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Friday 15.02.2019 | Name days: Olafs, Aloizs, Alvils, Olavs

BNN summary of the week: scheme bubble of Rīgas satiksme; Estonia raises wages; government formation in Latvia

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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: Scandal; Plans; Growth; Protests; Amendments; Fight; Opinion.

SCANDAL: Court arrests Harmony sponsor and Honour to Serve Riga party member

Riga City Vidzeme District Court issued an arrest to businessman Aleksandrs Krjačeks on Thurday, 13 December. He was previously detained by Corruption Prevention and Combating Bureau in the criminal case regarding procurements organized by SIA Rīgas satiksme, as confirmed by the man’s lawyer Valdis Ulmanis.

The lawyer admitted that the case ‘is associated with RS’ but refused to comment on it further, saying he signed a non-disclosure agreement. He also told journalists that he plans to appeal the court’s decision once the full text has been published.

SIA Alkom-Trans co-owner Krjačeks is a member of Honour to Serve Riga political party. He has also donated money to Harmony and New Era political party in the past.

It is mentioned on the website of SIA Alkom-Trans that a new turn in cooperation with Czech Škoda Transportation took place in 2009. This means active introduction of low-floor Škoda 15T trams in Latvia. Trams are maintained by Alkom-Trans specialists, according to information from the website.

Krjačeks owns 60% of shares in Alkom-Trans. The other 40% are owned by Sergejs Ecins.

Full article here

PLANS: New Unity starts consultations with parties on forming government with Kariņš in charge

New Unity will insist on getting Finance Ministry in the new government, because it is only logical to have this ministry managed by the prime minister’s party, says NU representative and Saeima deputy Ojārs Ēriks Kalniņš.

Aside from the prime minister and finance minister seat, NU also wants the seat of the foreign affairs minister, Kalniņš said in an interview to LTV programme Rīta panorama.

According to him, one of the most important principles in government formation talks will be the state budget’s fiscal discipline. Security and finance sector’s stability remain important priorities.

Full article here

GROWTH: Estonia raises minimum wage

The minimum monthly wage in Estonia has been approved at the level of 540 euros, which is an increase from 500 euros.

Estonian public broadcaster ERR reports that the Estonian government made the decision on Thursday, December 13, to raise the minimum wage from January 1, 2019, which will also mean the gross minimum hourly wage to be raised from 2.97 to 3.21 euros.

Supported by the Estonian Trade Union Confederation and the Estonian Employers’ Confederation since September, the increase is expected be felt the most in the wallets of 25 500 full-time employees, who currently earn the minimum wage of 500 euros per month. According to data by the Estonian Tax and Customs Board, they account by 5.3% of all paid employees.

Full article here

PROTESTS: Lithuanian PM suspects Kremlin-backed opposition behind teacher attacks

The nearer municipal council, presidential and EP elections, the more sparkles Lithuania’s political leadership spews out. With the linguistic weaponry exhausted in the Seimas, the party leaders seek help from intelligence services.

Their names have been brought up several times this week. First, Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis called up the State Security Department (VSD) over potential Kremlin influence on the Homeland Union – Lithuanian Christian Democrats, known colloquially as Conservatives, who ostensibly are behind the massive teacher strikes in the country.

More strikes were thought to be underway in the weeks to come in Lithuania. In defence of his PM, Ramūnas Karbauskis, the leader of the ruling Peasants and Farmers (LVŽS), said that Skvernelis, who is thought to be the LVŽS’ candidate in the presidential race next June, had «reasonable ground» to say so about the Conservatives and hinted that behind the strikes might stand people who may be of interest to the country’s intelligence.

«This is ridiculous: when politicians deplete all traditional combative measures, they resort to the card of the VSD, asking it to step forward and support one or the other side. It is preposterous to think that Kremlin orchestrated the teacher strikes,» Vytautas Dumbliauskas, associate professor at Mykolas Romeris university and a political commentator, told BNN.

Skvernelis confirmed on Tuesday, December 11, what has been talked about since last Friday in the Government and the Seimas (Lithuanian Parliament) chambers – the PM had turned last Friday to the special services over «the processes taking place in the country».

Full article here

AMENDMENTS: Latvian president announces amendments to divert EUR 8.3 million for EMS

Latvian President Raimonds Vējonis has announced amendments for the Saeima’s Law on Budget and Financial Management to include diversion of EUR 8.3 million to the Emergency Medical Service, as mentioned in the official publication in Latvian Herald.

As previously explained by the State President’s Chancellery, according to Section 76 of the Constitution of the Republic of Latvia, if the Saeima approves urgency of the law with no less than two-thirds of votes, the president is not able to request repeated viewing of the law and hand it for a referendum.

Vējonis has also announced three other laws approved by the Saeima on 6 December. The Saeima approved in the final reading amendments to the Law on Budget and Financial Management. These amendments propose resolving problems caused by delays with 2019 budget approval.

