Baltic Reports No 17 / October 21 – 27

  • November 18, 2019

Pan-Baltic

The Baltic states are starting cooperation with Japan to successfully leave the post-Soviet energy ring that connected Russia, Belarus and the three Baltic countries. Baltic and Japanese electricity operators plan to carry out a study on how renewable energy could contribute to the system’s stability. Formerly dependant on hostile partners, the Baltic States region is now connected with the EU countries through recently established Polish, Swedish and Finnish electricity lines. For historical reasons, however, The Baltic states’ electricity grid is still dependent on the control center in Moscow as part of the energy ring. In March, the European Commission funded the first construction stage of the grid with 323 million euros and promised to support further stages sufficiently. But until now there was no clarity on how synchronization of Baltic power grids with that of continental Europe will keep up with the EU’s renewable policies. This week Japan’s operator Tepco agreed to carry out an analysis of electricity energy market in the Baltic states. This would contribute to ensuring the stability of the Baltic states’ power system, and would facilitate the integration of renewable energy resources. The total synchronization project costs will stand at around 1.5 billion euros. The Baltic states want to synchronize with continental Europe by 2025. 

SOURCES: delfi.lt, baltic-course.com

Estonia

Estonia’s largest pharmaceutical companies are stalling the new reform that would take away their control over Estonia’s drugstores. According to the new law, Estonian pharmacies will have to belong to pharmaceutical specialists with university degrees rather than businesses that only look for ways to make profit. Estonians pay more for their pills that Germans, Poles or Latvians, for instance. According to the new law, pharmacists would have to own most of the shares in the drugstores. In addition, they would only be allowed to own up to four drugstores. This new law was supposed to go into effect in April 2020. The reform has been slowed down several times since 2014. This week, the law was reopened for discussion by the Parliament again. This time, the reason was that the pharmacies are not ready for the reform, although there is still half a year to prepare. The opposition has called the stalling of the pharmacy reform a “political corruption”. Estonia’s pharmaceutical market is controlled by three major companies: Phoenix Group with headquarters in Germany, Lithuanian Euroapotheca and Estonian business Magnum. This law would have dissolved their power over the prices and the selection of medicines in Estonia. The reform should make the market more transparent and accessible for different medicine and more flexible prices. The biggest player in the market, Magnum, is owned by Margus Linnamäe, Estonia’s only oligarch, who also owns multiple media outlets, and donates to one of the parties in the coalition, Isamaa. 

French media and experts are criticising Estonia’s European Commissioner for energy Kadri Simson, before she has even started working. “The energy commissioner, who loves oil too much”, says a title in the French leading newspaper Le Monde. A French energy expert Jean-Marc Jancovici stated that Simson doesn’t understand her field. Simson, who was responsible for energy policy in Estonia as a Minister of Economic Affairs and Infrastructure now has to pursue ambitious goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the EU. At the same time, Estonia produces almost all of its electricity from shale oil and coal that is extracted locally. As a result, Estonia is the second largest emitter of CO2 per capita in the EU. This is in stark contrast with what Simson has to promote in Brussels. And it doesn’t stop there. The Estonian government is talking about supporting the construction of a new shale oil pre-refining plant. Simson doesn’t see a problem with this. In a comment for Estonia’s public broadcasting she said that the most important factor is that the member states have a plan for reduction of emissions. She believes that Estonia’s goals for 2030 are higher than the average of the EU and this should be enough reason for rejoicing for now. But it seems that the experts in Europe are keeping a close eye on her.

SOURCES: delfi.ee, postimees.ee, err.ee, ekspress.delfi.ee, lemonde.fr, news.err.ee

