LITHUANIA DAILY NEWS BULLETIN
IN THIS ISSUE:
- Upcoming events in Lithuania for Friday, September 8, 2023
- Lithuania records no illegal border crossings from Belarus
- Lithuanian president to discuss Ukraine support, financial perspective with Dombrovskis
- Intermin to discuss criminogenic situation in Lithuania’s 2nd largest city
- Lithuania reports 147 new COVID-19 cases, no deaths
- Voting in Lithuanian Liberal Movement's leadership election closing Friday
- PM promises that Lithuania will continue to pursue reforms set out in RRF Roadmap
- International Organization for Migration invites Ukrainians to learn Lithuanian
- President: we must ensure that Lithuania receives all RRF funds
- Nauseda: necessary to find solutions for transporting Ukraine grain through Baltic ports
- Lithuanian president urges EU to start accession talks with Ukraine this year already
- Dombrovskis: subsidies for Ukraine grain transport via Baltic ports not being considered - BNS INTERVIEW
- Lithuanian business organizations call for debate on military draft for women
- Lithuanian Orthodox leader misses debate on bill on liquidation of religious communities
- Lithuania sends 4.5 mln rounds of ammo to Ukraine – ministry
- Upcoming events in Lithuania for Monday, September 11, 2023
VILNIUS, Sept 08, BNS – The following events are scheduled in Lithuania for Friday, September 8, 2023:
PRESIDENT Gitanas Nauseda to deliver a welcome address at the International Vilnius Conference at 9 a.m.; to meet with Valdis Dombrovskis, Vice President of the European Commission, at 11 a.m.; to take part in a joint press conference with Dombrovskis at 11:45 a.m.
FOREIGN MINISTER Gabrielius Landsbergis to take part in a meeting with Valdis Dombrovskis, Vice President of the European Commission.
CHIEF OF DEFENSE Valdemaras Rupsys to pay an official visit to Croatia.
Valdis Dombrovskis, Vice President of the European Commission, to deliver a speech on the topic of Building a Resilient and Sustainable Global Economic System at the Vilnius Conference at 9:30 a.m.
VILNIUS, Sep 08, BNS – Lithuanian border guards have in the past 24 hours recorded no attempts to cross into the country from Belarus illegally, the State Border Guard Service (SBGS) said on Friday morning.
Latvia reported 173 attempts at illegal border crossings on Thursday, and 15 irregular migrants were not allowed into Poland on Wednesday, according to the latest available information.
A total of 1,605 irregular migrants have been barred from entering Lithuania from Belarus at non-designated places so far this year. Some 11,200 irregular migrants were turned away in 2022.
Lithuanian border guards have prevented around 20,900 people from crossing in from Belarus since August 3, 2021, when they were given the right to turn away irregular migrants. The number includes repeated attempts by the same people to cross the border.
The SBGS says that illegal migration to Lithuania and the EU is being facilitated by Belarusian officials.
Almost 4,200 irregular migrants crossed into Lithuania from Belarus illegally in 2021. However, the vast majority of them fled Lithuania once they were allowed to move freely.
VILNIUS, Sept 08, BNS – Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda will on Friday meet with European Commission Executive Vice-President and Trade Commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis, currently on a visit to Lithuania.
They will discuss the agenda for the new European Union’s (EU) political season, support for Ukraine, the use of frozen Russian assets to rebuild Ukraine, sanctions against Russia, the discussions on the EU's Multiannual Financial Perspective, and military mobility, the presidential office said in a press release.
The meeting will also discuss ways to improve the resilience and competitiveness of the EU, including Lithuania, and EU enlargement.
Lithuania must push forward with key reforms, such as its stalled tax reform, or risk losing millions of euros in EU funding allocated to the country, Dombrovskis said in an interview with the public broadcaster LRT published on Thursday.
The European Commission has already transferred more than half a billion euros to Lithuania this year, but withheld 26 million euros due to the country's failure to "satisfactorily fulfill two milestones related to taxation".
VILNIUS, Sept 08, BNS – Interior Minister Agne Bilotaite is on Friday visiting Kaunas County Police Headquarters to meet with police representatives and discuss the criminogenic situation and measures to combat organized crime.
