Baltic Reports No 5 / July 29 – August 4 2019

  • August 17, 2019

Pan-Baltic

Baltic Foreign Ministers criticized the Kremlin for detaining over 1300 peaceful pro-democracy protesters in Moscow. Earlier this week Latvia’s Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkēvičs accused Russian Federation of violating basic human rights such as freedom of assembly and free speech.” Lithuania’s Foreign Minister Linas Linkevičius named it “the use of excessive brutal force” and demanded the release of the detained peaceful citizens. Estonia’s Foreign Minister Urmas Reinsalu raised hope that Russia will follow its obligations towards international organizations and its citizens. Lithuanian opposition politicians were blaming restoring Russia’s voting rights at the Council of Europe as part of the reason that allowed Russia’s president Vladimir Putin to behave that radically. They called OSCE to take action. Russia’s law enforcement’s actions on July 27 were the biggest crackdown on protesters since the wave of anti-Kremlin demonstrations in 2011-2012.

Lithuania

Lithuania is planning to start offering radio frequencies for 5G network developers by the end of this year. However, there are serious obstacles. Lithuania’s upgrade to 5G is hindered by the Russian military that is using the 3.5 gigahertz frequency for its radars in Kaliningrad and the signal reaches into parts of Lithuanian territory. Lithuanian representatives plan to meet their Russian counterparts in the second half of this year to try and sort out the issue. Neighbouring Latvia’s leading mobile operators launched their 5G services already in July this year. Lithuania and Russia’s Kaliningrad has a 227 kilometers long border. Recent military infrastructure upgrade and armament in Kaliningrad makes some of Lithuanians feel unsafe.

After Lithuania’s Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis got his confirmation vote in the Parliament he is set to change three ministers: Agriculture, Interior, and Transport and Communications. However, this will not bring any changes to misrepresented women in Lithuania. All three candidates proposed to new minister posts are men. Lithuania was recently criticized for being the only country in the European Union run by only male Government. It’s Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis responded to journalists questioning the choice saying that he “would like to have at least a third female ministers, but the Government will have to go on as it is.” The Prime Minister believes that he does not have to react, because this Government is not new, but only renewing. The current Government was appointed at the end of 2016 and had three female ministers, but they were dismissed one after another in 2018.

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

Estonia

“Estonia’s foreign policy direction will continue with slight changes,” these were the words Estonia’s Foreign Minister Urmas Reinsalu used when he finally and for the first time during this government admitted that Estonia has changed. He stressed that he’s more conservative than his predecessors,” he added. The statement comes after a surprisingly honest announcement from Reinsalu’s team, from a well-known diplomat Matti Maasikas. He tweeted that it is getting increasingly difficult for Estonia’s diplomats to keep saying that Estonia’s foreign policy hasn’t changed. The signs from Estonia’s government clearly show that there has been a shift. For example, last week, Reinsalu made news by agreeing to work with Poland and Hungary to tackle migration. Estonia has a new government since April this year when two Estonia’s conservative parties Isamaa and EKRE made a coalition with the Central Party. The statements and the initiatives coming from the conservatives in the government are not always coordinated with the ruling Central Party.

Estonian state-owned energy group Eesti Energia is planning to build a new shale oil refinery. The company claims that its innovative technology is able to reduce emissions while extracting power from shale oil. This comes during the time when CO2 emissions price has skyrocketed in the EU and power companies are trying to find ways to be profitable. Nevertheless, OECD has pointed out that Estonia should reduce its dependence on shale oil and move closer towards a greener economy. That being said, Hando Sutter, CEO of the energy group Eesti Energia agrees that the future lies in green energy, but says that the big obstacle is the locals who still resist changes like installing new wind farms. Estonia has a unique position in the region where it is almost completely energy independent thanks to oil shale This is an important resource for a small nation located next to oil-rich Russia. Therefore, it is not surprising that Estonia is planning a new shale oil refinery.

The weakening of Swedish Krona and the decline in housing investment is making it difficult for Estonian wooden house producers to compete in the Swedish market. Scandinavia is the main market for Estonia’s timber construction industry. More than a fifth of Estonia’s pre-produced wooden houses are exported to Sweden. Estonian companies manufacture houses in Estonia and then ship them abroad where they are assembled. In fact, Estonia was the number one exporter of wooden houses in Europe in 2016 as more than 90% of prefabricated timber buildings are exported from Estonia, according to the data released by the association Estonian Wooden Houses Cluster. This has become an important industry with around 180 active wooden house producers in Estonia.

SOURCES: Delfi, Eesti Päevaleht, Postimees, ERR News

Latvia

Belarus is ready to increase oil transit through Latvia. This is what the foreign minister of Latvia Edgars Rinkēvičs said after meeting with the Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko on July 26. Belarus is ranked 17th among Latvia’s foreign trade partners but plays a significant role in the transport and logistics sector. According to Latvian officials, Latvia would like to expand that cooperation by increasing the volume and the variety of goods shipped. According to the Latvian Railways, in 2018, 7.3 million tons of oil products were transported between Latvia and Belarus, which is 9.8% more than a year ago. There have been visits between Latvian and Belarusian government officials and business representatives earlier this year. They have focused on how to intensify cargo, oil and other production shipments between the two countries. Belarus currently buys Russian oil at domestic market prices and pays much cheaper than European countries. However, this privilege may soon be lost in Minsk, because the Russian government has decided to bring the price of oil in the domestic market closer to world market prices. As a result, Belarus is looking for alternative oil supply routes through the Baltic ports. 

Latvia’s Foreign Affairs Ministry is preparing for hard Brexit, calling for different state institutions to outline action plans for the event of so-called hard Brexit. As Britain exits the EU, rules, checks, and tariffs applied to third countries will be applied to the UK. Things will be unclear in matters the EU does not regulate directly. The Employers’ Confederation of Latvia has already observed that one of the causes of the slowed economic growth is Brexit. The export of wood and its products into the UK, for example, has fallen. The British businesses, in anticipation of no-deal Brexit, have already prepared reserves of timber and hence no longer relies so much on import. The Foreign Affairs ministry also stressed that Latvia’s, like the EU’s, priority in Brexit talks is to avoid a no-deal Brexit.

Latvian Ilze Juhansone was appointed as the European Commission’s acting secretary-general after several changes in the bloc’s top administrative posts. Together with the current two deputies – Pascal Leardini and Celine Gauer – Juhansone will lead the work of the Secretariat-General during the transition between the Juncker and Von der Leyen Commissions. As reported, the former European Commission Secretary-General Martin Selmayr has announced resignation following the new EC President’s Ursula von der Leyen’s suggestion that there could not be two Germans in top EU positions. Juhansone was the longest-serving EU deputy general secretary, after being appointed in 2015.

SOURCES: BNN, Latvian MFA, LETA, Tvnet, LSM

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