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Friday 22.02.2019 | Name days: Rigonda, Adrians, Ārija
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BNN summary of the week: open presidential election in Latvia and no more plastic bags for shoppers

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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: Future; Change; Fight; Decline; Business; Progress.

FUTURE: Will Latvians know who elects their president? Draft on open vote «on the move»

On Tuesday, 17 July, Saeima’s Legal Affairs Commission decided to submit for the first reading amendments to the Constitution of the Republic of Latvia that provide for holding election of the country’s president in the Saeima through an open vote, as reported by the parliament’s press-service.

Currently the Constitution states that the president is elected through a closed vote with no less than 51 members of the Saeima voting in the chosen candidate’s favour. To secure more trust in the Saeima, it is necessary to ensure transparency of this process. The vote for the president is the only closed vote in the Saeima, authors of the legislative draft mention in the annotation.

Previously a work group was formed by the Legal Affairs Committee. This group continued in-depth discussions regarding the pros and cons of an open presidential vote, as well as other proposals. In the end, the group proposed expanding the president’s authority and election evaluation.

Full article here

CHANGE: Ministry declares no more free plastic bags for shoppers

From 1 January 2019 onward supermarkets will no longer provide plastic bags to customers free of charge. This will not apply to very light plastic bags, as confirmed by Latvia’s Environment Protection and Regional Development Ministry.

Amendments to the law were developed to limit the use of single-time use plastic bags in supermarkets and to reach the goals detailed in European Parliament’s and Council’s directive, the ministry explains.

The legislative initiative applies to all plastic shopping bags regardless of the thickness of the material. One exception is for very light plastic bags used for hygienic packaging.

‘Some traders already do not provide plastic bags free of charge. Instead they offer paper, carton or woven bags. This motivates consumers to pick environment-friendly solutions. Traders who have yet to adopt this approach will have to do it soon,’ comments minister Kaspars Gerhards.

Full article here

FIGHT: 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 (Lithuania’s Farmers and Greens Union) 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.

A village where there are no drunkards, scumbags and crooks –just a picture of a perfect Lithuania, an example of how things have to be run in the country. In some of the episodes of the series, which, by the way, were funded by Agrokoncernas, Lithuania’s largest agro-holding, note, owned by Ramūnas Karbauskis, the leader of the LFGU, the party-chairman-turned-actor exhorts all to visit Naisiai. Some of the episodes feature the LFGU’s party newspaper and a calendar with the party logo.

The debates in the commission whether the series was part of the party’s political advertising were as much heated as the scorching weather in Vilnius this week. However, Lithuania’s election watchdog, the Central Election Commission (CEC), ruled that certain episodes of the popular TV series, as those afore-mentioned above, breached law and have to be deemed as political advertising.

Notably, three CEC members issued their separate opinion, demanding that the entire series be deemed hidden political advertising of the LFGU and view the film a gross violation of the legislation on funding political campaigns.

In the voting, three members of the commission voted for the latter, other three voted against the formulation, claiming that the series did not violate law and two abstained from the voting.

According to Laura Matijošaityte, chairman of the Central Election Commission, the CEC will vote for the entirety of the conclusions in the next sitting, due next week.

«Since a few of the commission members proposed an alternative formulation (i.e. rule that the entire series, not the separate episodes breached law), we have now to draw up concrete proposals considering their opinions…There have to be clear arguments to decide about the TV series,» the CEC chairwoman argued.

Full article here

DECLINE: 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.

The association says three measures are of immediate importance. This includes cancelling existing restrictions on commencement of treatment (500 CD4) to make medicine accessible to all HIV patients. It is also necessary to improve accessibility of infectologists at Latvia’s Infectology Centre and create a system for individual patient interviews to raise treatment accessibility and queuing.

The association believes it is necessary to increase the role of HIV preventive measures office in HIV diagnosis and increased treatment accessibility, sending people with positive HIV tests to a healthcare institution and ensuring free confirmation of diagnosis and queuing at an infectologist.

Full article here

BUSINESS: 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.

