Baltic Reports No 11 / September 9-15

  • September 15, 2019

Pan-Baltic

In the new European Commission Latvian Commissioner will be dealing with finances, Lithuanian with environment and Estonian will be responsible for  energy-related issues, according to Ursula von der Leyen’s plan. This week the President-elect announced the distribution of portfolios and the way she intends to organise the work during  upcoming 5 years term. Latvia’s former prime minister and vice-president of Jean-Claude Juncker’s Commission Valdis Dombrovskis will continue as vice-president and the Commissioner for Financial Services and the Economy. Estonian Kadri Simson’s job will involve making the EU energy sector more environmentally friendly whilst the party she represents hasn’t taken radical steps towards stopping coal mining in Estonia. Local Lithuanian politicians have expressed worries that their representative covering environment issues  may become insignificant next to the Dutch Frans Timmermans, who has got the important post of the Climate Change Commissioner. The Commission is the EU’s executive force consisting of around 32.000 employees and 27 leading commissioners representing each of the EU member states. The final line-up will be determined by the European Parliament. Von der Leyen is taking over the Commission on November 1 this year.

One of the richest Estonian businessmen Oleg Ossinovski was blocked from Lithuanian tenders because of his companies’ links to close allies of Russia’s president Vladimir Putin. Ossinovski’s companies Skinest Rail and Vitras-S were not allowed to take part in three different Lithuanian Railways renders last year. They involved renovations and purchasing of railway sleepers. Based on the new law in Lithuania, business activities can be restricted due to security reasons. Ossinovski’s companies have links to Russia’s businessmen Konstantin Nikolajev, Nikita Mišin and Andrei Filatov, who are from Putin’s close circles. Oleg Ossinovski has turned to the Estonia’s Member of the European Parliament Urmas Paet for help. Paet enquired to the European Commission whether the decision by the Lithuanian government is not against the competition rules. He is still waiting for an answer. The tension between Ossinovski and Lithuania is growing and may have to be solved at political level. Ossinovski is also accused of bribing the former head of Latvian Railways Uģis Magonis. Court proceedings in Latvia have already lasted for years.

SOURCES: poliitika.postimees.ee, politico.eu, bbc.com, en.delfi.lt, Eesti Päevaleht, Delfi

Lithuania

The ruling coalition in Lithuania is crumbling after one of the political groups has collapsed. Four parliamentarians of the Order and Justice party decided to leave the group, and without them the ruling coalition lacks several votes to make a majority in the 141-seat Seimas. They formed another political group, incorporating mostly political turncoats called “For the Wellbeing of Lithuania” the next day. Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis instantly invited them to join the coalition to keep it going. However, these changes show once again that Lithuania is ruled by minority government which is having a hard time surviving. This comes after Lithuania’s President Gitanas Nausėda recently approved the new cabinet of ministers lead by the Farmers and Greens Union . It was supported by three other political parties. Two of them now are artificially glued fractions of Parliament turncoats and are treated merely as support groups providing figures to achieve the majority vote.

Lithuania’s capital Vilnius ran a successful international campaign to welcome the soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo in the city. Ten restaurants encouraged by the municipality had reserved tables for him to have dinner with his rival, another Portugese soccer player Lionel Messi. The idea comes from an interview with Ronaldo a few weeks earlier where he  revealed that they had never had dinner together. Ronaldo visited Vilnius with the Portugal’s National team as it faced Lithuania in the qualification match for the final stage of UEFA Euro 2020. Lithuania lost 1 to 5 after Ronaldo scored 4 of the 5 goals. Vilnius municipality paid special attention to the soccer stars, but at the same time keeps postponing construction of a proper stadium for the city’s football lovers. The stadium construction site in Vilnius was abandoned in the 90’s after a corruption scandal. Soccer fans have lost their hopes of having a new and modern stadium after many failed municipalitie’s attempts to revive it. Now the biggest playing field in Vilnius accommodates 5000 people. To be able to watch the Lithuania-Portugal match, many fans had to squeeze in the bushes on the hills around it.

