In a possible sign that political tensions are easing in Ukraine, President Viktor F. Yanukovich pardoned the country’s second-most-prominent political prisoner on Sunday, but his intentions concerning his biggest rival, who is also in custody, remained unclear.
The pardoned prisoner, Yuri V. Lutsenko, is a former interior minister whose arrest in December 2010 on charges that he had abused his office raised concerns in the European Union and the United States that Ukraine’s democracy was at risk. Those worries were heightened the following year when the police arrested Mr. Yanukovich’s biggest rival, Yulia V. Tymoshenko, a former prime minister and the leader of the political opposition.
Mr. Yanukovich also freed several lower-profile figures on Sunday, including a former ecology minister, Georgy Filipchuk. But about a dozen other opposition figures remain in prison.
The pardon decree, published by Ukraine’s government, laid out a host of factors that went into the decision, including the prisoners’ former service to the state, their family affairs and their behavior while in prison.
The statement did not mention a campaign mounted by the European Union to win the release of prisoners in exchange for an agreement on broadened trade relations that includes provisions on human rights and the rule of law.
(There’s more at the source.)
Small Baltic state Latvia decided on Monday to apply to join the euro zone next year, a sign of the faith in the currency which still exists in eastern Europe after three years which have threatened the project.
Small and limber economies, Latvia and Lithuania should slide more easily into the currency bloc than larger states like Poland and the Czech Republic and have remained keener on joining throughout the banking and debt crises.
Many Latvians’ mortgage loans are in euros meaning a switch would decrease currency risk and most see the currency as a lesser long-term risk than the lat. They are also keen to entrench their links with western Europe to keep former imperial master Russia at arms length.
But while the country’s leadership is keen on the project, polls show much of the population are worried that a currency switch will drive prices higher and take control of the economy out of Latvian hands.
Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich has told Der Spiegel magazine that Germany would not allow Romania or Bulgaria to join the European open-border Schengen zone. EU ministers meet on Thursday to discuss the issue.
Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich told this week’s Spiegel magazine that Germany would not currently allow Romania or Bulgaria to join the open-border Schengen Area. Often called the Schengen zone, the area incorporates 22 EU member states and four European non-EU members.
Romania and Bulgaria, which joined the EU in 2007, are obliged to join the area - but the process has been delayed pending the completion of other obligations like tackling corruption and organized crime.
EU interior and justice ministers meet in Brussels on Thursday with this issue on the agenda.
“Should Romania and Bulgaria insist upon a vote [at the meeting], then the proposal will fail by virtue of a German veto,” Friedrich told Spiegel. ” Even the possibility of partial approval - for arrival by air, or seaports - is off the table.”
(More at the source.)
Croatia fears that Slovenia will get in the way of its long-planned entry into the European Union on July 1. Continuing tensions, particularly over Slovenia’s largest bank, are threatening to cause a delay.
There were obstacles to Croatia’s membership of the European Union ever since the Balkan country took the first step to joining the bloc ten years ago. Chief among them has long been lack of cooperation with the war crimes tribunal in The Hague. But there is another roadblock, set by neighboring Slovenia, which is demanding a solution to an ongoing dispute concerning Slovenia’s Ljubljanska Banka and its debts.
When the former Yugoslavia crumbled at the beginning of the 1990s, its banking system fell apart with it. The Ljubljanska Banka, headquartered in Slovenia, was deemed unable to pay its debts, which meant many private depositors lost their savings. A portion of the bank’s debts to Croatian depositors - about 278 million euros ($380 million) - was taken over by the Croatian government at the time. In 1993, a pair of Croatian banks paid the debts owed to former Ljubaljanska Banka customers.
Then the Croatian government permitted these two banks to demand the money they paid out be refunded by Slovenia. The Slovenian government, however, has called on Zagreb to withdraw that permission. That would make the 278 million euros simply another item on the list of payments made as part of Yugoslavia’s still incomplete break-up process and part of the material legacy of the former Yugoslavia - and not a direct burden on the Slovenian budget.
No one has yet dared to predict what any future compromise could look like. Both sides have indicated that a solution may be in sight, but time is pressing - because without a deal on the Ljubljanska Banka issue, the Slovenian parliament will not ratify Croatia’s entry into the EU. That puts the planned July 1 entry date in doubt.
(This is a bit complicated, but it has the potential to be a big deal, so I highlighted the salient points. There’s a lot more at the source.)
Bulgaria and Romania joined the European Union in 2007, but labor market restrictions have prevented many Bulgarians and Romanians from seeking employment in large parts of the EU so far. Those restrictions are due to end next next year, and quite a few British politicians aren’t pleased. The always classy and balanced British tabloid scene has come up with such wonderful article as Next stop UK: Romanians & Bulgarians are queueing up for handout Britain:
In Sofia, Bulgaria’s capital, Julia Atanasova and pal Yanita Minkova, both 24, told us they are eager to come here.