The bank’s representatives say the final decision in regards to reorganization of Lithuanian subsidiary and merging it with Latvia’s Citadele Bank to form a branch office in Lithuania was made on 5 July.

In accordance with the Law on Commerce, Citadele Bank’s customers have the right to receive creditor claim if it is proved reorganization puts at risk satisfaction of their claim. Customers can submit applications until 20 August 2018.

It is planned that the organization will be finished in the first half of 2019. Once it is done, Citadele Bank will have its main headquarters in Latvia with branch offices in Lithuania and Estonia, as well as a subsidiary in Switzerland.

A new Citadele office will be opened in Lithuania as part of the reorganization process. With that, this office will take over Citadele Bank’s assets and provide all functions and customer services.

Reorganization is not expected to affect customer services in Lithuania.

Full article here

PROGRESS: Countries sign third Rail Baltica co-financing agreement

Connecting Europe Facility co-financing agreement for the construction of Rail Baltica railway infrastructure was signed by participating member states on 13 July. The value of the agreement is EUR 130 million. CEF’s contribution will reach EUR 110 million, which is equal to 85% of all applicable costs, as confirmed by RB Rail communication consultant Ligita Brodiņa.

The main goal behind CEF co-financing is ensuring progress in the construction process in Lithuania (Kaunas-Lithuanian/Latvian border), which includes finishing construction of a bridge over Neris River, establishment of access roads along the length of the railway and commencement of construction work in Estonia, Brodiņa adds.

She continues: «Among the main goals is also the construction project from Upeslejas to Vangaži rolling stock maintenance depot in Latvia, as well as consolidation of initial technical solutions for the entire railway line in order to continue the construction design process for all elements of the global project. One other goal includes evaluation of suppliers to determine the optimal procurement and supply strategy and effective project management».

Funding is intended for activities like evaluation and studies, technical design, initial technical solutions, territorial planning, constriction work, provision of monitoring of infrastructure, different support and publicity activities, says Brodiņa.

Full article here


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Unemployment in Latvia was 7.4% in 2018

72.8 thousand people were unemployed in 2018. Compared to 2017, number of unemployed persons dropped by 12.6 thousand or 14.8 %. Last year, Latvian unemployment rate constituted 7.4 %, which is 1.3 percentage points lower than in 2017.

Employment in Latvia reached 64.5% in 2018

909.4 thousand or 64.5 % of Latvia population aged 15–74 were employed in 2018. Compared to 2017, employment rate grew by 1.6 percentage points and number of employed persons by 14.6 thousand.

Anti-fraud activist Browder to submit criminal complaint over Swedbank

British investor and activist against Russia-related money laundering, Bill Browder, has voiced plans to submit a criminal complaint against Swedbank to Swedish authorities over its involvement in alleged money laundering transactions in the Baltics.

Latvian police assist German colleagues with «Russian Laundromat» case

German law enforcement institutions have finished investigating the ‘Russian Laundromat’ case. Latvian Economic Crime Enforcement Department assisted their German colleagues with the investigation, as reported by Latvian State Police.

Pilot's mistake found as cause of Estonia missile firing

The missile accidentally released over Estonia in 2018 was fired because of a mistake of the pilot of the Spanish NATO Baltic Air Policing aircraft, according to an investigation concluded by Estonia.

Grass-burning season in Latvia commences with six separate fires

On Thursday, 21 February, Latvian firefighters were called in to deal with the first grass fires this year. This first such fire this year was put out in Ugāle, where last year’s grass was burning on an area close to half a hectare.

UK backing down on demands to re-open Brexit agreement

London seemed to soften its stance in Brexit negotiations with the European Union from fruitless attempts to re-open the withdrawal agreement to securing new guarantees to reassure eurosceptic members of the British parliament over the time frame of the temporary Northern Ireland border rules.

Spanish train manufacturer appeals Latvian procurement outcome in court

Spanish train manufacturer Talgo has appealed the decision made by Latvian Procurement Monitoring Bureau on re-assessment of results of the procurement of electric trains, saying that PMB has made big mistakes and wrong conclusions, which resulted in an illegal decision, Talgo representatives say.

