LITHUANIA DAILY NEWS BULLETIN
IN THIS ISSUE:
- Upcoming events in Lithuania for Thursday, October 26, 2023
- Thirty-one irregular migrants turned away on Lithuania's border with Belarus
- Lithuanian president, other EU leaders to discuss Ukraine aid package, Russia sanctions
- Lithuania's top prosecutor to ask parliament to strip MP Grazulis of immunity
- Lithuania reports 509 new COVID-19 cases, no deaths
- EU commission could be more flexible on RRF funds – Lithuanian economy minister
- Lithuania failed to make strong case for tax reform deadline revision – EC reps
- Lithuanian govt likely to propose extension of restrictions on Russians, Belarusians
- Lithuanian formin urges EU to speed up ammo deliveries to Ukraine
- Thousands protest outside Lithuanian parliament against new property tax model
- Hungary's flirt with Russia sends wrong signal – Lithuanian president
- Lithuanian parlt sets up panel on lifting MP Grazulis' immunity
- Lithuanian parlt approves three candidates for ECHR judges
- Upcoming events in Lithuania for Friday, October 27, 2023
VILNIUS, Oct 26, BNS – The following events are scheduled in Lithuania for Thursday, October 26, 2023:
PRESIDENT Gitanas Nauseda to attend a European Council meting in Brussels.
SPEAKER OF THE SEIMAS Viktorija Cmilyte-Nielsen to pay a visit to Japan.
EDUCATION, SCIENCE AND SPORT MINISTER Gintaras Jakstas to meet with Japanese Ambassador to Lithuania Ozaki Tetsu at 4 p.m.
FOREIGN MINISTER Gabrielius Landsbergis to attend a OECD regional meeting.
VILNIUS, Oct 26, BNS – Lithuanian border guards have in the past 24 hours turned away 31 migrants attempting to cross into the country from Belarus illegally, the State Border Guard Service (SBGS) said on Thursday morning.
Latvia reported 77 attempts at illegal border crossings on Wednesday, and 120 irregular migrants were not allowed into Poland on Tuesday, according to the latest available information.
A total of 2,166 irregular migrants have been barred from entering Lithuania from Belarus at non-designated places so far this year.
Lithuanian border guards have prevented a total of almost 21,400 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 influx of irregular migrants to the EU's eastern member states from Belarus began in 2021 and is blamed by the West on the Minsk regime.
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, Oct 26, BNS – Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda is heading to Brussels on Thursday to discuss with other EU leaders continued support for Ukraine and new sanctions against Russia.
The European Commission last summer proposed a revision of the bloc's budget, including the creation of a new financial instrument to support Kyiv. These funds, consisting of grants and loans, are expected to amount to around 50 billion euros.
EU officials have said that the Commission's proposal aims to help finance the Ukrainian government's running costs and pay for immediate reconstruction priorities.
However, the money will be disbursed if Ukraine implements reforms to improve the rule of law and combat corruption.
Lithuania also emphasizes that as Russia continues its war in Ukraine, the bloc should adopt a new package of sanctions against the Kremlin, including restrictions on the nuclear energy giant Rosatom.
EU leaders are meeting in Brussels as Kiyv waits for the Commission's assessment in November on whether to open formal accession talks with Ukraine. Then it will be up to the block's leaders to take a final decision.
At the European Council meeting, EU leaders will also discuss migration, the bloc's economy and competitiveness, and the situation in the Middle East, the South Caucasus and the Western Balkans.
By Augustas Stankevičius
VILNIUS, Oct 26, BNS – Lithuanian Prosecutor General Nida Grunskiene on Thursday will formally ask the parliament to strip MP Petras Grazulis of his legal immunity from prosecution.
She seeks the lifting of the MP's immunity so that he can be prosecuted on suspicions of publicly ridiculing and expressing contempt for a group of persons on grounds of their sexual orientation.
Later on Thursday, the parliament is expected to set up an investigation commission to look into whether there are grounds for stripping Grazulis of his immunity.
Prosecutors opened their pre-trial investigation in May 2022 following Grazulis' public remarks about members of the LGBTIQ community.
On May 26, 2022, Grazulis allegedly insulted several members of the LGBTIQ community, calling them "degenerates" spreading STDs and suggesting that they seek treatment. The incident took place in the Seimas building shortly after a civil union bill aimed at legally regulating relations between same-sex partners in Lithuania passed its first reading in the parliament.
The prosecutors have questioned Grazulis as a special witness in their pre-trial investigation, but they cannot bring formal suspicions against the MP, because he enjoys legal immunity that can only be lifted by the parliament.
This is the second time in this parliamentary term that the prosecutor general has asked the parliament to strip Grazulis, a member of the non-attached political group in the Seimas, of his legal immunity.
