Baltic Reports No 1 / July 1-7 2019

  • August 17, 2019

Latvia

Ex-mayor of Riga and the newly-elected member of the European Parliament Nils Ušakovs of Harmony party is a suspect in a criminal case. The case concerns suspicious dealings performed by public transportation company Rīgas Satiksme. The criminal process investigates possible bribery of officials and money laundering. Corruption Prevention and Combating Bureau confiscated a device of strategic significance from Ušakovs’ office in Riga City Council. In accordance with Law on Circulation of Goods of Strategic Significance, private persons are not allowed to purchase, store and use goods of strategic significance. Breach of Law carries criminal liability. The bureau refrained from providing more detailed information about the device, but the ex-mayor Ušakovs wrote on his Facebook page that the item in question was «a home-made recording device» and that the presence of the device in his office surprised him.

Latvian energy giant’s temporary council steps down. Latvenergo is a company that produces and sells electrical and heating energy, as well as natural gas trade and electricity transmission services. Latvenergo’s council was dissolved on June 19 by the Latvian Economy Minister Ralfs Nemiro. The decision caused some confusion and Prime Minister Krišjānis Kariņš requested explanations from the minister. The Economy Minister explained his decision to dissolve Latvenergo’s council with slow progress in reducing electricity tariffs. Now, at the end of June, the temporary council of Latvenergo has decided to step down, which leaves the company with a foggy future. The council’s chairman Pāvels Rebenoks told news agencies that the decision was made because of «political pressure», as well as difficulties for council members to perform their tasks, specifically reduction of electricity bills.

The head of Latvia’s Bank watchdog – Financial and Capital Market Commission – is going to step down. Chairman Peters Putniņš and his deputy Gunta Razāne handed in their resignations last week to Finance Minister Janis Reirs. Latvia’s parliament has been trying to reform the finance industry regulator as part of its efforts to combat money laundering. The country has been under pressure to clean up its banking sector after a series of scandals. Moneyval, the money laundering and terrorism financing monitoring body of the Council of Europe, is due to review the country’s efforts early next year. The finance minister told news agencies that he regarded Putnins’ resignation as positive, and said it would allow “more productive” talks with Moneyval. This is serious because if Moneyval labels Latvia as a high-risk country in terms of money-laundering, foreign banks might consider moving their offices out of the country, which would be a blow to Latvia’s economy. Putnins will step down by July 15 and the parliament will appoint an interim chairman after approving the resignation.

SOURCES: BNN, LETA, Tvnet, LSM

Estonia

Two-thirds of Estonia’s coal mining industry will be closed this year, leaving over 1000 people – mainly miners and power plant employees in the Russain speaking region – without work. This is happening due to the sharp increase in EU CO2 prices within the last couple of years. This matters because the region Ida-Virumaa is highly dependent on the coal mining industry. This is the region with the border with Russia and the employment issue could turn into a more serious problem. How will the Estonian government bring real and more sustainable change to its least developed region at the border with Russia? That’s the question that still doesn’t have an answer, even if different employment programs have been implemented. The people of Narva, the capital of this region, are afraid that their city will be abandoned and forgotten after the closing of the mining industry.

For the first time, Estonia has a far-right party in the government. The Conservative People’s Party or simply EKRE got 18% of votes during the last parliamentary elections in March this year. EKRE’s leading members have been showing white power hand signals, criticized journalists, scientists, students and doctors who support abortions. In particular, there is one family that stands out: it’s the Helme family. Within one family, there is the Internal Minister, the Finance Minister, a member of parliament and editor in chief at one the oldest Estonian newspapers Postimees. Besides all of these people being related and appointed to important positions, they are all known to be conservatives. This family is slowly steering Estonia towards a more conservative society. What consequences it will really have, we are yet to witness.

The world-famous British film director Christopher Nolan is shooting his new movie in Estonia this summer. Nolan’s wish to film in the capital Tallinn has sparked many issues. For example, the Hollywood team requested to close down one of the most important roads that connect the center of the city to a Soviet-era district for one month. Tallinn City Council refused this request and only agreed to close the road partly and only during specific times. „No movie is worth creating a mess in the streets of the capital,” Tallinn’s mayor Mihhail Kõlvart stated. Estonia is getting valuable experience from this, that’s for sure. Many Estonians – including local moviemakers and students – are taking part in the movie, in one way or another. Estonia’s hotels, restaurants, and security companies receive additional income. And of course, this means great publicity for a small country such as Estonia with only 1,3 million people! All these benefits are wonderful, but people don’t often know that it is actually common for the government to pay back a certain percentage of costs to world-known movie makers. Estonia is said to pay five million euros to Nolan’s team. And of course, nobody really knows for how long or how Estonia will be shown in the movie in the end. But this incident shows the amount of effort small governments have to put in attracting world-class movie makers.

SOURCES: Delfi, Eesti Päevaleht, Postimees, ERR News

Lithuania

Last week Lithuanian Government announced a plan to construct a new regional cybersecurity center in Kaunas. Officials are now holding talks with US authorities to have the cybersecurity specialists and equipment from the US Pennsylvania National Guard. Vilnius expects to use the new center to command the European Union Rapid Response Cyber Force being established at Lithuania’s initiative, as part of EU’s Permanent Structured Cooperation. This means that cybersecurity is seen as one of the most pressing issues in the army. In June 2019, the Lithuanian government announced a 30% increase of the regular army by 2028. The military in Lithuania is gaining strength since the renewal of conscription in 2015.

Lithuanian Farmers and Greens Union, a minority party in the government, is crumbling since Presidential elections in May. This week the new coalition was announced, but it is very fragile. Farmers united the second-row parties: Social Democrats Labour Party, Order and Justice and Polish Electoral Action party. But Farmers did not unite the parties around their ideas, but by simply giving away high-ranking posts. According to Lithuanian law, after the inauguration of the new president, Lithuanian Prime Minister and all the government resigns and the new president has to appoint it once again. The inauguration of the newly elected president Gitanas Nausėda will take place on the 12th of July. The new President and the former Chief Economist of SEB bank will take the position after 10 years of Grybauskaite’s rule. The new president will have to make the tough decision instantly if he appoints again the current prime minister or will he make the coalition look for alternatives. The latter would mean starting the relationship between these two institutions at odds.

On July 4, the Court of Justice ruled that Lithuania did not breach EU law when it introduced restrictions on a Russian TV channel for incitement to hatred. The case dates back to 2016 when the Radio and Television Commission of Lithuania, Lithuania’s media watchdog, concluded that the Russian TV channel had spread false information on Lithuanians and Latvians’ alleged collaboration during the Holocaust, as well as implying that the authorities in the Baltic states pose a threat to the local Russian-speaking minorities.

SOURCES: BNN, lrt.lt; delfi.lt Baltic Times.

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