"Our goal is to make society feel safe. Although the criminogenic situation in the country is stable, after high-profile events such as the recent one in Kaunas Laisves Avenue, we need to assess the measures we have in place to fight organized crime. We will discuss this with police representatives tomorrow in Kaunas,” Bilotaite said in comments sent to BNS before the visit.
At the end of August, eight persons, allegedly armed with clubs, attacked four men and one woman sitting on the outdoor terrace of a catering establishment on Laisves Avenue.
Darius Pliavga, Deputy Head of Kaunas County Police Headquarters, has stated that the incident was related to “clarification of relations between criminal groups” and that no bystanders were injured.
Kaunas District Court put four suspects in detention for three months.
A pre-trial investigation is being conducted on charges of violation of public order and minor bodily harm.
Officials stress that the security situation in the region has not changed.
VILNIUS, Sep 08, BNS – Lithuania has recorded 147 new coronavirus infections and no deaths from COVID-19 over the past 24 hours, official statistics showed on Friday morning.
The number of COVID-19 patients in hospitals stands at 35, including one ICU case.
The 14-day primary infection rate has risen to 46.8 cases per 100,000 people, with the seven-day percentage of positive tests at 22.3 percent.
The number of new coronavirus cases hit the peak in Lithuania in early February 2022 when more than 14,000 new infections were recorded daily.
Around 1.19 million people in Lithuania have tested positive for COVID-19 at least once.
Some 68.5 percent of people in the country have received at least one coronavirus vaccine jab so far, according to the statistics.
VILNIUS, Sep 08, BNS – E-voting in the leadership election of the Lithuanian Liberal Movement, part of the ruling coalition, is closing on Friday.
Antanas Martusevicius, the party's executive secretary, told BNS on Thursday that around 800 party members had cast their ballots so far.
"We are closing the voting at 6 p.m. The counting commission is meeting, the party's board will hold a meeting and we will know the results shortly," he said.
Viktorija Cmilyte-Nielsen, speaker of the Lithuanian parliament, is seeking re-election for a third term as the Liberal Movement's leader.
She is being challenged by three members of the party's Vilnius branch: Vytautas Danilevicius, Benediktas Krasniauskas, a private investor, and Vytautas Tamosiunas, a dentist.
About 2,000 Liberals have the right to vote, that is, all members who have paid their membership fees, according to Martusevicius.
If none of the candidates receives at least 50 percent plus one vote in the first round, a runoff will be held on September 14-16.
The new chairperson will be confirmed by the Liberal Movement's Congress in Kaunas on September 16.
The party's leader is elected for two years, with no limit on the number of terms of office.
Cmilyte-Nielsen, a European chess champion, has led the Liberal Movement since 2019.
The Liberals hold 12 seats in the current parliament.
VILNIUS, Sept 08, BNS – Lithuania will continue efforts to implement the reforms set out in the European Union's (EU) recovery and resilience plan (Recovery and Resilience Facility, or RRF), Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte said at a meeting with European Commission Executive Vice-President and Trade Commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis, currently on a visit to Lithuania.
"Lithuania will continue its efforts to implement the reforms and investments foreseen in the New Generation Lithuania Plan ... Last fall and this spring, the government took decisions to make additional investments in areas that contribute to the resilience and transformation of the country's economy, and we look forward to smooth cooperation with the European Commission in this area," the government said in a press release issued on Thursday night.
Simonyte and Dombrovskis also discussed the implementation of the REPowerEU plan, strengthening the Community's economic resilience, support for Ukraine, the EU's Multiannual Financial Perspective and other issues.
When discussing the review of the EU's multiannual financial framework for 2021-2027, the Lithuanian prime minister stressed the importance of investment in military mobility projects
The meeting also discussed the European Semester – the annual process of coordinating economic, fiscal, employment and social policies in the Community – and country-specific recommendations, EU trade policy, accelerated multilateral engagement in Ukraine's reconstruction, and the Commission's role in Ukraine's grain export issues.
VILNIUS, Sep 08, BNS – The International Organization for Migration's Vilnius office (IOM Lithuania) is offering free Lithuanian language courses to Ukrainian war refugees to help improve their chances in the job market.