Mass rallies held in Slovakia on murder anniversary of Slovak journalist

Large rallies have been held in Slovakia on the first anniversary of the murder of investigative journalist Ján Kuciak and his fiancee that brought down the country's government, but still has not been solved.

Minister: PUC’s and Competition Council’s functions should be expanded

There is no need to merge Public Utilities Commission and Competition Council. It would be better to expand their respective functions, said Latvian Economy Minister Ralfs Nemiro.

Nights to become chilly in Latvia, whereas days will become warmer soon

The centre of an anticyclone is currently above Scandinavia. This anticyclone will start gradually moving south-west on Friday, 22 February. It will also dictate weather in Latvia – the sky will become clear but air will remain chilly, promises Latvian Environment, Geology and Meteorology Centre.

Lithuanian law enforcers bust high-profile judges and attorneys

In an unprecedented move yet, Lithuania’s law enforcers busted this week what it may be an organised, yet impenetrable until now ring of the country’s some A-tier judges and lawyers. Some of the big names have deliberated high-profile legal cases implicating some of Lithuania’s most heinous criminal gangs.

Latvian Saeima rejects proposal to reduce number of ministries

On Thursday, 21 February, the Saeima rejected a proposal from the opposition and several KPV LV deputies on reduction of ministries.

Latvian Saeima supports legislative draft on people’s rights after Brexit

Saeima has supported Foreign Affairs Committee’s legislative draft intended to ensure better legislative cooperation and protection of people’s rights during the transition period after the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union, as confirmed by the parliament’s press-service.

Study: Latvian residents worried the most about traffic accidents when travelling

When travelling abroad, Latvian residents are afraid the most of ending up in a traffic accident (56%), fall ill (54%) or become injured (53%), according to results of a study performed by If Insurance.

Producer price level in industry in Latvia grew 0.1% in January

Compared to December 2018, the level of producer prices in Latvian industry rose by 0.1 % in January 2019. Prices of products sold on the domestic market grew by 0.4 %, but prices of exported products reduced by 0.2 %.

Twitter introduces special political ad policy with EU election in mind

The world's leading microblogging site Twitter on Tuesday presented tools in the European Union to simplify identification of political campaign ads before the European Parliament elections in May.

Latvian Saeima supports in second reading sale of tobacco products using price lists

On Thursday, 21 February, the Saeima supported in the second reading amendments to the Law on the Handling of Tobacco Products. These changes state stores will no longer be allowed showcase tobacco products on shelves. Instead tobacco products will be sold using price lists, as reported by Saeima’s press-service.

Minister: there are several options for acquiring Gazprom’s shares in Conexus

There are several acquisition options for the shares Russian gas concern Gazprom owns in AS Conexus Baltic Grid, says Latvian Economy Minister Ralfs Nemiro.

Parliamentary election begins in Estonia with online voting

With Estonia's signature online voting the 2019 parliamentary election has begun on Thursday, offering a variety of advance voting options in the period until the real election day, March 3.

LIZDA: we only want what was promised to us before elections

«We only want what was promised to us before elections,» said Latvian Trade Union of Education and Science Employees chairperson Inga Vanaga in an interview to LTV on Thursday, 21 February, commenting the talks held with government representatives the previous day.

EU-British talks «constructive», while May's party shrinks in UK parliament

Following three British MPs leaving the ruling Conservative Party amid Brexit impasse, British head of government held more talks with the European Union that were constructive according to both Pirme Minister Theresea May and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.

Selection term of CEC chairman’s candidate to be extended

Politicians of the ruling coalition in Latvia have agreed to extend the candidate selection process of the head of Central Election Commission by two weeks.

Donbas war could be ended with U.N. peacekeepers, Ukraine believes

A peacekeeping mission with the mandate of the U.N. to Eastern Ukraine could bring the Donbas war to an end, but first Secretary-General Antonio Guterres should send an assessment delegation to evaluate the possible options, stated Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko.

Swedbank: we do not have sufficient information to comment accusations

Swedbank does not have sufficient information to comment the accusations voice by Swedish media in regards to the bank’s possible involvement in money laundering schemes, said the bank’s governor Birgitte Bonnesen.