Unexpectedly, members of the Saeima also supported deputy Vjačeslavs Dombrovskis’ (Harmony) proposal to expand the law with an additional statement that the Finance Minister is to divert EUR 8.3 million in the 2019 budget to increase wages of ambulance brigades. Previously, Saeima’s Budget and Finance Committee had rejected this proposal.

Vējonis was asked to announce amendments by members of Riga region’s EMS trade union.

Full article here

FIGHT: Minister says Brexit cannot be a reason to reduce cohesion volume for next EU multi-year budget

«Brexit cannot serve as a reason to reduce the volume of direct payments in cohesion and common agriculture policy in the next European Union’s multi-year budget,» says Latvian Foreign Affairs Minister EdgarsRinkēvičs.

On Tuesday, 11 December, Rinkēvičs participated in a meeting of EU General Affairs Council in Brussels. Members of the council discussed the progress in talks on the EU multi-year budget for2021-2027, as confirmed by the Foreign Affairs Ministry.

Rinkēvičs told his colleagues that the currently proposed EU multi-year budget proposal for the next period is unacceptable, because it does not fit the commitment promised in 2013 to equalize direct payments among all EU member states. The proposal in relation to the common agricultural and cohesion policy is unacceptable for Latvia. «Brexit cannot be a reason to reduce the volume of direct payments in cohesion and common agricultural policy in the next EU multi-year budget,» says Latvian Foreign Affairs Minister.

Full article here

OPINION: Pharmacy owners say compensated medicines should be supplied with reserves

Medicine manufacturers should supply state compensated medicines with a small reserve, says chairman of Pharmacy Owners Association Jānis Lībķens.

According to him, if manufacturers start in procurements to supply compensated medicines on list of compensated medicines, they should supply them with a small reserve in order to secure some planning room in case the situation changes.

When asked what impedes formation of reserves now, Lībķens said concerns are associated with the fact if too much medicines are supplied, wholesale traders usually consider exporting them to markets where it is possible to sell for higher prices. «If the manufacturer delivers medicines to Latvia at a lower price and the wholesale trader decides to re-sell the goods in Germany, manufacturers suffer losses,» says Lībķens.

At the same time, he explains that there is also parallel import – when medicines are carried to the country for cheaper prices. Manufacturers have begun searching for different solutions, including reducing prices.

Lībķens informs that the State Agency of Medicines has commenced talks with wholesale traders to make sure all information regarding accessibility of medicines is clear and accessible. «We believe it will become clear that everything is fine for the most part, but there are certain positions in which products are not supplied on time. This is where the problem surfaces – when people are unable to receive medicines when they need,» says the association’s head.

As for accessibility of medicines, Lībķens outlined another problem – medicines are divided among pharmacies that have always had demand for them. «For example, specific medicines in Latvia are used by two patients – one in Riga and one in Daugavpils. Respectively, one package is sent to Riga and one to Daugavpils. But people are mobile, and the patient in Daugavpils decides to move to Liepaja. Once there, he goes to a pharmacy with his prescription. But he can’t get his prescribed medicine because shipments have already been distributed to other pharmacies. So the question then is – what should we do? Tell the person that everything is fine and that the medicine is on its way to Daugavpils? This is not normal, and no one is offering any solutions,» says Lībķens.

Full article here

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Latvian President: All should acknowledge constitutional values as their own

At the anniversary of the Constitution of the Republic of Latvia, President Raimonds Vējonis, urged everyone in Latvia «to acknowledge the values of the Constitution as one's own and be ready to stand for the basic law both in big issues and in aspects of daily life».

Court rules EUR 200 thousand bail for criminal suspect of Riga transport firm

A court in the Latvian capital has set at 200 000 euros the bail money for ex-board chairman of the Riga public transport company Rīgas satiksme, who is a suspect in the criminal case over possible corrupt procurement dealings at the municipal firm.

Grave terror attack shakes Kashmir, conflict region of India, Pakistan

A terror attack has taken place in the disputed region of Kashmir, a long source of argument between India and Pakistan, taking the lives of 44 people.

British parliament rejects government's approach to Brexit talks

As the government of the United Kingdom sought the backing of the British Parliament to its strategy for the remaining weeks of Brexit talks with the European Union, a motion endorsing the government's strategy was rejected with a majority of 45 votes.

Lithuanian lawmakers set to backtrack on «Norwegian-type» child welfare protection

The Lithuanian lawmakers have sent this week a mixed message on their resolve to root out child abuse in Lithuanian families. As the MPs backtracked from the stringent Norwegian-type child welfare protection law to a more lenient one, not-criminalizing corporal punishment in certain cases, some experts warn that the reverse can trigger a spike of child abuse cases.

Drivers warned in Latvia as roads slippery in warmer temperatures

Black frost is hampering driving on Latvia's main and regional roads. The road administration body Latvijas Valsts ceļi (LVC) says that maintenance teams are covering the roads with antiskid materials and advises drivers to be very careful.