"Our research has shown that 18 percent of Ukrainians identify their lack of command of the Lithuanian language as one of the barriers to getting a better job and securing financial stability," Eitvydas Bingelis, head of IOM Lithuania, said in a press release on Friday.
A quarter (24 percent) of Ukrainians in Lithuania are looking for financial stability and a fifth hope to find a long-term well-paid job, according to Bingelis.
"We understand that there may be some financial challenges, so we are inviting war refugees to learn Lithuanian for free," said Bingelis.
The remote Lithuanian language courses will run until the middle of next year and will be made up of several sessions, each lasting 2.5 months. The first session is starting in September.
The free courses are open to Ukrainian war refugees who arrived in Lithuania when the war started.
"We notice that Ukrainians do not work according to their profession and competences. They usually choose unskilled jobs because they do not require a strong command of the Lithuanian language, which becomes necessary for higher-level positions," said Egle Staskunaite, head of migrant assistance and crisis management at IOM Lithuania.
"Therefore, we encourage war refugees who have been living in Lithuania for a long time to register and learn the Lithuanian language," she said.
According to the organization, there are more than 80,000 Ukrainians in Lithuania.
VILNIUS, Sept 08, BNS – With Lithuania delaying to adopt some tax laws and risking losing part of the European Union’s (EU) Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF) funds, President Gitanas Nauseda says it is necessary to ensure that Lithuania receives all the funds earmarked for the country under the RRF.
"We need to pull together and make sure that the full amount of the EU's RRF investment reaches the Lithuanian economy and boosts its productivity and resilience when it is needed most,” he said at a press conference held on Friday after a meeting with European Commission Executive Vice-President and Trade Commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis.
Dombrovskis earlier told BNS that a tax reform is an important part of RRF support to Lithuania. In addition, he said, there are concrete milestones and targets to be met in order to unlock the RRF financing.
The European Commission has already transferred more than half a billion euros to Lithuania this year, but withheld 26 million euros due to the country's failure to "satisfactorily fulfill two milestones related to taxation".
Finance Minister Gintare Skaiste said in mid-May that if the government-proposed tax reform got stuck, Brussels would suspend payouts to Lithuania under the EU RRF plan, and the amount of unpaid funds would be much higher than the 26 million euros currently withheld.
VILNIUS, Sept 08, BNS – Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda says it is necessary to find solutions, with the support of the European Commission (EC), that would allow to use the Baltic Sea ports for Ukrainian grain exports.
"It is our duty to help Ukrainians export grain through the Baltic Sea ports. With the support of the European Commission, we need to find administrative, financial and infrastructural solutions to exploit the capacities of the Baltic Sea ports and carriers," he said at a press conference held on Friday after a meeting with European Commission Executive Vice-President and Trade Commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis.
Dombrovskis said in an interview to BNS that the Commission is looking at ways to reduce the cost of transporting Ukrainian grain by addressing procedural or infrastructural problems. According to him, subsidies for the transport of grain through Klaipeda and other European ports are not being considered in Brussels.
“Rather, we look what can be done to bring down transport costs through targeted administrative or infrastructure improvements,” Dombrovskis said.
According to him, the Commission is supportive of Lithuania’s proposal to move customs formalities, phitosanitary checks and other procedures from the Ukrainian-Polish border to Community ports such as Klaipeda.
VILNIUS, Sept 08, BNS – Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda urges the European Union (EU) to start accession negotiations with Ukraine this year already.
"It is important that negotiations on Ukraine's accession to the European Union begin this year already,” he told reporters on Friday.
“For Ukrainians fighting on the battlefield, a clear European perspective will inspire new strengths to continue fighting for their country.”
He stressed that Lithuania is ready to share its experience with Kyiv and provide consultations.
Nauseda also said after a meeting with European Commission Executive Vice-President and Trade Commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis that the EU must keep its sanctions against Russia in place, tighten them and ensure that restrictions are not circumvented.
The Lithuanian leader pointed out that the West should, among other things, agree on the use of frozen Kremlin funds for the reconstruction of Ukraine.
"This issue has been on our agenda for a long time and it is time to find a solution", he said.
EU leaders granted Ukraine candidate status in June 2022. Despite the war, Kyiv hopes to be able to start EU membership negotiations by the end of this year.
