Baltic Reports No 2 / July 8-14 2019

  • August 17, 2019

Pan-Baltic

Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania protest Russia’s plan to celebrate a day that for the Baltics meant re-occupation by the Soviet Union in 1944. Russia is planning major fireworks in Moscow to salute the so-called “liberation of the Baltics” from German fascists on September 22. Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian representatives have all summoned Russia’s ambassadors in their respective countries to raise concerns. For all Baltic countries, this day marked the occupation and meant deportations of tens of thousands of people. From Estonia’s, Latvia’s and Lithuania’s perspective – there is no reason to celebrate the day. Russia’s Foreign Ministry has dismissed the Baltic protests by saying that millions of people will celebrate the most important day in the victory over fascism together with Russia and that Europe owns their long-time peace to the Soviet Union.

Estonia and Latvia, generally peaceful neighbors, are in the midst of an alcohol war. Estonia’s new government lowered the alcohol excise tax by a quarter on July 1 in order to make sure that Estonians (and sometimes even Finns) wouldn’t buy their alcohol from Latvia, but rather Estonia. As a response, Latvia’s Prime Minister Krišjānis Kariņš said that Estonia’s move could dent the Latvian budget by around 100 million euros. And as a response, Latvia quickly decided to cut the tax on strong alcoholic drinks by 15%. Lithuania, on the other hand, is not getting involved in this battle: Lithuania’s Finance Minister Vilius Sapoka promised not to enter the “verbal tussle”, as he called it, because it wouldn’t bring long-term benefits to anyone.

Estonia

Last year, there were four times more money laundering cases filed at the Prosecutor’s Office compared to previous years, Estonia’s Money Laundering Annual Report revealed. The increased number has to do with the new type of email scams involving Estonian bank accounts. This is how it works: cybercriminals gain access to company email accounts and change the bank account number on the invoice before sending it forward. The money ends up in an Estonian bank account. At the same time, Estonian banks have closed over 1800 accounts with money laundering suspicions over the past three years.

Estonia’s Ministry of Defence is in a legal battle with a local wind-farm builder. The ministry claims that the coastal future wind farm that already received permission to start construction four years ago actually interferes with the radar part of the Baltic Air Surveillance Network. The Ministry of Defence claims that a lot of the information involved in the case is a state secret which makes the proceeding more difficult. The court had to close some of the hearings, some documents cannot be shared with everyone, some are partly hidden. The ministry is claiming that the wind farm imposes a security risk while the local entrepreneur Harry Raudvere finds this an absurd excuse against the windmills and calls Estonia a “military state”.

SOURCES: Delfi, Eesti Päevaleht, Postimees, ERR News

Latvia

Latvian parliament elected a new president, Egils Levits, who is a former judge at the European Court of Justice. In his first speech, Levits spoke about his desire to reduce inequality and make Latvia a modern country. The new president reminded that Latvia is among the most unequal countries in the European Union, calling it an “illness” that Latvia has had for many years. Levits emphasized that Latvia is an integral part of the western world and Europe, categorically rejecting the metaphor about Latvia being a bridge between west and east. Back in the days, Levits was an active member of movements for the regaining of Latvia’s independence from the Soviet Union. He co-authored the May 4th Declaration of Independence of Latvia in 1991 and drafted the preamble to the Constitution of Latvia. One of his advisors will be Ieva Ilves, the wife of the former president of Estonia.

News Service of Latvia’s Public Radio has requested its board members to step down. The staff and management drafted an open letter to its board on July 10 calling on the board to quit. The radio team described the situation in the newsroom as critical due to the low pay and overwork. Journalists of the Latvian Radio accuse the board of inaction, having no interest in a strong and independent radio and actively weakening the news service. Over the last three years, 56 journalists have left. According to European Broadcasting Association data, public funding of media in Latvia is the lowest among the EU Member States. The government of Latvia will have to find a solution to this.

SOURCES: BNN, LETA, Tvnet, LSM

Lithuania

Lithuania’s migration reform aims to attract more migrant workers by simplifying their residence and work permit procedures, starting from July 1 this year. More liberalization rules are to be confirmed this week. They include a list of professions on demand, migrant quotas and white list of the companies allowed to employ foreign nationals freely. The reform represents a wider trend to liberalize the employment procedures of foreign nationals for businesses and attract educated migrants in order to compensate for the Lithuanians who have left the country. However, most of the amendments don’t apply to the biggest group of low paid labor migrants from Belarus, Ukraine, and Russia, who often come unregulated, as they are employed by Ukrainian and Polish agencies and subcontracted over to Lithuanian employees. Around a fifth of Lithuanians have left the country in the last 20 years in search of better work opportunities. At the same time, the migration from other former Soviet States tripled within the past three years.

The head of the ruling Union of Farmers and Greens party Ramūnas Karbauskis together with his family has received around 120 000 euros of EU support for his 30 hectares of land, an investigation by 15min.lv revealed. They received financial support 25 times. This EU support is intended for owners of up to 30 hectares of land and should only be received once, according to the EU rules. Karbauskis received the payment personally, as well as his son, his father and 12 enterprises of the business group he controls. Karbauskis and his enterprises have also received nearly 20 million euros of EU support over three years’ time, and all this, legally.

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

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