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BNN summary of the week: oligarch talks’ ownership; scandals in Lithuania; Estonia wants direct democracy

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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: Progress; Scandals; Invitation; Fight; Opinion; Decline.

PROGRESS: Saeima voices support for Rail Baltica project’s progression

On Thursday, 15 March, the Saeima made a decision to support Rail Baltica project’s progression. In its decision, the parliament invited Latvia’s Cabinet of Ministers to provide all the necessary support for the project’s successful realization to ensure the project is realized in accordance with established terms and does not lose funding or support from the European Union, as reported by Saeima’s press-service.

The parliament also invites all sides involved in the project to find solutions to existing disagreements and encouraged Lithuanian and Estonian parliaments to support Rail Baltica project.

«Political support for the project is vital to be secured from the entire parliament. This is why European Affairs Committee has prepared a decision draft. In it, we invite Lithuania’s and Estonia’s parliaments to make a step forward and secure support for Rail Baltica project,» said the chairperson of the committee Lolita Čigāne.

Mentioning that Latvia’s full integration in EU transport network is a commercial, social and security matter for Baltic States, it is mentioned in the decision that Rail Baltica is a priority project in the EU intended to create a single transport space. To realize this project, EU has allocated 85% of the necessary funding, which is estimated around EUR 5.8 billion.

Full article here

SCANDALS: Lithuania’s ruling LFGU party remains unscathed by scandals

It seems that, for now, Lithuania‘s ruling Farmers and Green Union (LFGU) has been nearly damage-proof despite the lambasting.

Yet not the LFGU, but the opposition conservative Homeland Union- Lithuanian Christian Democrats (HU -LCD) enjoys the biggest support of the Lithuanian voters now.

If parliamentary elections were held next weekend, the conservatives would secure 17.3 per cent of the vote and the LFGU would be supported by 15.4 per cent, according to the poll conducted by Spinter Tyrimai (Spinter Surveys) pollster.

The Social Democratic Party would come in third with 8.2 per cent of the vote, just ahead of the Order and Justice party with 7.7 per cent.

In multi-mandate voting, the Liberal Movement would be the last party to cross the required 5-per cent margin with 5.1 per cent of the vote.

The parties‘ sequence in other polls is similar. That the Conservatives top polls is not surprising as being in opposition means being less prone to vulnerabilities of the political life.

Full article here

INVITATION: Protesters in Tallinn call for renewal of direct democracy in Estonia

In Tallinn, a protest in favour of direct democracy in Estonia has been held on Monday, March 12, with participants asking for the reintroduction of the direct-democratic initiative set forth by Estonia’s current constitution.

Estonian public broadcaster ERR reports that March 12 had been selected for the event as on the same date in 1934, Estonia’s period of authoritarian rule begun that took away from the Estonian people the right to introduce new draft legislation using the instrument of a direct-democratic initiative or to ask for a referendum to be held on existing laws.

Head of the Terve Rahvas (Estonian for Whole Nation) foundation, historian Jaak Valge, has explained that the reintroduction of the initiative is extremely important for the proper functioning of the Estonian people as the highest power in the state in line with the Constitution: «Direct democracy as we understand it doesn’t replace our representative democracy, but rather completes it».

Full article here

FIGHT: Slovak Interior Minister steps down amid backlash over journalist murder and politics

Slovakian Minister of the Interior has stepped down as the interior authorities in the country are under pressure to solve the murder of journalist Ján Kuciak and his fiancée.

British public broadcaster BBC reports that that the junior coalition partner, the Most-Hid group, in the Slovak government demanded the resignation of Kalinak in exchange for continued support of ruling Smer-SD as critics had claimed Kalinak could not ensure an impartial investigation into the murders, in his role as overseer of the police.

Slovakia’s President Andrej Kiska called for a «radical reconstruction» of the government or fresh elections last week to restore public faith, after all seven suspects arrested in connection with the murders were released without charge.

Full article here

FUTURE: No more than two consecutive terms for governor of Bank of Latvia

Saeima’s Budget and Finance Committee has agreed to propose an alternative legislative draft that provides for adding restrictions for the governor of the Bank of Latvia, making it impossible to take this post more for more than two consecutive terms.

The idea to expand the rights for dismissal of the governor of the central bank did not receive support from the committee.

At the same time, the committee declined amendments to the Law on the Bank of Latvia from Unity’s Saeima faction. Unity’s proposal provided to expanding the law with an option to suspend the authority of the governor of the country’s central bank if he, his deputy or council member is a suspect in a criminal process.