A 1000 euros worth of compensation will be introduced for drivers who exchange their highly polluting cars to less polluting ones. This is how Lithuania will attempt to decrease dangerous pollution level. Lithuania is one of the countries with the biggest number of highly polluting cars in the EU. International organizations have long been calling on Lithuania to tax them. Lithuania’s Government plans to introduce a tax for polluting cars with level above 130g/km CO2 emission in January 2020. However, Lithuania’s President thinks that such a tax would increase the social exclusion. There is no consensus between the institutions yet but most officials agree that it’s necessary to decrease the pollution. Ministry of Environment has offered that such a tax could start with the very small sum of  20 euros for cars with 130g/km emission and grow accordingly with the level of pollution. The Ministry of Finance then came back with a proposal to encourage drivers to switch to less polluting cars by offering them financial compensation of 1000 euros.

SOURCES: lrs.lt, lithuaniatribune.com, en.delfi.lt

Estonia

Estonia can bring CO2 emissions down to zero and even profit from the so-called “climate neutrality” if radical steps are taken. This was concluded by Stockholm Environment Institute in Tallinn in this week’s report. The necessary 57 steps include creating small nuclear power reactors, implementing car and road taxes and reducing consumption of meat. Estonia was one out of three countries that did not sign the climate neutrality pact in Brussels in June this year. The Prime Minister Jüri Ratas decided to order this analysis to find out whether it was possible to achieve “climate neutrality” by 2050 at all, as proposed by the other leaders of the EU member states. The changes will have to be radical and involve huge investment, the report concluded. Estonian population is largely divided when it comes to combating climate change topic. EKRE, one of the parties in the government, is openly denying that climate change exists. Ironically, the party has appointed Estonia’s Minister of Environment.

A man in his 40s was collecting wartime cartridges and mine shells at home in one of the Soviet built districts in Estonia. Estonian Internal Security Service had to evacuate the whole apartment building to arrest him and make sure the bombs wouldn’t explode. The prosecutor’s office will treat the case very seriously due to the high level of danger of wartime explosives. The offender could face up to 15 years in prison. On average, some 3500 explosives are still found in Estonia every year. On top of that, many mines are found in the Baltic Sea during NATO minesweeping operations. Most of them have to be disarmed by the rescue services. The bombs are mainly left from both world wars, some by the Soviet army and some explosives are accidentally lost during exercises by the Estonian Defence Forces. 

SOURCES: ERR News, Eesti Ekspress, Delfi

Latvia

The capital of Latvia Riga has been in the spotlight this week, because the government declared a state of emergency in waste management sector on September 12. This decision had to be made, because the Competition Council banned the newly-established monopoly Tiriga from signing contracts with residents of Riga. Currently the waste collection and management services in Riga are provided by four operators – Clean R, Eco Baltia Vide, who both have joined in a new venture that won the tender, Pilsetvides Serviss and Lautus. If the contract had been signed with Tīrīga for 20 years, it would have created a monopoly situation in the waste management sector in Riga and the citizens would have had to pay up to 40% more than they are paying now. Throughout the week citizens didn’t know if their waste is going to be taken away over the weekend or not. In the short term, the waste is going to be taken care of by the existing operators, but the Riga council will still have to clean up the mess.

Ten children from a Latvian city Sigulda have been hospitalized with symptoms of severe diarrhea, renal impairment, and intestinal bleeding. Three of them were taken to the intensive care unit and are in a serious condition. The doctors have found out that the infection is caused by a type of intestinal stick that can be very dangerous to young children or to weakened organisms. The particular type of infection is very rare and usually affects no more than six people in the country a year. The children had been hospitalized from three different preschools at the beginning of the week.  The Disease Prevention and Control Center suspects that it might have been a food poisoning. All three preschools have the same caterer called Baltic Restaurants.

The amount of foreign workforce has reached record levels in Latvia. Close to 10 thousand work permits have already been issued this year, which is nearly as much as last year altogether. Even though there is such increase, compared with neighboring countries, Latvia has unappealing rules for foreign workers. According to the State Border and Immigration Control, there are plans to change the situation. They’re planning on improving regulation and supervision of foreign workers, but a more precise plan will be presented after research and discussions with businessmen and other involved parties. Most migrant workers are currently coming from Ukraine, Belarus and Russia, then India and Uzbekistan. The amount of illegal workers isare also increasing, mainly in construction business. Most cases are connected with citizens of Ukraine and Moldova who have a simplified entry into the countries of the European Union. By July this year, 162 cases of undocumented work had been discovered.

SOURCES: LETA, BNN, Latvijas Avize, LTV, LSM

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