Grazulis' legal immunity was waived in December 2022 to allow bringing formal suspicions of abuse against him in the Judex case.
According to law enforcement, Grazulis abused his official position as an MP when he helped Judex, a Kaunas-based frozen food company, to solve its problems after Russian officials found listeria in its products in 2015.
In June 2022, the Lithuanian Court of Appeal fined the politician more than 15,000 euros for that and ordered the confiscation of over 3,300 euros. The Lithuanian Supreme Court is expected to deliver its final verdict in this case on November 7.
The parliament has also launched impeachment proceedings against Grazulis for deliberately voting for another MP.
VILNIUS, Oct 26, BNS – Lithuania has recorded 509 new coronavirus infections and no deaths from COVID-19 over the past 24 hours, official statistics showed on Thursday morning.
The number of COVID-19 patients in hospitals stands at 87, including two ICU cases.
The 14-day primary infection rate has risen to 159.2 cases per 100,000 people, with the seven-day percentage of positive tests at 27.7 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.
COVID-19 incidence in Lithuania took an upward turn in mid-September after having stayed at a low level since May.
Some 68.5 percent of people in the country have received at least one coronavirus vaccine jab so far, according to the statistics.
VILNIUS, Oct 26, BNS – The European Commission could be more flexible on Recovery and Resilience Facility funds, Economy and Innovation Minister Ausrine Armonaite said on Thursday after the EU's executive arm rejected Lithuania's request to postpone until 2025 its RRF plan deadlines related to the tax reform.
Armonaite, leader of the Freedom Party, a member of the ruling coalition, noted that the situation in Europe and Lithuania has changed significantly over the past two years.
"The European Commission should understand that Europe didn't have a 4 percent Euribor rate when the indicators were agreed in 2021 and that the economic situation has changed dramatically," the minister told the Ziniu Radijas radio station.
"That mechanism could be more flexible," she said. "I think that everybody will learn from the whole process, because it is not only Lithuania that has made all sorts of commitments."
"There are other countries committed to ambitious goals, perhaps not in the tax system (...), but in other areas, and they are struggling," the minister said.
"The European Commission has to look not only at what is on paper, but also at the real situation in the economy," she added.
Armonaite opposes draft amendments to the Law on Real Estate that call for taxing all property owned by private individuals and she also criticized the government's now postponed proposal, which is part of the tax reform package, on taxation of self-employed people.
Both of these taxes are related to Lithuania's commitments to the Commission in order to receive RRF funds.
The EU's executive arm has rejected as unjustified Lithuania's request to postpone the adoption of the tax reform legislation until the first quarter of 2025.
The tax reform envisaged in Lithuania's RRF plan aims to eliminate certain tax exemptions and special tax regimes, make the tax system more conducive to economic growth, and reduce income inequality and poverty.
The government tabled its proposed amendments to tax-related laws to the parliament in June, but after disputes, the ruling coalition decided not to push for their adoption.
The adoption of the bill on broadening the tax base also ran aground last week.
If the Commission granted the government's request on tax targets, this would mean that the reform would have to be approved by the next parliament.
Lithuania still has a month to respond to the Commission's reluctance to postpone the implementation of the tax targets.
By Giedrius Gaidamavičius, Roma Pakėnienė
VILNIUS, Oct 26, BNS - Lithuania failed to provide serious reasons as to why the tax reform-related deadlines for the implementation of the country's recovery and resilience plan (RRF) should be delayed, representatives of the European Commission say.
"According to the RRF regulation, in order to modify the existing indicators, it must be impossible to achieve them and that impossibility must be due to objective reasons," Marius Vascega, head of the European Commission Representation in Lithuania, told reporters on Thursday, commenting on the EC decision to reject Lithuania's request for a delay until the start of 2025.
"We do not see any RRF conditions to have been met, which would allow somehow postponing the implementation of the RRF indicators," he added.
Lithuania's European Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevicius also says that Vilnius failed to provide any substantiated arguments when requesting an adjustment of the RRF plan's tax reform-related deadlines
"If we look at the RRF rules, an alternative needs to be presented or proposed to match the measure. The government has not done so. It aims for a fairer tax system and a more efficient public sector but failed to explain the objective reasons that prevent doing that. The government did not even really elaborate on those reasons," the EC commissioner for environment, oceans and fisheries told BNS on Thursday.
"The Commission refuses to postpone the tax reform for two years without any explanation as to why this should be done. (...) This would have required either proposing an alternative that would meet the objectives set out in the government's plan (...) or explaining what objective reasons prevent it from doing so," he added.
The commissioner noted that the Commission had so far granted all requests from member states to adjust their commitments under the RRF plan, making Lithuania the first EU country to have its request refused.