The declined legislative draft also provided requirements for the management of the central bank and the option for the parliament to initiate a vote for the governor’s dismissal.

Full article here

OPINION: oligarch talks do not belong to CPCB or prosecutor; society has the right to go through them

Documents from the oligarch talks do not belong to the Corruption Prevention and Combating Bureau, the prosecutor’s office or any other institution – society has the right to go through this information, said member of Unity’s Saeima faction Andrejs Judins.

Materials of oligarch talks do not contain any sensitive information about people’s private lives, said Judins, adding that he learned that much from working in the parliament’s investigative committee.

During a meeting of Saeima’s Legal Affairs Committee on Wednesday, 14 March, a discussion took place between deputies and representative of the prosecutor’s office. The topic revolved around oligarch talks and whether or not they should be considered containing private information. Representative of the prosecutor general’s office mentioned that the talks in question mentioned many details of participating parties’ private life.

Full article here

DECLINE: Riga’s mayor spent at least eight million euros of residents’ money to promote himself

Over the course of the past three years, at least EUR 8 million of residents’ money has been used to promote the image of the Mayor of Riga Nils Ušakovs. This money was used to buy media, employ young members of Harmony, and finance ‘in-house protestors’ and using social networks, as estimated by Re:Baltica research journalism center.

EUR 4 million of this amount was paid to riga.lv portal, EUR 1,5 million was spent financing Riga City Council Public Relations Office, EUR 1 million ended up in SIA Mediaservice, and EUR 1.4 million was spent on publication of information in mass media and organization of Ghetto Games.

Ušakovs’ publicity mechanism consists of three large blocks: advertisement contracts with commercial media for distribution of ‘Riga news’, a network of loyal NGOs who are ready to take it to the streets and voice support, and an impressive network of social media that are used to form public opinions and criticize the opposition. The strategic goal is creating an image for Ušakovs as a successful manager. In reality, however, this is one-sided communication, because the mayor is free to choose which questions to answer and how to skilfully avoid counter-questions.

Large amounts of money are put into riga.lv portal, the office of which is located close to Riga City Council. It was founded five years ago. Its team consists of sixteen people. Another eighteen people work there part-time. Its funding has grown nine times from EUR 322,000 in its first year to at least EUR 3 million in 2017. Prior to elections, EUR 1.12 million from riga.lv budget was spent on website maintenance, excluding wages and royalties, as well as screen time for advertisements on a number of media. Some of the media outlets had been paid at least EUR 3.3 million in the last three years.

Full article here

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SRS: cash register reform still stagnates, but has become much faster than it was last year

The cash registers reform continues stagnating. However, it has become much faster than it was a year ago, as reported by State Revenue Service.

Specialists to search for solutions to topical environmental problems in Ventspils

On Friday, 20 July, a meeting was held between Ventspils Commercial Port representatives and specialists from State Environment Service.

Children with functional disorders to receive services financed by EU funds

Child invalids will have access to social services intended to improve their social skills and mobility. More than EUR 4.2 million has been allocated for this goal from the European Social Fund, as confirmed by Latvia’s Central Financing and Contracting Agency.

Producer price level in industry up 4.3% in Latvia

Compared to June 2017, the average level of producer prices in Latvian industry increased by 4.3 % in June 2018. Prices of products sold on the domestic market rose by 4.8 % and those of exported products by 3.7 %.

Total tax debts in Latvia in July – 1.212 billion euros

At the beginning of July total tax debts in Latvia, including outstanding debts, halted debts and debts applied with repayment term extensions, accounted for EUR 1.212 billion, which is 0.8% less than a month prior, according to data from the State Revenue Service.

Survey: every third Latvian resident has received illegal loan offers

Nearly every third resident in Latvia or 31% of respondents admit having received offers to use illegal loan services, as concluded in a survey performed by Latvian Alternative Financial Services Association and SKDS.

Libya opposed to EU's idea to establish migrant centres in North Africa

Libya is against the solution of the European Union to set up migrant centres in the North African country as a means to keep migrants from arriving in the bloc and Libya would not be convinced with financial support, its Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj has noted.

Arrest warrant on Catalan ex-President cancelled by Spain

The Supreme Court of Spain cancelled a European arrest warrant for former Catalan regional leader Carles Puigdemont, as Germany refused to extradite him to face accusations of rebellion for declaring the independence of Spain's region, Catalonia in 2017.