Dombrovskis: subsidies for Ukraine grain transport via Baltic ports not being considered - BNS INTERVIEW
VILNIUS, Sept 08, BNS – Valdis Dombrovskis, European Commission Executive Vice-President and Trade Commissioner, currently on a visit to Lithuania, says that subsidies requested by Lithuanian politicians and Ukrainian farmers for the transport of grain through Klaipeda and other European ports are not being considered in Brussels.
However, the Commission, according to him, is looking at ways to reduce the cost of transporting grain by addressing procedural or infrastructure problems.
"There is financing available for addressing specific bottlenecks in the functioning of solidarity lanes. So from that point of view, yes, there is some financing available. But we are currently not discussing kind of just subsidizing the transport cost," Dombrovskis told BNS in an interview.
"Rather, we look what can be done to bring down transport costs through targeted administrative or infrastructure improvements,” he added.
However, Dombrovskis said the Commission supports Lithuania's proposal to move customs formalities, phytosanitary checks and other procedures from the Ukrainian-Polish border to Community ports such as Klaipeda.
In July, Lithuania’s Foreign, Transport and Communications and Agriculture Ministers sent a letter to EU officials, also to you, in which they called on the European Commission to strengthen Ukraine's alternative grain export route through the Baltic States. What, in your opinion, are the perspectives and possibilities of this route?
Indeed, this is a topic on which we are intensively working in our joint coordination platform and also bilaterally with member states and with Ukraine itself. Maybe to provide overall picture on the [so-called] solidarity lanes, and the main corridor for solidarity lanes is Danube Corridor now. And the aim is to reach a capacity of 4 million tons [of grain] per month by the end of the year. And the estimate for Ukraine export needs is 4.7 million tons per month in the next 12 months and actually maybe even slightly higher.
So clearly we also need to look at this Polish and Baltic States corridor. So it's part of these solidarity lanes and we are also looking how to address the specific bottlenecks, too, to facilitate the use of this corridor. For example, a concrete proposal from Lithuania was to move the customs and phitosanitary controls to Baltic States’ seaports.
And what do you think about this proposal?
From the Commission’s side, we are supportive of this and also looking for other concrete improvements, which can be done. Of course, we must acknowledge, that logistically it's a relatively difficult corridor because the railway gauge in Ukraine and in Poland and in Lithuania again, is different. And this adds to the costs and logistical difficulties. But there are certain things how we can improve the functioning of this other direction, and that's what we are working on.
How these logistical obstacles, which you mentioned, could be solved?
As I said, of course, we are currently not in a position to rebuild railways and ... of course, a more strategic Rail Baltica project. These are not short-term solutions. So in the short term, we are looking more at some procedural bottlenecks which can be streamlined like the ones I mentioned before, and also at some targeted infrastructure capacity improvements, which can be done.
Lithuanian Transport and Communications Minister Marius Skuodis has said that shipping of Ukrainian grain through the Lithuanian port of Klaipeda is not only a logistical, but also an economic issue, which requires financial assistance from the European Union. Does the European Commission intend to provide any financial assistance or subsidies for the transport of grain through Klaipeda and other Baltic ports?
I think we need to distinguish between two things. So there is financing available for addressing specific bottlenecks in the functioning of solidarity lanes. So from that point of view, yes, there is some financing available, but we are currently not discussing kind of just subsidizing the transport cost. Rather we look what can be done to bring down transport costs through targeted administrative or infrastructure improvements.
One of your responsibilities is trading partnership with China. What perspectives do you see in this area, I mean, in economic relations between the EU and China? What measures are going to be proposed by the European Commission in this area in the nearest future?
As regards China, China is EU's second largest trading partner and we have very complex relationships with China. As I say, we have China as a cooperation partner in some areas, like, for example, if you discuss fight against climate change, obviously we need to have China on board as the world’s biggest emitter. Then we have China as an economic competitor, but also in some areas as a systemic rival because China is promoting a different socio-economic model. So we need to navigate all this complexity.
Recently, the focus has been on what's called a de-risking of our relationships and working on ensuring diversified and resilient supply chains for the EU, including in the area of critical minerals, for example.
And also more specifically in the case of China, we know that we also have many trade irritants and all in all, our economic relationship is unbalanced with the EU running almost 400 billion euros trade deficit [with China].
