposing to introduce a zero alcohol level limit for all drivers. The current law stipulates that the zero alcohol level limit has to be adhered by drivers of taxis, motorcycles, quad bikes, commercial vehicles and everyone with driving experience below two years. All other drivers are not allowed to exceed 0.4 per mile alcohol limit.

Vilnius’ Christmas tree among most creative this season

The Christmas tree in Vilnius’ Cathedral Square has been acknowledged as one of the most beautiful in the world this year, according to The Guardian and Huffington Post. The tree, whose windows have drawn comparisons to storybook cottages, was ranked alongside other beautiful trees raised in Washington, Melbourne and New York. Jolanta Tūraitė, the architect who designed the tree, says her led-team wanted to spread the message that the world is our home. Others have stated that the tree’s windows, according to old Lithuanian beliefs, symbolize the relationship between an individual’s inner and outer selves, or between their soul and the rest of the world.

Lithuania seeks membership in CERN

Lithuanian Government has passed a protocol decision on Lithuania’s aspiration to become the Associate Member of European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), Vilnius University (VU) reports. Lithuania has a cooperation potential with CERN – the world’s largest particle physics laboratory, housing the Large Hadron Collider – not only in physics and computer science or education, but also in industry and medicine, VU says. Apart from Lithuanian scientists and researchers, a dozen of Lithuanian students participate annually in several CERN projects and bring back home new knowledge, scientific contacts, upgraded qualifications to Lithuania.

Russia funds propaganda in Lithuania

After hearing a report from the State Security Department (VSD) about how Russia disseminates propaganda in Lithuania, MP Artūras Paulauskas, chairman of the Seimas Committee on National Security and Defence, says that illegal methods are used to fund media outlets and recruit journalists. The State Security Department (VSD) prepared a presentation about threats to information security related to the funding of Russian propaganda in Lithuania. It was presented to the Committee on National Security and Defence by deputy director of the VSD Kęstutis Budrys. «The VSD presented to us the entire infrastructure of broadcasting Russian propaganda in Lithuania, institutions that were created and used in various ways by Russians to disseminate their propaganda. Schemes were shown how these information channels are funded, how offshore companies and illegal payments are used. An entire system exists which, I would say, is being funded in violation of the law. They also explained to us how our citizens get recruited to work in those media outlets, especially young people in schools – their interest to choose career in journalism is encouraged, they are sent to Russia to study journalism and work here upon return,» Paulauskas told reporters.

Agrarian Peasant and Green party sees boost in ratings

With growing popularity in the polls, analysts believe that the Lithuanian Peasant and Green Union will cross the 5-percent barrier required to become a considerable force in the Seimas (Lithuanian Parliament) for the first time ever when elections are held in October 2016.According to Vladas Gaidys, director of the Vilmorus public opinion and market research company, polls indicate that 8.6 percent of those who intend to vote in the Seimas elections plan to vote for the agrarian party. Taking 5 percent of the votes in the 2016 Seimas elections would allow the party, which currently has two MPs elected in single-member districts, to elect members from its election list to the Seimas. This would encourage larger parties to consider them when forming coalitions.

Parliament passes 2016 budget

In the new budget, Lithuania has allotted 7.7 million euro more for border protection and raising minimum wage. The Lithuanian Seimas (Parliament) has adopted its state budget for 2016 and its expenditures exceed its revenues by 640 million euros. The deficit budget was adopted in a vote of 76 for, 34 against, and 14 abstentions. The budget’s revenue, together with the European Union’s funds, is expected to amount to 8.046 billion euros. Expenditures, on the other hand, are projected to reach 8.686 billion euros. The new budget has tasked the Government with finding an additional 14,000 euros for the Seimas Ombudsmen’s Office and 500,000 euros for the Fund of the Protected Area Directorate. 70 million euros will be allocated from the Road Maintenance and Development Programme to asphalt gravel roads, and 7 million euros will be granted for significant local infrastructure work on the Rail Baltica project. The new budget has granted an additional 7.7 million euros to the State Border Guard Service, the Fire and Rescue Department, the Public Security Service, the Police Department and other agencies. The State Security Department will receive 1.5 million euros for the acquisition of new equipment. The leader of the Seimas opposition Andrius Kubilius criticised the governing parties for their «trite attitude” towards the findings of the National Audit Office and the European Commission. call,” said MP Kubilius

