• 2004-09-29
According to 2003 figures, Estonia had the biggest budget surplus in the EU at 3.1 percent of GDP, according to Eurostat data. Next was neighboring Finland with a 2.3 percent surplus, followed by Luxembourg (0.8 percent), Belgium (0.4), Spain (0.4), Denmark (0.3), Sweden (0.3) and Ireland (0.1). The countries with the biggest budget deficits were the Czech Republic (12.6 percent), Malta (9.7), Cyprus (6.4) and Hungary (6.2). Latvia's budget deficit last year was 1.5 percent and Lithuania's 1.9 percent.

Estonia also had the union's smallest government-sector debt as a ratio to GDP at 5.4 percent.

Riga plans to raise 15.2 million lats (23 million euros) from the European Regional Development Fund for the first round of the city's traffic infrastructure improvement, traffic department spokesman Andris Pudans said. The total cost of the first round's seven projects amounts to 23.9 million lats. Of this 70 percent will be financed from EU funds, 5 percent from state subsidies and 20 percent by the Riga City Council. All in all Latvia will have access to 625.6 million euros from EU structural funds in 2004-2006.

The implementation of EU structural funds is especially important for the development of rural Latvia, head of Microsoft in Latvia Sandris Kolomenskis said at a conference last week. EU funding for municipal projects in the field of information society was the main topic of the conference, where experts suggested that rural regions needed additional attention, and that the country should look at good examples of EU structural fund implementation.

A growing difference in the quality of life and a broadening digital gap were mentioned as threats. "Driving half an hour outside Riga, the situation is not that bright," he said, adding that despite good projects in Riga, other regions must show the same for the country's sustainable development. Kolomenskis added that state and municipal institutions, as well as the private and NGO sector, must be involved in the process.

European Regional Information Society Association Chairman George Hall said that Latvia should take use of good examples, like Ireland, as well as bad examples, like Greece. He added that because Latvia was a small country, it had a good chance of doing the job well, just as Ireland had, because managing the funds would be easier.

Parliamentary Speaker Arturas Paulauskas during his visit to Brussels gave European Parliament President Josep Borrell a present 's the sculptor Leonas Pivoriunas's artwork titled Eurovista. It portrays the landscape of the European Union using various chopped-up currencies of EU nations no longer in circulation. Paulauskas expressed satisfaction that, with the gift, Lithuania would have more than just a formal, legislative effect on the EP's daily work.

Borrell said that the work of art symbolized confidence in the euro and trust in Europe, which had not expanded but finally become united.

The German fish processing company Lysell said it would close a domestic plant with 150 workers and relocate production to Tallinn by the beginning of next year, which will significantly boost output at Spratfil, its Estonian partner. Only a management group of about 12 persons will remain in Cuxhaven, the present location of the Norda-Lysell GmbH & Co KG's factory. The announcement of the shutdown came as a shock for employees, and the plant's trade union staged a warning strike in the second half of the week, the local newspaper Cuxhavener Nachrichten reported.

Spratfil, whose sales reached 25 million kroons (1.6 million euros) last year, presently has as many workers as the German firm, but the new factory, completed in 2001, has enough space to grow.