So all those topics are the ones which I'm also going to raise with my Chinese counterpart when I will be in China this month for high-level economic dialogue.
What is your and the Commission’ opinion about Lithuania‘s strict or tough stance on China? How does it look in Brussels?
As you know, the EU supported Lithuania when Lithuania was facing this economic coercion from China. So we have initiated a WTO case against China and in between a panel has been set up. So we now need to wait for the panel proceedings. And in between, we have also finalized the work on so called anti-coercion instrument, which would provide EU for a faster and more efficient way to react in cases when the EU or some member states are faced with that kind of economic coercion.
During your visit in Lithuania you are going to discuss the difficulties faced by business in the Baltic States in raising capital. Could you give more details what challenges and difficulties you see in this area and how they should be overcome?
First of all, obviously, it's part of our work on the Capital Markets Union, where one of the focus areas is developing capital markets also in smaller member states, and in countries where there are smaller capital markets. And in the case of the Baltic States, the Commission has been very supportive of setting up a regional Baltic Capital Market initiative because we think it's important for us to achieve a degree of scale.
There are also questions of geopolitical risks, which we see that investors are factoring in, for example, in their investment decisions regarding the Baltic States, also other Central and Eastern European countries. So we're also looking how to mitigate this and also how those countries can use available EU funding, including the Cohesion Fund, including the Recovery and Resilience Facility, or, more recently, the REPowerEU initiative, so as to ensure that the economic development in these countries can continue.
My next question is related to energy. How did European Commission and you, as a Latvian citizen, look to recent disagreements between the Baltic States over the date of synchronization of their electricity grids with Western Europe?
I would rather talk about recent agreements, because what I know is that the Baltic States have agreed to actually forward de-synchronization from Russia's system and synchronization with the European system to February 2025, instead of the end of 2025. So, there's been agreement to accelerate this timeframe. And from the European Commission’s side, we are supporting it and not only politically but also financially. It [synchronization] has been an important part of so-called BEMIP – Baltic energy market integration plan.
When neighboring countries are engaging in large infrastructure projects, interconnection projects, there are often some kind of disagreements. What is important, that there is dialogue and countries find a way to bridge those disagreements. And often the European Commission is willing and able to facilitate that.
The European Union’s rules of fiscal discipline, which mean that the budget deficit must not exceed 3 percent of GDP, will come back into effect next year. How will this affect the budgets of European Union member states, including Lithuania?
The European Commission has already provided fiscal guidance for 2024. And generally speaking, we put emphasis on the need for more fiscal discipline in this high inflation environment, because our assessment is that fiscal stimulus now would not stimulate economy so much as it would stimulate inflation more. And as a result it will force the ECB to do even further monetary tightening. So it may be even counterproductive.
So therefore, we call on member states to work towards reduction of budget deficits. I would say in the case of Baltic States it's especially relevant, given the fact that the Baltic States have been facing one of the highest interest rate increases, also for sovereign lending, due to geopolitical risks. So it's important that Lithuania, like other countries, is now following the fiscal guidance.
And the last question, not about economics or politics. Did you watch any matches of Latvia’s national basketball team in the ongoing championship? Are you happy with Latvia’s national basketball team performance?
Well, obviously, it has been a positive surprise. I have been watching the matches and I would say each game there was more and more excitement. Well, unfortunately, Latvia like Lithuania didn't make it to the semifinals. But still, it was a very impressive performance. And the same I can say about the Lithuanian team.
Thank you for your time.
By Giedrius Gaidamavičius
Editor: Roma Pakėnienė
VILNIUS, Sep 08, BNS – The Lithuanian Business Confederation (LBC) and the association Lydere (Female Leader) have called on the Defense Ministry to initiate discussions on a mandatory military draft for women.
"The need for conscripts is on the rise, while demographic trends are not in our favor," LBC Director Ineta Rizgele said in a press release on Friday.
"We see the inclusion of women in the draft as an inevitable solution and the sooner we start discussions on this issue, the sooner we will achieve positive results in this area," she said.
Rizgele said some decisions on the inclusion of women in military service could be implemented immediately, such as drafting women based on a list of professions that the Armed Forces lack.
