• 2002-05-02
THINK BIG: Estonian Prime Minister Siim Kallas pledged to try to reform the EU once the country joins the bloc in order to lower taxes and remove market restrictions. "We are prepared to stand for such an EU which does not have an agricultural system that is archaic and unfair to our farmers, and which has market restrictions," Kallas told fellow members of his Reform Party at a conference on April 28, according to a statement released by the party. "We will be fighting in the EU for low taxes, a flat income tax and the abolishment of the corporate income tax," said Kallas, who leads a coalition of his free-market party and the left-leaning Centrist Party. A leader in adopting free-market reforms since breaking from the Soviet Union in 1991, Estonia will have to raise taxes and market barriers as part of joining the EU. In a message to skeptics toward Estonia's accession Kallas said small countries can get their voice heard in the enlarged bloc. While the country has been receiving high ratings from the EU on its readiness, the popular mood is not catching up with the government's eagerness. Although support for Estonia's membership reached a record high of 58 percent two months ago, those against the country's accession still account for more than one-third of the population, according to the Emor polling agency. Last year, opponents made up as much as 54 percent of the population. (Agence France-Presse)

RENT-A-GUARD: The Latvian National Armed Forces are to investigate allegations in the newspaper Kriminala Latvija that the president's security service has been guarding private individuals when not busy guarding President Vaira Vike-Freiberga, said armed forces press officer Uldis Davidovs. Off-duty presidential guards used weapons, vehicles and other state-owned equipment to guard individuals such as Russian pop star Fillip Kirkorov who visited Riga last year and in the course of working at Riga's Tower Casino, said the newspaper. Presidential spokeswoman Aiva Rozenberga said Vike-Freiberga would keep out of the issue as it did not fall under her competence. (Baltic News Service)

DELAY TACTIC: Lithuania will seek a seven-year transition period delaying the time when its contribution to the EU budget matches that proposed by the European Commission, the EU's executive arm. It may also ask that its contributions be linked to guarantees of long-term EU financing for closing the Ignalina nuclear power plant and receipt of sufficient agricultural subsidies, the Cabinet decided on April 24. Chief accession negotiator Petras Austrevicius said Lithuania would initially like to pay between 15 percent and 20 percent of the sums proposed by the European Commission. "This wouldn't be unprecedented - that's how Ireland, Greece and Spain made payments," Austrevicius said. A European Commission proposal to return a portion of Lithuanian payments was insufficient, he added. According to preliminary estimates, total EU aid to Lithuania including so-called structural and cohesion funds, direct aid, aid for rural development and aid for closure of Ignalina will amount to 580 million euros ($51.33 million) in 2004, or a little under one-quarter of the national budget. (BNS)

SOVIET REMAINS: Riga municipality's memorial council plunged into heated debate this week over a suggestion by the left-wing Latvian Socialist Party to move the remains of Soviet-era party apparatchiks from Riga's Brothers Cemetery to the Matiss Cemetery where a new memorial could be established for them. Many monument council members resisted the idea, saying it was tantamount to glorifying the Communist Party. The Latvian Socialist Party would like to spend 65,500 lats ($105,600) on a new memorial complex at Matiss Cemetery, which would encompass the current memorial wall for victims of the 1905 revolution, and on the reburial of 40 urns from the Brothers Cemetery containing the remains of Soviet-era officials. Council member Eizens Upmanis argued the proposal was unethical as victims of the 1919 Soviet terror are buried at Matiss. Ziepniekalna Cemetery would be a better burial site, said Upmanis. The council decided to postpone a decision and ordered the city cemetery board and other institutions to submit historical information on the burial sites and proposal as to where the remains might be reburied. The idea of moving Communist Party apparatchiks from the Brothers Cemetery to Matiss Cemetery was first suggested by the Latvian Parliament in 1993. (BNS)

TIME UP FOR LANDMARK: The clock which for years has towered over Riga Central railway station was switched off on April 24 ahead of its demolition at the end of May. The momentous alteration to the Riga skyline is part of the station's renovation by Norwegian company Linstow Varner. A new clock tower giving visitors a bird's-eye view of the city will be built near the terminal by spring 2003. (BNS)

UNDER NATO'S WING: Poland, Germany and Denmark could soon invite the Baltic states to join their multilateral military corps, Polish Defense Minister Jerzy Szmajdzinski said April 29 before meeting with his German and Danish colleagues. The three later met with their Baltic counterparts. "We want to invite Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia to open before September liaison offices with the corps," which is headquartered in the northwestern Polish city of Szczecin, the minister told journalists. The three Baltic states are widely expected to receive invitations to join NATO when leaders of the defense alliance meet in the Czech capital of Prague this November to consider further enlargement. Such meetings in the so-called three plus three formula "are an important element in the enlargement of the corps," said Szmajdzinski. Created in 1999 soon after Poland joined NATO, the Polish-German-Danish corps is not a formal part of the NATO command structure. But the corps "has played an important role in the difficult adaptation of the Polish armed forces to NATO standards," said the minister. The corps, which comprises units containing some 50,000 soldiers, trains primarily for rescue and peacekeeping operations as part of UN missions. (AFP)