For his part, Mindaugas Linge, chair of the parliamentary Committee on Budget and Finance, told BNS earlier this week the government had not proposed to the Commission to adjust the reform objectives, and only asked for flexibility on the deadlines of their implementation.
According to Vascega, the Commission has not made any calculations on how much of the RRF funds Lithuania could lose if the targets set for receiving them are not met on time.
"In the overall context, Lithuania's use of RRF funds looks quite good," he said.
On Tuesday, the Commission approved Lithuania's modified RRF plan worth 3.85 billion euros. However, it rejected the country's request to adjust the deadlines for the implementation of tax changes.
According to the Commission, Lithuania now has one month to provide additional comment on the matter, and then the EC will make the final decision.
VILNIUS, Oct 26, BNS – The Lithuanian government will most likely ask the parliament to extend the restrictions on Russian and Belarusian citizens, currently in force until next May.
"Given the overall geopolitical context, it's hard to imagine that the government won't make such a proposal," Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte told reporters on Thursday. "I think there’ll be a need for an extension of the existing law."
"The government will have to make that proposal. At least I don't see why we should expect that the restrictions will no longer be needed next May," she added.
The parliament earlier this year passed a law on restrictive measures for Russian and Belarusian citizens, but the latter are subject to fewer restrictions.
The law imposed temporary restrictions for Russians and Belarusians to obtain Lithuanian visas and e-resident status, and bans them from bringing Ukrainian hryvnias into Lithuania. The measures are in place from May 2 this year to May 3, 2024.
However, Russian citizens face additional restrictions on entry to Lithuania and acquisition of real estate in the country. Lithuania also temporarily refuses to accept their residence permit applications
President Gitanas Nauseda and some parliamentarians take the position that Belarus' citizens should be subject to the same sanctions as Russians.
Simonyte said on Thursday that during the debate on the extension of the law in the parliament, MPs will be able to table their proposals to tighten the restrictions.
"If the government sees the need to submit not only an extension, but also some proposals, it will do so," she said.
A Baltijos Tyrimai survey published by the public broadcaster LRT this week found that six out of ten Lithuanians are in favor of tightening the entry of Belarusian citizens into the country.
VILNIUS, Oct 26, BNS – Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis on Thursday called on EU member states to "stop being frozen in the headlights" and speed up the delivery of the promised ammunition to Ukraine.
His comment came after Bloomberg reported earlier on Thursday that the bloc is falling behind on plans to provide Ukraine, which is fighting back against Russia's invasion, with a million artillery shells.
"The EU promised Ukraine 1,000,000 artillery rounds. So far, we have delivered only 300,000. Meanwhile, North Korea delivered 350,000 to Russia," Landsbergis posted on the X social media platform.
"We surely have the resources to outperform North Korea," the minister wrote.
"We should stop being frozen in the headlights while brave Ukrainians die," he added.
According to Bloomberg, the EU has so far only achieved about 30 percent of the target of delivering the artillery ammunition rounds to Ukraine by March 2024 and, based on the volume of contracts signed to date, risks missing it.
VILNIUS, Oct 26, BNS – Around 2,500 people gathered in front of the Lithuanian parliament on Thursday to protest against the new proposed real estate tax model under consideration by lawmakers.
Protesters held placards reading "In the future, tax = homelessness", "Racketeering returns in the form of property taxes," or "The conservatives' gang brings ruin to the nation".
The organizers of the rally say the government's intention to tax all residential real estate, including a person's sole residence, amounts to a "de facto expropriation of property".
"I protested against the Soviet Union back then (...) and I hoped for a better life for myself and for my children. What do we have now? The final crippling," said Janina Valeikiene, a 65-year-old pensioner from Ukmerge who participated in the rally.
Simonas Margis, a 26-year-old animator, said the planned property tax goes against human rights and the Constitution.
"It simply ruins society by turning them into debtors," he told BNS.
The authorities gave permission for a rally by up to 1,000 people, but police officers told BNS that around 2,500 took part in the protest.
The police said they had recorded no incidents during the rally, but added that they would deal with possible violations due to the number of participants exceeding the permitted maximum number.
To prevent unrest, the Office of the Seimas closed one of the entrances to the parliament building and shut the gates to the inner courtyard.
In an effort to broaden the property tax base, the government proposes to tax all forms of real estate, including a person's sole residence.
The parliament was scheduled to hold a final vote on the legislative amendments on Thursday, but decided last week to postpone the matter until November.
The government suggests that the new property tax rates should come into effect in 2025, with the first payment due in 2026.
By Goda Vileikytė, Saulius Jakučionis
VILNIUS, Oct 26, BNS – The Hungarian prime minister's flirt with Russia send a wrong signal to the international community and Ukraine as it's fighting against Russian invasion, Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda says.