The Defense Ministry's proposed conscription reform retains the "outdated" provision that only women trained as midwives or nurses can be called up for service in exceptional cases, according to the director.
The business organizations call for the experience of other countries in the region to be taken into account in "the transition to gender-neutral conscription".
They say such models have been in place in the Nordic countries for some time now: in Norway since 2015 and in Sweden since 2017.
In August, the Defense Ministry registered draft legislation to change the procedure for conscripting young people into mandatory military service.
Its proposals include shortening the duration of the basic compulsory military service to six months, from the current nine, for some conscripts, and making it mandatory for higher education students to do their military service either by enrolling in the Junior Officer Command Training Program or by joining the National Defense Volunteer Force, thus combining their service with studies.
Under the bill, the conscription age limit would be set at 18-21 years, instead of 18-23 years currently.
However, the draft reform leaves in place the provision that young women can volunteer for military service, but only men are compulsorily conscripted.
VILNIUS, Sept 08, BNS – The Orthodox Archdiocese of Lithuania, which is subordinate to the Moscow Patriarchate, says it has not been involved in discussions on legislative amendments that would allow to liquidate, by court order, a religious community if this is necessary for national security interests.
“As a general rule, when considering proposals to change the law in one way or another, it is customary to consult the groups of people or associations affected by the proposed changes. This time we are talking about religious communities of different denominations. But there has been no dialogue with us so far," Metropolitan Innokentiy told the Orthodox Lithuania newspaper in an interview.
"Of course, the above-mentioned parliamentary initiative is somewhat worrying, because not so long ago, when the war broke out in Ukraine, it was our Church that was undeservedly attacked and blamed. Thank God, the situation is calmer now", he added.
The Lithuanian Orthodox leader spoke about draft amendments, registered in the Seimas by a group of MPs, which would allow de-registering or liquidating, by court order, a religious community or association if this is necessary for security reasons or public order or for protecting other persons' rights and freedoms.
According to him, members of the Orthodox Church community are "devoted and loyal to the State of Lithuania, we obey its laws, and we respect the traditions of the nation".
Officially, Lithuania currently has one Orthodox Christian community: the Archdiocese of Vilnius and Lithuania, which is subordinate to the Patriarchate of Moscow.
However, a parallel structure under the jurisdiction of the Patriarchate of Constantinople is being created on the basis of five former priests of the Moscow Patriarchate, who were defrocked last year by Metropolitan Innokentiy, but were reinstated by Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople in February.
The Moscow Patriarchate accused the priests of canonical offenses, but Constantinople ruled that they had been defrocked because of their position on Russia's invasion of Ukraine, rather than for breaking the Church rules.
Orthodox Christians are recognized as one of Lithuania's nine traditional religious communities.
By Augustas Stankevičius
VILNIUS, Sep 08, BNS – Lithuania handed over 4.5 million rounds of ammunition to Ukraine on Friday, the Defense Ministry said.
Lithuania's military aid provided to Ukraine by this autumn includes Mi-8 helicopters, L-70 anti-aircraft guns with ammunition, M113 armored personnel carriers, millions of cartridges, and grenade launcher ammunition.
NASAMS missile launchers, anti-drones, logistical equipment and other support equipment will also be transferred to Ukraine shortly.
Also, Lithuania has been training Ukrainian soldiers, providing medical treatment and rehabilitation, and expert advice, and contributing to international funds for assistance to the country which is fighting back against Russia's military aggression.
Lithuania's assistance to Ukraine since the start of the military invasion has reached 0.5 billion euros and is set to continue, with a 200-million-euro military aid package planned for 2024-2026, the ministry said.
Lithuania's total support to Ukraine amounts to more than 1 billion euros, or more than 1.2 percent of its GDP, with military aid making up a half of the amount.
VILNIUS, Sep 08, BNS – The following events are scheduled in Lithuania for Monday, September 11, 2023:
PRESIDENT Gitanas Nauseda to meet with participants of national security courses at 10:15 a.m.; to present credentials to Mindaugas Rukstele, Lithuania's ambassador to Hungary, at 1 p.m.
CULTURE MINISTER Simonas Kairys and Vilnius officials to hold a news conference at 2:30 p.m. on the financing and further stages of the implementation of the National Concert Hall project in the capital.