Posts filed under ‘Northern Europe’
This morning the Lithuanian media reported that one more minister might submit a resignation letter to the Prime Minister Kubilius. The Minister concerned is Algis Caplikas, from the Centre and Liberal Party, who is heading the Ministry of Health. However, the Minister will stay, at least for the time being.
The reason for his resignation was a ‘political responsibility’ after former Vice Minister of Health Mr Arturas Skikas. The former Vice Minister was sentenced for two years of conditional sentence postponing its enactment for a two-year period on 5 February for taking a bribe. Mr Skikas, then the Vice Minster, demanded a 20.000 to 30.000 LTL bribe from the National Blood Centre Director.
Lithuania’s President Dalia Grybauskaite announced on 5 February that she is going to meet the Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in Finland next week.
According to her, the initiative for the meeting came from Kremlin. Grybauskaite said to the reporters today, “At Putin’s request, we agreed to such meeting.” The Lithuanian president and the Russian Prime Minister will participate on the meeting of the leaders of the countries surrounding the Baltic Sea.
Grybauskaite was asked if during the meeting she will raise a question to Putin about a statement made in 29 January by the Russia’s Foreign Ministry’s spokesperson in which he declared that Independent Lithuania did not exist in January 13 1991, when the Soviet military killed 14 civilians and injured hundreds injured. Grybauskaite answered, ‘I think that this statement is a misunderstanding.’ She added, ‘Why should I raise this question. I know that Lithuania did exist then. I don’t have any questions about this question.’
In the last two months Lithuanian political scene have witnessed birth of two new political parties. Even though the Lithuanian People’s Party claims to represent the centre left, and the Lithuania’s Christian Party planning to be a voice of the centre right, they have more similarities than differences.
Let us start with differences, since there are only few of them. One of them was mentioned above. Another is that the People’s Party declared that it will be openly pro Russian party. The Christians declared that they would aspire to the Scandinavian values.
Other fundamental difference between the parties is that the People’s party is not a Parliamentary party but Christians Party is. The Christian Party already have twelve MPs in their political faction already. How is it possible when a newly elected party, which is not officially registered yet have a rather significant number of MPs?
The answer is a very simple one. The United (One) Lithuania political faction had twelve MPs in the Parliament, but they did not have a party structure to represent them in Lithuania. This happened after the Show Stars party calling itself Lithuania’s Insurrection Party has swept into the parliament during the last elections. The party not only had almost twenty MPs, but the newly formed party joined the ruling coalition, and their leader Arunas Valinskas managed to get the second most important post in Lithuania, that of Seimas’ Speaker. However, soon the group of friends gradually realised that to work together in the parliament is different than party together.
It took them even a half of year to come to a conclusion that they cannot be together any longer and the political Insurrection faction split. Seven MPs, loyal to Mr Valinskas, the leader of the party has left the faction and formed an Oak Faction hopping that the majority of the former partying mates will join them. However, this did not happen, and those who staid in the Insurrection faction decided to name themselves the United Lithuania Faction. Before that, the Insurrection party presidium expelled from the party few of their colleagues who rebelled against Mr Valinskas.
The Lithuania’s Ministry of Finance announced that Standard & Poor’s (S&P) Ratings Services has revised its outlook on Lithuania by increasing it from negative to stable. The agency also declared that Lithuania’s Long Term local and foreign currency sovereign credit rating is at BBB and is Short Term rating is at A-3.This increase of ratings is due to the Cabinet’s successful budget cuts and Lithuania’s strong political will to keep its currency stable.
In the press release issued by the S&P its analyst Frank Gill said “The ratings on Lithuania reflect clear commitment across all political parties to support and implement budgetary and structural policies which anchor the currency board regime and enhance the economy’s flexible labor and goods markets”. He also added by saying, “While the resulting unemployment and deflation of nominal income are weighing on tax collection, the process should ultimately result in a stabilization of national income as net exports stimulate growth”.