Lithuania

Lithuanian government is denying that it hosted the secret CIA prison near Vilnius. but by October 31 it has to file its position in second lawsuit about it. The fact that this prison indeed existed came out after the Saudi terror suspect Abu Zubaydah filed a lawsuit in European Court of Human Rights against Lithuania in 2011. In February 2019, the second Saudi citizen, a suspect in the September 11 attacks Mustafa al-Hawsawi held in Guantanamo filed a lawsuit against Lithuania alleging that he was tortured at a CIA black site near Vilnius. Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights granted Lithuania’s request to extend the deadline for filing its position regarding the claim until the end of October. Previously, Lithuania’s position was to deny the existence of such a black site. Locally, the pre-trial investigation is ongoing, but no one of the state’s leadership has acknowledged that they knew about such prison. In 2018, the Strasbourg-based court ruled that Lithuania had hosted such secret prison in 2005-2006. Lithuania has agreed to pay 130.000 euros in compensation for Abu Zubaydah, who was illegally imprisoned. In the wake of the September 11 attacks, the CIA took suspected Al Qaeda detainees to several “black sites” around the world to escape US rules on interrogations – a programme that has since been judged as illegal. The Human rights court has already ruled against several European states, including Poland, Macedonia, Romania and Lithuania for agreeing to host CIA secret detention sites.

SOURCES: reuters.com, delfi.lt, france24.com

The US decided to deny the status of asylum and instead extradite the former judge NEringa VencKIEne to Lithuania. This gave new impetus to the political movement rallied around an unsolved series of murders. In 2013, Judge VencKIEne fled to the United States to escape prosecution in Lithuania. She made this choice after 5-year battle to secure justice for her 4-year-old niece, DeiMANte KeDYte, who reported that she was being sexually molested by Lithuanian government officials while in her mother’s care. In 2009 KeDYtė’s father and Venckienės brother Drąsius KeDYS was indicted with murdering two people he thought were involved in molestation. But the investigation was ceased after KeDYS was found dead himself. Later, several other related individuals died under mysterious circumstances. In 2012, Venckienė founded a political party called after her brother’s name and used the public emotions to get into the Parliament with 7 of her supporters. She fled to the US when her immunity was revoked on the basis of multiple charges related to obstructing justice. Since then she has been trying to prove that accusations against her are politically motivated. After the US’s decision to extradite her she sent a message to her supporters saying that she is coming back right on time to get again into the Parliament in 2020.

SOURCES: dailymail.co.uk, govinfo.gov, lrt.lt

Latvia

The Moscow Patriarchate of the Orthodox Church is attempting to influence Latvia’s Orthodox Church or in short LPB. According to the Latvian Television, Moscow is trying to force Metropolitan Alexander of the LPB to retire to replace him with a more favourable person to Russia. LPB’s senior priest, member of the Synod Nikolajs Tihomirovs has expressed concern of unwelcome influence. He states that there’s a priest that has been sent from Moscow to incite discord among members of the church in Latvia. Earlier in October, the council of the LPB decided to return to a clause that acknowledges the independence of the Latvian church from Moscow. Shortly after that, the Russian media published an opinion piece, where the LPB was blamed for secrecy and excessive loyalty to the government of Latvia. This case is not unique, because Russia has been using Orthodox Churches abroad for meddling in internal affairs and is known for reacting harshly when church leadership of other countries doesn’t obey. For example, in 2018, Moscow meddled in the Estonian Orthodox Church affairs and appointed a citizen of Russia as the head of the church. The person, while serving in Moscow, had visited the Russian-occupied Crimea and taken part in a campaign against the Ukrainian church, which broke away from Moscow. The Latvian Orthodox Church is a self-governing, autonomous Eastern Orthodox Church under the jurisdiction of the Patriarchate of Moscow.

SOURCES: bnn-news.com; lsm.lv

A lawsuit has been filed against the famous Latvian cosmetics company Dzintars for its bankruptcy. Creditors are not willing to wait for the company to sell unused production facilities until the end of this year to pay off its debts. Dzintars’ legal protection case had been at the court since October 2016, but the insolvency claim was received on October 21 this year. Dzintars, which means ‘amber’ in Latvian, is one of the country’s best-known brands, and claims to trace its roots back to 1849 when the Heinrich Adolf Briger soap and perfumery factory was founded in Riga. It existed as a popular brand name even through the period of Soviet occupation and state ownership, and in 1991 was reconstituted as a joint stock company. The financial difficulties of “Dzintars” arose after the crisis of 2008 and 2014, when the traditional markets of production shrank. As a result, sales and working capital decreased and debts of the company accumulated. Cost-cutting measures had already taken place in an effort to clear debts of around 11 million euros, but currently the future looks foggy, as the insolvency claim has been filed. Dzintars failure is seen as hurtful to Latvian society because of the brands popularity.

SOURCES: LSM.lv, BNN-news.com, newspaper “Dienas Bizness”

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