Defence minister content with military spending rise

Defence Minister Juozas Olekas has welcomed the 2016 budget passed by parliament on Thursday, December 10, which raises defence spending by one third. «I very much welcome the decision of the Seimas to increase the defence budget. It prepares the grounds for a consistent Government’s policy of strengthening defence of the state, i.e., to plan further modernisation of weaponry, to enhance social securities for military personnel, to boost the appeal of military service, and to ensure the commitments to NATO allies,» Lithuanian Minister of National Defence Juozas Olekas said commenting on the Law on the Approval of Financial Indicators of the State Budget and Municipal Budgets of 2016 of the Republic of Lithuania the Seimas had adopted. Under to the Law, appropriations for the Ministry of National Defence in 2016 will amount to 575.2 million euro (1.48 percent of GDP) which exceeds the defence budget 2015 by 150 million euro.

Lithuanian National Prize winners for Culture andArt announced

The laureates of the Lithuanian National Prize for Culture and Art 2015 were announced on Thursday, December 10, at the Ministry of Culture. Six well-known artists have been awarded the prize. Four of them received awards for their work over the past 7 years; musicologist Jonas Ambrasas for his research on 20th-century Lithuanian music, musician Leopoldas Digrys for his renewal and development of the Lithuanian organ school, actor Dainius Gavenonis for his work in modern theatre, and writer Giedra Radvilavičiūtė for her important societal analysis and essay texts. Sculptor Vladas Urbanavičius and graphic artist Janina Grasilda Zilyte received lifetime achievement awards. The Lithuanian National Prize for Culture and Art will be awarded by President Dalia Grybauskaite on February 16, the Day of the Re-establishment of the State of Lithuania. The laureates will receive 30,400 euros.

No more tax exemption for biofuel blends

Lithuanian Parliament has voted to waive the duty exemptions for EU-approved biofuel mixtures sold in Lithuanian gas stations. The amendments are expected to help the state save around 66 million euros. These EU-compliant biofuel and fuel blends are better known as E85 (85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline) and B100 (100 percent RME concentration, used for diesel vehicles). The Seimas adopted amendments to the Law on Excise Duty, which provides excise duty exemptions for these fuels, with 90 votes in favour, 2 against, and 12 abstentions. Excise duty exemptions to all other products containing biological materials have also been cancelled.

Lithuanian president against higher benefits for refugees

Refugees should not get bigger benefits than people who have worked in Lithuania for 30 or 40 years, President of Lithuania Dalia Grybauskaitė told. According to the president, Lithuania has already designated considerable benefits compared to other countries. The president used integration processes in Belgium and France as examples, where refugees are paid huge benefits but live off of their benefits in ghettos without being incorporated into the labour market.

NATO invitation for Montenegro is also signal to Georgia

Minister of Foreign Affairs of Lithuania Linas Linkevičius says that invitation extended to Montenegro to begin NATO membership negotiations is a signal not only to the Western Balkans but Georgia as well. On Wednesday, December 9, NATO invited Montenegro to launch membership negotiations. Although the negotiation deadline has not been set, it is thought the process will be prompt and the country will join NATO within a year and a half or two years.

Business to join anti-corruption body

Lithuanian Government has decided that representatives of associated business organisations may from now on become members of the Inter-agency Commission for Coordination of Fight against Corruption. Minister of Justice and Chairman of the Commission, Juozas Bernatonis, says the move to include business representatives will enhance cooperation between the public and private sectors and provide better conditions for businesspeople to submit proposals regarding strategic anti-corruption measures. Previously only officials of the Government, ministries, the Prosecutor General’s Office, the Special Investigation Service (STT), the State Security Department (VSD) etc. could apply for membership in the Commission.

Transgender Lithuanians go public

The Lithuanian LGBT rights group LGL has produced a series of videos in order to raise awareness about and visibility of transgender people in the country. Part of the #TRANS_LT campaign, the videos have been released this week. Produced by the LGL and the Lithuanian filmmaker Romas Zabarauskas, the videos feature transgender people talking about their personal experiences in the country which is thought to be among the least LGBT-friendly in the European Union. There is no legal way for transgender people in Lithuania to change their papers so that they specify the gender they identify with. The videos ask viewers to sign a petition urging the authorities to change that.

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