This fantastic news to Lithuania, which has experienced an unprecedented drop of its GDP in 2009. According to the latest report from the Statistics Department Lithuania’s GDP in 2009 contracted by 15 pct. However, the Lithuanian GDP grew in the last two consequent quarters even though only by 0,1 pct in the last quarter of 2009.
Continuing his working visit to the U.S., Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius visited Silicon Valley, San Francisco, where he met with one of the most powerful groups in the IT sector, i.e. members of major Venture Capital Association Accel Partners and other IT investors. Accel Partners and associated investors hold many well-known IT companies, including MySpace, Walmart.com, Macromedia, etc. Henri Mossinac, who had invested in Facebook at its rudimentary stage, was also present.
Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius invited investors to turn an eye to Lithuania, a country that boasts highly skilled multilingual workforce and one of the best IT infrastructures in Europe and the world. According to the Prime Minister, Lithuania is an ideal place for venture capital to invest, as this is about the “investment in courage, and the Lithuanian IT sector is full of bold ideas”.
Investors got interested in the list of promising Lithuanian IT companies, drawn by the Lithuanian government.
The participants of the meeting included Ilja Laurs, founder and CEO of GetJar, the only Lithuanian capital company with the head office in the Silicon Valley. GetJar has grown into a world`s largest independent mobile apps store following the investment by Rich Wong from Accel Partners.
“Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius’s visit is very important in terms of Lithuania`s image building. The information American companies have about our country is scarce. Therefore, every opportunity must be seized to increase investor awareness about investment opportunities in Lithuania, and to offer an individual and flexible approach in each investment case. I am certain that the Prime Minister’s visit will yield tangible results”, – said Ilja Laurs.
The Lithuanian media announced that the Polish PKN Orlen is considering selling Orlen Lietuva refinery (former Mazeikiu Nafta) if it will fail to secure control over Klaipedos Nafta oil terminal.
According to the Polish daily Parket the most logical buyer of Orlen Lietuva would be a company from Russia. The paper quoted Pawel Burzinski, an analyst from BZ WBK saying, ‘”The sale of Mazeikiai is a very possible development if it will emerge that PKN Orlen has failed to agree with Lithuania’s Government. The sale of Mazeikiu Nafta may be launched by the decision of the concern’s (PKN Orlen) board.”
Mr Burzinski thinks that the sell off scenario could be such that in the first stage of it some 10-30 pct of Orlen Lietuva could be offered to an investor with an option of increasing its stake to more than 50 pct. In analysts’ opinion, then, the PKN Orlen eventually will withdraw from the shareholders of Orlen Lietuva.
Lithuania’s Government, on the other, regards the Klaipedos Nafta as a strategic object and has not intention of selling it to any other company. According to the TV3 programme Savaites komentarai on 24 January, the Polish PKN Orlen is planning to sell Orlen Lietuva to Russia’s Lukoil. However, the Russians would buy Orlen Lietuva only if the company ‘Klaipedos Nafta’ is included into the ‘package’.
We already were used that the President of the Republic only formally enjoys the “position of the first” in Lithuanian state power hierarchy. While taking into consideration his real powers and influence to the formation of state policy, he was considered to be only the second or the third highest statesman.
The President Dalia Grybauskaitė is changing this perception. Today it would maybe arise not so much doubts that D.Grybauskaitė is also a real head of state. It is enough to see how unwillingly, frowning, however, keeping his hair on, the Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius is replacing the Minister of Foreign Affairs, in whom, without any *prima facie* serious reasons, the President expressed her non-confidence, even though the Prime Minister had confidence in him.
This kind of situation lead us to question if the preconditions for transformation of a parliamentary republic, even though it has certain features of a semi-presidential republic, to presidential republic are not being created? I don’t know how much there’re are citizens, disappointed by the functioning of the political system – in the system, such as it was till now – and longing for order and for a strong hand of a single state master, however, the number of this kind of citizens is for sure not small and these citizens would gladly approve of the aforementioned transformation.