"It's really more than strange to see that we start to flirt with the regime which is committing (...) very cruel atrocities in the territory of Ukraine. It sends a very wrong message to everybody, first of all, to the international society and also to Ukraine," the president said as he arrived for a European Council meeting in Brussels.
Nauseda argues that Ukraine's defeat would worsen the security situation across the EU.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in China in mid-October. It was Putin's second meeting with a European leader since February 2022, when he launched the invasion of Ukraine, after he received Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer in April 2022.
Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas has already publicly slammed Orban's action, stating that he disappointed her.
Nauseda underlines that the EU must stay united and do not succumb in to war fatigue as "some countries start establishing some special kind of diplomacy".
"This is very important, especially now in this critical stage of the war, to stay united, not to split our foreign policy because, otherwise, it will be the policy of 27 members. We have no right to do that," the Lithuanian leader said.
He vows to raise the issue of financial support for Ukraine at the EU summit.
As the European Commission proposed last summer a review of the EU budget to allow for an additional 50 billion euros in aid to Kyiv, the Lithuanian president says such aid would not be sufficient, "unless we are committed to come back to this issue if needed".
As the EU continues discussions on the 12th sanction package for Russia, Nauseda reiterates the need to include Russia's nuclear energy giant Rosatom, drones and other technologies in it.
EU leaders are meeting in Brussels as Kyiv awaits the EC's conclusion on the country's chances of starting accession negotiations. The Commission is expected to announce its position November, and then EU leaders will be expected to take a final decision.
The European Council will also discuss the call for a so-called humanitarian pause in Israel's war against Hamas.
Speaking with journalists, Nauseda echoed the European Council's previously expressed position that Israel has the right to defend itself, but without violating international humanitarian law.
VILNIUS, Oct 26, BNS - The Seimas of Lithuania on Thursday set up an inquiry commission on lifting MP Petras Grazulis' legal immunity. However, the opposition Lithuanian Farmers and Greens Union, the Democrats "For Lithuania", the Labor Party and the non-attached group refused to delegate their representatives.
Only the Lithuanian Social Democratic Party group agreed to send its representative to the commission.
75 MPs voted in favor of the establishment of such commission, there were no votes against and abstentions.
The commission is expected to issue its conclusion by November 7.
Earlier in the day, lawmakers heard Lithuanian Prosecutor General Nida Grunskiene asked lawmakers who asked the parliament to lift Grazulis' legal immunity so that prosecutors could charge him for publicly ridiculing and expressing contempt for a group of persons or a person on grounds of their sexual orientation.
Under the Statute of the Seimas, once the prosecutor general's request is heard, an inquiry commission needs to be set up to look into whether there are grounds to lift an MP's immunity and whether the MP is not being persecuted for political convictions.
On Thursday, the prosecutor general told the Seimas that interviews of witnesses and victims, video recordings, and a linguistic examination show that Grazulis may have publicly ridiculed and expressed contempt for LGBTIQ people because of their sexual orientation.
According to her, five persons and European Foundation of Human Rights, a public organization, have been declared victims as part of this pre-trial investigation.
On May 26, 2022, after the Seimas gave its initial backing to the civil union bill, Grazulis met several representatives of the LGBTIQ community as he was leaving the plenary session hall and called them degenerates spreading STDs, and said they should get treatment.
Grazukis could face a prison sentence of up two years, if found guilty.
By Jūratė Skėrytė
VILNIUS, Oct 26, BNS – The Lithuanian parliament on Thursday approved three candidates for judges of the European Court of Human Rights. One of them will be picked by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.
The government has nominated Lyra Jakuleviciene, a professor at Mykolas Romeris University, Edita Ziobiene, the ombudsperson for child's rights, and Gediminas Sagatis, a judge of the Supreme Court of Lithuania.
The candidates were approved with 107 votes in favor and one abstention.
Candidates for ECHR judges are nominated by the government, with the approval of the president and after consultation with the Seimas. The Seimas then decides whether to approve the nominations.
Lithuania's new delegated judge will replace outgoing judge Egidijus Kuris.
VILNIUS, Oct 27, BNS – The following events are scheduled in Lithuania for Friday, October 27, 2023:
PRESIDENT Gitanas Nauseda attending a European Council meting in Brussels.
SPEAKER OF THE SEIMAS Viktorija Cmilyte-Nielsen to continue her visit to Japan.
EDUCATION, SCIENCE AND SPORT MINISTER Gintaras Jakstas to meet with Georgian Ambassador to Lithuania Salome Shapakidze at 10.30.m.
FOREIGN MINISTER Gabrielius Landsbergis to pay a working visit to Singapore.
INTERIOR MINISTER Agne Bilotaite to meet with her Latvian, Estonian, Ukrainian and Finnish counterparts and the Polish and Norwegian vice ministers at 9 a.m., followed by a press conference at 11.30 a.m.