Programmer, physiotherapist and pilot – top professions on Latvian Job Shadow Day

The Job Shadow Day 2019 was held on February 13 in Latvia and the professions of programmer, physiotherapist and pilot were the most attractive as 1 545 companies offered the chance to follow working specialists throughout the day, according to the data by Junior Achievement Latvia.

Macedonia starts name-change from signs to currency, passports

Macedonia's official gazette has published the name-change agreement, launching a campaign of renaming the country as North Macedonia and allowing for its accession to NATO and eventually the European Union.

Dozens of British ex-ambassadors call for delay of Brexit

A group of over 40 British ex-ambassadors have urged the country's Prime Minister Theresa May to delay the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union, British media report.

Port of Ventspils sees 40% boost in cargo turnover on year

Cargo turnover at the Freeport of Ventspils has in January 2019, compared to the respective month in 2018, jumped by 40.12% or 593 tonns, according to data from the Port Administration.

New CEO of Rail Baltic project is Finnish railway executive Riihimäki

To advance the pan-Baltic railway project, the Supervisory Board of RB Rail AS has appointed Timo Riihimäki as Chief Executive Officer and Chairperson of the Management Board of the Rail Baltica Joint Venture.

Latvian PM sees no chance no significantly raise teacher salaries in 2019

Despite promises to teachers made by the previous government, Latvia is currently unable to significantly raise the wages of teachers, because it would require either increasing the budget deficit or higher taxes, Latvian Prime Minister Krišjānis Kariņš has told on Wednesday, in an interview with LNT's programme 900 sekundes.

Estonian startups attract EUR 328 million in 2018

The Estonian startup sector has in 2018 attracted combined investments of 328 million euros with Taxify, Pipedirve and Monese being the top performers, according to calculations by Startup Estonia.

U.S. sees power vacuum in Eastern Europe as exploited by Russia, China

U.S Secretary of State Mike Pompeo evaluated that in Eastern Europe, China and Russia endanger the democratic and free-market gains made since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 by the means of predatory investment and political meddling.

Ukraine peace agreement not fulfilled, UN finds

The Minsk peace accord of 2015 stands unimplemented in eastern Ukraine as over 3,300 people have been killed and 1.5 million people displaced in the five-year conflict, U.N. officials stated.

Latvian conductor Nelsons wins Grammies in U.S.

Latvian conductor Andris Nelsons has added two Grammy music awards to his list of honours for the work with the Boston Symphony Orchestra. At the Grammy music awards ceremony in the U.S. on Sunday, February 10, the Latvian won the prize for the best orchestral performance with the Boston Symphony Orchestra in the record Shostakovich: Symphonies Nos. 4&11.

Riga Mayor survives another no-confidence vote

The embattled Mayor Riga Nils Ušakovs has survived a vote of no-confidence as the opposition parties criticised him over corruption scandals involving the Riga City Council.

Justice Minister: Justice does exist in Latvia, but it's selective

«I'm in politics precisely, because as a citizen and a lawyer, I wasn't satisfied with the influence on the court and political system from people, operating outside these spheres. To my mind, this influence is the reason of long trials in Latvia. Another problem is the lack of specialists, who could solve economic crimes – if politicians would be very interested in this, many cases would have been solved over the past ten years. There are two options: there have either been unprofessional politicians, or they have been interested in having the situation remain the way it was,» said Latvian Justice Minister Jānis Bordāns in an interview with the BNN.

Spain starts historic trial against Catalan independence figures

Spain is beginning court proceedings against 12 leaders of the region of Catalonia for their role in the region's independence referendum and the subsequent declaration of separation from Spain.

Estonia convicts ex-army officer, his father for treason

A court in Tallinn has convicted ex-officer of the Estonian Defence Forces, Deniss Metsavas, his father for state treason, finding them guilty of selling state secrets to Russian intelligence.

Troubles continue in Latvian anti-establishment party KPV LV

In the Latvian anti-establishment party KPV LV, Saeima member Linda Liepiņa has decided to leave the post of the party's Co-chairperson and member of the board.

Thaw and warm temperatures expected in Latvia this week

The weather in Latvia, in the first part of the week will be mostly warm for winter-time and precipitation in the form of rain and wet snow can be expected, according to a weekly forecast from the Latvian Environment, Geology and Meteorology Centre.

Defence Minister: Deployment of allied missiles in Latvia is «dreaming»

The issue of the deployment of the missiles of allied forces in Latvia is far from being relevant, «it's dreaming», commented Latvian Defence Minister on Monday, February 11, in an interview with LTV's news programme Rīta panorāma

Hungary' s mothers of four to be exempt from paying income tax

In Hungary, the government is boosting financial support to families with several children, according to measures presented by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. On Sunday, February 10, the significant measures announced by Viktor Orbán during an annual address, encouraging women to have more children.

UK government pushes for more time for Brexit negotiations

A month and two weeks before the United Kingdom is due to leave the European Union, the government of Theresa May seeks to buy more time in the British parliament for her talks with Brussels to reach concessions that would allow the adoption of the Brexit deal.