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Friday 22.02.2019 | Name days: Rigonda, Adrians, Ārija
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BNN summary of the week: transparent president for Latvia; Danske Bank’s problems and Merkel’s hope for Brexit

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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: Election; Competition; Reputation; Change; Education; Government; Hope.

ELECTION: Latvian president announces amendments allowing for open election of state president

Latvian President Raimonds Vējonis has announced amendments to the country’s constitution that allow for open election of the state president, as noted in the official statement published in Latvian Herald.

Previously, commenting on his position on open election of the state president, Vējonis said that open voting would be an imitation of work that would not benefit transparency.

«I do not support any kind of open election – I believe it to be an imitation of work. Political parties always make mutual agreements before votes anyway. Individual deputies are unable to share opinions with one another, because they have to vote the way their party has decided in relation to a specific candidate,» said Vējonis.

Saeima approved amendments on 4 October. 85 members of the parliament supported changes to the Constitution, whereas three members were against.

Until now, Saeima always elected the state president in a closed vote.

Changes to the Constitution of the Republic of Latvia will come to force 1 January 2019. It is necessary to approve amendments to the State President Election Law. It is possible changes will be approved by the 12th Saeima.

Full article here

COMPETITION: Baltic States do slightly worse in Global Competitiveness Report

In the Global Competitiveness Report 2018 released by the World Economic Forum, Lithuania and Estonia have dropped by two positions, while all Baltic states remain among the top 45 most competitive economies in the world.

According to the report published by the World Economic Forum on Tuesday, October 16, Estonia has been ranked the highest in 32nd position (down from 30th).

Lithuania has been evaluated as the 40th most competitive (down from 38th); however, Latvia has improved its score by 1.4 points but stayed in its unchanged position of 42.

Full article here

REPUTATION: Danske Bank’s rating lowered over Estonia branch scandal

American ratings agency Moody’s has lowered its long-term ratings for Denmark’s largest lender, Danske Bank, embroiled in a scandal of possible money laundering in Estonia.

Danish news portal TheLocal.dk reports that Moody’s announced the decision last week, explaining that it «follows the announcement that the bank is the subject of criminal investigations by the US Department of Justice linked to money laundering through its Estonian branch between 2007-2015».

The Local.dk wrote that investors and clients have already reacted to the scandal as there is concern over a possible large U.S. fine for laundering money for 15,000 mainly Russian clients.

Full article here

CHANGE: Latvian corruption prevention bureau undergoes reorganization; several experienced officials retire

Reorganization has been performed at Latvia’s Corruption Prevention and Combating Bureau. As a result of this reorganization, seven of the bureau’s officials have decided to resign. Six of them have decided to retire.

CPCB claims the reduction of the number of officials will not have an impact on the quality of work performed by the institution.

«We stress that the reorganization at CPCB is a result of months of planning and analysis. No posts were terminated during reorganization. Changes were added to CPCB’s structure only,» the bureau explains.

CPCB has confirmed that as of 12 October, seven of its officials have decided to leave. Six of them have decided to retire. According to information from LETA, among those seven are experienced specialists that have taken part in investigations of several major cases.

CPCB adds that all officials that have decided to leave the bureau were offered posts equal or higher than their previous ones. No wage cuts were applied to any of those officials.

The bureau adds that the contribution of those seven officials to the work done by CPCB is highly valued. Those officials were given special awards by the chief of CPCB for their accomplishments in the line of work.

Full article here

EDUCATION: Latvia’s smallest 10th grade class has only three pupils

Latvia’s smallest 10th grade class has only three pupils, says Education and Science Ministry’s Education Department director Līga Buceniece.

According to data from the ministry, Skrunda Secondary School has this class. Although the school has a sufficient number of pupils – 297 across 1st to 9th grade – only 29 youngsters study in the secondary school’s upper classes (three in 10th grade, 11 in 11th grade, and 15 in 12th grade). The school has a total of 326 pupils registered with it.

Three 10th graders are also found in Valmieras Gaujas Secondary School – development centre. This school has 162 pupils across 1st to 12th grade.

Four 10th-graders are found in Aloja Auseklis Secondary School, Dāvis Ozoliņš Apes Secondary School and Keguma Commercial Secondary School.

Five 10th-graders are found in Zasa Secondary School.

In total, the number of 10th-graders in 22 secondary schools in Latvia does not exceed ten.

Full article here

GOVERNMENT: Political parties in Latvia reject New Conservative Party’s proposed government model

None of the political parties currently engaged in government-formation talks in Latvia have agreed to the government model offered by the New Conservative Party.

When asked about his position in relation to NCP’s offer, KPV LV co-chairman Artuss Kaimiņš said his political party will not comment announcements made by other parties. At the same time, he said NCP’s decision to present offered division of ministries was rushed, because he believes it is more important to first discuss tasks for the future government.

Kaimiņš and KPV LV prime minister candidate Aldis Gobzems had previously criticized NCP’s offer and received support from more active members of their party, saying that ‘the government should not be formed over e-mail’, referencing the fact that NCP had sent its offer electronically.

Raivis Dzintars, co-chairman of the National Alliance ‘All for Latvia!’ – ‘For Fatherland and Freedom/LNNK’, believes that following the rejection from Attīstībai/Par!, it is no longer possible to form a government that would meet the model proposed by NCP.

Full article here

HOPE: Merkel finds Brexit agreement still doable, but time running out

German Chancellor Angela Merkel evaluated after this week’s summit of the European Union, that there is not much time left for an agreement on the UK leaving the bloc, but it a deal should still be realistically attainable.

Canadian-British news agency Reuters reports on Thursday, October 18, that during a post-summit press conference, Merkel added that the 27 leaders had agreed to reassemble to assess progress as soon as sufficient progress had been made in talks.

This also concerned the key blocking issues, notably the status of the border in Ireland.

Full article here


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Latvia’s inflation was higher than the average in EU and Eurozone and January

In January 2019, inflation in Latvia was higher than average inflation in the European Union and Eurozone, according to data from Eurostat.

Suicide rates among Baltic youngsters are the highest in Europe

Suicide rates among youngsters in Baltic States are the highest among European Union member states, according to results of a study on the welfare of youngsters in the Baltic States.

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.