This part of the citizens does not care that almost in all post communist countries these presidential regimes converted into authoritarian regimes or even into dictatorships with bigger or smaller restrictions of democracy, political freedom and human rights. For the people, who find themselves on the edge of misery and poverty, also for a part of the representatives of business democracy, political freedom and human rights are not the most important things and ultimate values.
Still I would think that today there’s no reason to suspect that the President has authoritarian intentions. The President is acting and is strengthening her political powers by using the formed political situation, i.e. by using the fragmentation and fragility of the governing coalition, under the conditions of financial and economic crisis – the growing unpopularity of the politics of the Government as well as the growing unpopularity of the Prime Minister himself, the absence of united opposition and the opposition’s unpreparedness, despite of the latter’s promises to take over the burden of the executive power, as well as by using the opportunities, provided to the President by the Constitution, those opportunities, that were not used by the previous heads of state.
Lithuania’s daily Lietuvos rytas on 30 January published latest opinion polls. According to the polls the Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite remained the most popular politician in Lithuania and the Social Democrats the most popular political party.
According to the poll some 40.4 pct of Lithuania’s residents convinced that the President represent their interests ’s the best. Even though it is by far the best result, Grybauskaite has lost some popularity, since in December with 42 pct of Lithuanians support.
Opinion poll indicates that the Parliament’s Speaker Irena Degutiene is gaining popularity and firmly remains in the second position of the most popular politicians. This month same 15.1 pct favoured Degutiene, up from 13.6 pct from December.
Rolandas Paksas, currently Member of the European Parliament, impeached president and the Chairperson of the Order and Justice remained the third most popular with 6.4 pct, up from 5.1 pct. Another MEP Viktor Uspaskich, the Chairperson of the Labour Party held his forth place with 5.2 pct, but down from 6.8 pct in December.
The President of Lithuania Dalia Grybauskaitė has on 29 January signed a decree appointing Audronius Ažubalis as a new Minister of Foreign Affairs of Lithuania. Mr Azubalis, the Conservative Member of Parliament is currently Parliament’s Chairperson of the Committee on Foreign Affairs. The meeting was scheduled for 45 minutes but lasted double that.
After the meeting Ažubalis told journalists that the Lithuania’s foreign policy priorities are the same, ‘Real and deep integration into NATO and the European Union, good relation with our neighbours. It sounds banal; there is a lot of talk and writings about it. On the other hand, it is a different matter how we implement that. But I don’t want to comment on that at the moment. However, I have an impression that our conversation with the President was open, very clear, benevolent and to be precise, I am in a good mood from it.’
Asked to give his opinion about a Parliamentary probe on the secret CIA prisons in Lithuania he answered, ‘The probe helped Lithuania to clear out another jammed pipe in its circulation of democracy.’ He also added that in his opinion the probe will not effect Lithuania’s relationship with the USA in any negative way.
Some politicians and commentators see Mr Ažubalis as too anti Russian and not able to fit with a new, so called a pragmatic policy towards Russia, which began when Grybauskaite took the office half year ago.
“I think that Russia is a complicated neighbour and some of its actions can be named as threatening. Let us just look at the example of closure of Druzhba gas pipeline, the act that was threatening to Lithuania economically. We cannot deny that.” said Ažubalis.
Lithuania’s Statistics Department finally released data showing Lithuania’s GDP performance in 2009. According to the report Lithuania’s GDP in 2009 contracted by 15 pct compared with 2008.
In the last quarter of 2009 on year-on-year calculation Lithuania’s GDP shrank by 13 pct. However, according to the quarterly calculation in the forth quarter Lithuania’s GDP grew by 0,1 pct.
Opinions on Lithuania’s GDP performance in 2010 are split. However, the main message coming from this Baltic country is that Lithuania’s economy is stabilising and it stopped falling.
If one puts things in prospective in the beginning of 2009 many predicted that Lithuania’s GDP will fall back to the levels of 2004, when Lithuania entered the European Union. However, statistics show that Lithuania’s GDP returned to the levels of 2007. Hence, the crises, in terms of GDP threw Lithuania back by two years. It is bad, but could have been much worse.