When we showed them our story from last week on the couple who spent their benefits on cigs, a luxury TV and a laptop computer, they confirmed their admiration for the UK’s system.
Julia said: “I can’t stand the thought of the wet weather in Britain but your benefits system is good.
“Everyone wants a good standard of living with luxuries like holidays. It is amazing people in the UK can afford so much without even having to work.” Logistics student Julia added: “I don’t want my children to grow up in Bulgaria.
“People don’t have security here — one day you can have a job and the next it can be gone.”
Some politicians are considering a negative ad campaign about the horrors of British life with the goal of convincing potential immigrants to stay at home. (One Romanian newspaper has created its own parody campaign, extolling Romania in comparison to the hellhole that is Britain.)
In response, one Bulgarian student says:
“My first reaction was how strange that any country would want to position itself negatively to the outside world,” said 22-year-old Ivan Bardarov. “I also found it a little offensive that the UK feels it has to teach Bulgarians and Romanians that its streets aren’t paved in gold when I don’t think there is anyone here who thinks it is.”
A Romanian businessman in London says:
But what about now, when controls are lifted and, as EU citizens, they will have more rights? “Romanians, as a first choice, don’t come here,” counters Ratiu. “It’s easier to go to Italy and Spain. In a month a Romanian can speak Italian and Spanish and Portuguese. It’s easier to learn those languages. Language makes a big difference. We are closer in terms of history and culture to the Latin countries. More people choose to go to France than the UK. A lot will choose Austria and Germany.”
What will happen? It looks like we’ll just have to wait a year and find out.
Lithuania’s government and central bank agreed to seek euro adoption in 2015, pledging action to ensure inflation falls to the required level.
“We’ve agreed to seek the ambitious goal of joining the euro zone in 2015,” Prime Minister Algirdas Butkevicius said today in the capital, Vilnius, after meeting Finance Minister Rimantas Sadzius and central bank Governor Vitas Vasiliauskas.
The government will maintain fiscal discipline and state institutions will avoid raising regulated prices to bring price growth within the European Union’s limit, Vasiliauskas said. Inflation is the only euro-adoption criteria that Lithuania doesn’t already meet, he said.
The 2015 target would probably make Lithuania the last of the three Baltic nations to introduce the euro. Latvia plans to join the euro area next year, while Estonia made the switch in 2011. Lithuania missed a previous 2007 goal because inflation was 0.1 percentage point more than than the level permitted by the EU.
“The European Union funds will not be used for silicone breast implants”. This rather unorthodox promise probably is not what one would expect to hear from a company that has secured nearly €1m ($1.3m) in EU funding. And yet, it is precisely how Mitko Dimitrov, president of Payner Media, a Bulgarian broadcaster, had to defend his company’s grant.
The revelation that Payner, a record label and owner of three TV channels, has secured considerable funding under an EU competitiveness grant designed to support small and mid-size companies in the creative industries sparked an outcry in the Balkan country. The main reason lies in chalga, a type of music the company produces. Chalga is an eclectic mix of oriental, pop and dance styles featuring scantily dressed women and sexually explicit lyrics. It’s also one of the most polarising issues in Bulgaria dividing the society along a “dance-it-or-hate-it” line.
It was the hate-it part that was more vociferous after the report last week. Mitko Novkov, a literary critic, asked “in which monstrous mind this was born” while Tedi Moskov, a theatre director, suggested the state should introduce a tax on chalga music. After journalists, politicians and social media users weighed in, mostly denouncing the fact that European money is spent on financing performers resembling porn stars singing about gangsters and money, the European Commission asked Bulgaria to open an investigation “in how far the rules of the grant scheme have been followed”.
While the Bulgarian authorities were quick to assure that “from a formal point of view, everything is correct”, when it comes to rules and EU grants, the Commission has grounds for suspicion, especially in times of continent-wide austerity. In 2008, it froze more than half a billion euros because of Bulgaria’s corruption and poor management of EU funds.
(There’s more at the source.)
35% Latvian residents approve of the introduction of the euro in Latvia, according to a survey carried out by the market, social and media research company TNS Latvia. 37% strictly oppose the euro in Latvia. More often than not, they have primary or incomplete secondary education, writes LETA/Nozare.lv.
10% of Latvians, who approve of the euro introduction, believe that Latvia should adopt the euro as soon as possible, 25% point out that the country should join the eurozone, but not in the nearest future.
56% of Latvian residents with incomplete secondary education can be considered euro skeptics. In comparison, only 35% of those with secondary education and 33% with higher education do not support Latvia’s accession to the eurozone.
The survey shows that euro support grows at higher education levels.
Well, this is an interesting way to frame this discussion.