Latvian government plans to allow handing expired food to charity

Latvia’s Agriculture Ministry has prepared amendments to the Law on the Supervision of the Handling of Food that provide permission to hand over certain types of food products to charity after the end of their expiry date.

Estonian industrial producer prices up 2.9% since June 2017

Estonian industrial producer price index has risen by 2.9% between June 2017 and the first summer month this year, resulting in an increase of export prices as well, Estonian statisticians have estimated.

Putin urges NATO to quit «irresponsibly» developing ties with Ukraine, Georgia

Russia's President Vladimir Putin cautioned NATO against developing deeper relations with Ukraine and Georgia, evaluating such a policy was irresponsible and would have consequences for the military alliance.

Latvian parliament not in a hurry to support president Vejonis for a second term

Political parties represented in the Saeima are not eager to support President Raimonds Vējonis for his remainder for a second term.

Weather in Latvia will remain warm and even hot at times

Weather in Latvia in the nearest couple of days will be dictated by a cyclone. Because of that the sky will be partially covered by clouds; thunderstorms are also expected, as reported by State Environment, Geology and Meteorology Centre.

Hungary sued in EU Court for criminalising help to illegal immigrants

The European Union's executive body has stated that a law in Hungary that criminalises support for illegal immigrants is in breach with EU law and Hungary has now been referred to the European Court of Justice for the alleged non-compliance.

Estonians buy alcohol in Latvia; country loses EUR 20 million in six months

Latvian stores located close to the Latvian-Estonian border have sold 1.6 million litres of strong alcoholic drinks in the first half year of 2019. This means Estonia has lost more than EUR 20 million in taxes, according to data from Association of Estonian Alcohol Producers and Importers.

Lithuania’s election watchdog slams ruling LFGU over popular TV series

Political messages can be channeled in various ways and the ruling now Lithuanian party, LFGU has chosen a very delicate way of the communications – through a TV series featuring the beauty and the ambiance of Naisiai, a picturesque settlement in Siauliai district.

Association: around 3,3000 people know of their HIV infection but receive no treatment

HIV remains a serious problem in Latvia – around 3,300 people are aware of their status but receive no treatment and continue spreading the infection. Because of that, it is necessary to act quickly for Latvia to lose its status as HIV kingdom and limit the spread of the infection, says Baltic HIV Association, informing decision-makers and responsible officials in institutions and hospitals about the HIV/AIDS situation.

Driver shortage may force reduction of international road haulage volumes

Latvia’s road haulage companies have started experiencing shortage of drivers. On top of that, if employment conditions for residents of non-EU member states do not change, it may be necessary to reduce the volume of road haulage volumes, says Latvijas auto president Valdis Trēziņš.

Lattelecom’s turnover up 9% in first half-year of 2018

Lattelecom Group’s turnover reached EUR 98.7 million in the first half-year of 2018, growing by 9% in comparison with the same period of 2017, according to unaudited financial results.

1,140 fewer births registered in Latvia in 2017

Since 2016 the number of births in Latvia is declining again. Compared to 2016, a total of 1,140 births fewer were registered in 2017. Also, the provisional number of births registered over the first six months of 2018 (9,664 children) is by 664 children smaller than that registered over the respective period of 2017.

Citadele Bank decides to reform Lithuanian subsidiary as a branch office

Citadele Bank has decided to reform its Lithuanian subsidiary as a branch office, as confirmed in the statement the bank submitted to Nasdaq Riga.

Russian pension age hike discussed amid protest outside Duma

As the Russian paliament votes on the proposal to gradually increase he pension age to 65 for men and 63 for women, some 200 people were seen protesting against the reform in Moscow.

Corruption watchdog chief says bureau has done no illegal actions

After going through Corruption Prevention and Combating Bureau’s past investigative activities, the bureau’s chief – Jēkabs Straume – found it confusing that officers often took no appropriate actions after acquiring evidence or receiving indications regarding necessary steps.

Illegal border crossings to Estonia on rise after Russia World Cup

Football fans with temporary residency permits of the Russia World Cup, or fan Ids, are trying to illegally cross the Russian border with Estonia, a member of the European Union.

Estonian 13-year-old lethally overdoses fentanyl

Estonian prosecutors have accused a 15-year old of negligent homicide after a girl, 13, passed away from fentanyl overdose.