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Friday 06.12.2019 | Name days: Niklāvs, Niks, Nikolajs
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No active work, no hurry. Saeima’s progress with Belarusian parliament on hold

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The current Latvian Saeima’s accomplishments in improving cooperation with Belarus remain in the form of unclear plans. Heads of Saeima’s special group admit – a period of silence has begun in their work. The transport and logistics industry, on the other hand, has no shortage of criticisms.

The latest Saeima deputies group for cooperation with Belarusian parliament was formed 10 January. Nevertheless, using as an excuse the fact that soon – around 17 November – Belarus will be electing a new parliament, Latvia’s parliamentary group still has not done any tangible work. This means the group will remain inactive for at least mid-November.

No tangible work

Baltic Association – Transport and Logistics (BATL) CEO and board member Ivars Landmanis is very critical of the group’s work.

«The Saeima deputies’ group for cooperation with Belarusian parliament has not done any tangible work all these years,»

comments the expert, pointing towards the 13th Saeima and previous parliaments.

He stresses that Belarus is an important neighbour to Latvia, its foreign trade partner, especially in transit and logistics. The potential is great, which is why it is necessary to expand cooperation, work on mutually beneficial offers and increase the volume and variety of freight. This opinion was voiced both publicly and in talks with Transport Ministry, says the BATL representative.

No statistics on work done

It is not at all easy to monitor the work performed by Saeima deputies’ cooperation group’s members to nurture relations with other countries. For example, Saeima’s press-service has told BNN that the parliament does not compile information regarding cooperation group’s accomplishments.

Latvia’s Foreign Affairs Ministry told BNN – official data shows that the last visit of the cooperation group to Belarus took place in 2016, whereas the visit of the Belarusian delegation to Latvia took place in 2014.

As for the visits performed by specific Saeima deputies, some took place in March 2019. Visits were performed by Artūrs Rubiks (Harmony), Janīna Kursīte-Pakule (National Alliance) and Jānis Dūklavs (Union of Greens and Farmers).

Later, in May, visits were performed by Vjačeslavs Dombrovskis (Harmony), Gundars Daudze (UGF) and Inese Ikstena (AP). They met with Belarus National Assembly’s Republic Council vice-chairperson Marianna Shchetkina, as well as members of National Assembly’s Chamber of Representatives.

Of the deputies that have visited Belarus recently, only Ikstena is not a member of the group that cooperated with Belarusian parliament.

Latvia’s Foreign Affairs Ministry notes that deputies part of Saeima’s cooperation group are responsible for their activities.

Industry remains ignored

Landmanis says until now BATL has not worked together with Saeima’s formed group for cooperation between Latvian and Belarus. In spite of BATL’s experience, Saeima has not invited its members to offer opinions, work on cooperating with Belarus and attend visits to the neighbouring country together with Saeima members.

The Saeima’s group for cooperation with Belarus is traditionally Harmony’s playground – this party has always been part of or in charge of this group.

For example, 13th Saeima’s group includes nearly all Harmony faction members except for Jānis Urbanovičs and Boriss Cilevičs.

Still, the group is not one-sided – there are also five representatives from the Union of Greens and Farmers, National Alliance, KPV LV and New Unity.

Landmanis stresses that the parliament’s group for cooperation with Belarusian parliament should maintain parliamentary relations and work to resolve cooperation matters on a political level, but how is the group should resolve them if the majority of its members have always been deputies from the opposition and the fact that its leader has remained unchanged for another time – Harmony’s Rubiks?

«Opposition parties have a hard time resolving any matters. This means if we want more serious cooperate with Belarus, we need more interest for ruling Saeima parties,» comments Landmanis.

Political dialogue in a peaceful manner

Deputy head of the Saeima’s group Kursīte-Pakule told BNN that during the visit to Belarus in March, politicians had discussed with their colleagues about cooperation between universities, agriculture, transit and municipalities.

The group’s chairman Rubiks told BNN that members of the group and representatives of Belarusian parliament had reached an agreement on matters worth discussing further – economic cooperation and ice hockey championship, which will take place in Minsk in 2021. The deputy also said he hopes colleagues from Belarus will visit Latvia in autumn.

Both politicians admit – the parliament’s support group for cooperation with Belarusian parliament does not work actively because everyone is waiting for the new parliament to be elected. The new parliament in Belarus is expected to be composed around 17 November.

Rubiks explained to BNN that the last talks outlined the most important topics, and yet members of the new parliament could present new topics to work on.

Kursīte-Pakule believes cooperation groups are the ones who sustain political dialogues.

«It is important to make it clear that we do not intend to forcefully teach Belarus anything – how to live, which laws to approve. We want to show their parliament how we work and receive information how they work,»

BNN was told by the politician, who added – the biggest amount of work in inter-governmental relations is performed by embassies and governments. Parliaments alone are not able to adopt inter-governmental legislation.

Working in several cooperation groups, she has concluded that when it comes to establishing goals in the cooperation between both groups, ‘this is not a case when it is possible to put something specific on the table’.

It should be added that Saeima deputies are not paid extra for working in cooperation groups. The visits of Belarusian deputies to Latvia are covered by Saeima’s budget and the visits of Latvian deputies to Belarus are covered by their parliament.

Work keeps piling up

Latvia’s Foreign Affairs Minister Edgars Rinkēvičs, during his meeting with Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko, received confirmation that Latvia’s neighboгr may increase oil transits through Latvia. There is political will for this, but there is also the matter regarding tariffs.

The minister and the president also discussed the Astravets nuclear power plant project. Lithuania is particularly worried about this project. At the same time, the fact that Riga is located three hundred kilometres farther away from it than Vilnius does not offer much hope.

Latest data from the Road Transport Directorate shows that Latvian carriers choose Belarus from international freight the most often. This means the two countries have something more in common than just cultural values.

Additionally, residents from Belarus are as attractive as Ukrainians when it comes to filling the holes in Latvia’s employment.

Long story short – there is no shortage of hit topics, but where are the speakers?


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