Step towards the EU
The Lithuanian government has decided to suggest that the legislature ratify the European social charter. If the charter is adopted, it would restrict the scope of Lithuanian authorities' action in the social sphere, as a breach of social rights would be seen as a violation of international pledges.
All EU member-states have already signed the charter. Therefore, the government views Lithuanian ratification as an important step in the EU accession process.
A majority of the charter's regulations relate to the rights of employees. Among the obligatory regulations are the rights to work, form employer and employee organisations and form collective contracts, as well the right of all employees to equal positions, opportunities to work and choice of profession.
Troops sent to Kosovo
Thirty soldiers from the Alytus infantry squad were dispatched to Kosovo this week on a peacekeeping mission. The troops were selected from 100 volunteers and will serve in a joint Lithuanian-Polish battalion called LITPOLBAT. This is the third group of soldiers to serve in Kosovo.
The soldiers will be stationed across the border of Macedonia and Kosovo near some unmarked minefields. As the KLA intensifies its attacks in the spring, officials have warned the soldiers to follow instructions strictly, to look after their lives and especially to avoid visits to alcohol shops. The American military, reportedly, also has very strict rules on alcohol consumption among soldiers in their sector.
Grievance filed in Strasbourg
Since the country signed the European Convention of Human Rights, an increasing number of Lithuanian citizens want to exercise their right of complaint against the state. This week could set a record, as a complaint signed by 11,528 Lithuanian citizens has reached the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.
Last year, Lithuanian farmers took their case concerning the payment of subsidies to a higher administrative court in Lithuania. The complaint filed in Strasbourg by the farmers claims that their right to an impartial court has been violated. In the meantime, however, the order of paying subsidies was changed, and the Lithuanian court struck down its decision following the new regulations.
Interestingly, Farmers Party Chairman Ramunas Karbauskis did not sign the complaint. He explains he did not because he was unwilling to be accused of self-promotion. However, he has covered all legal expenses for the case thus far, and he has promised to compensate travel costs to the court in Strasbourg.
Although it is more than a year until the next presidential elections, politicians have already begun preparing. Current President Valdas Adamkus is evading any questions of his intentions to stand for a second term, but other potential candidates are more outspoken.
The likely Conservative Party candidate is ex-prime minister Andrius Kubilius, as two more local organisations have supported him, and long-term Conservative leader Vytautas Landsbergis will not participate.
This week, the Centre Union has announced that it will run its own candidate in the 2002 elections, most likely its current leader, Kestutis Glaveckas. In the last election, the Centre Union supported Valdas Adamkus, however it soon lost any influential positions within the presidency.
Laws to liberalise work relations
Despite huge protests and pressure from trade unions and the opposition, the Seimas passed a number of laws this week that will liberalise the job market. The laws, passed with a clear majority, focus upon the issues of work contracts, payment, holidays and trade unions.
About 150 trade union representatives observed the work of the Parliament that day, some protesting outside and threatening to block the entrances. The Social Democratic opposition has asked President Valdas Adamkus not to sign the laws, arguing that they threaten employees and trade unions.
Ruling coalition representatives have replied that the interests of both trade unions and employers have been taken into account and that the laws correspond to international and EU standards. They argue that the liberalisation of job relations will create more opportunities for agreement between the two sides, as well as the ability to crack down on illegal employment.
First alternative programme
For the first time since the establishment of Lithuanian independence in 1990, a shadow cabinet from the Social Democratic Party has presented its programme to the Seimas. Now, however, it lacks the power to implement it.
The main focus of the programme is employment. The opposition wants to maximize the number of people with jobs and ensure they receive appropriate compensation. The programme proposes to differentiate the tax system, increase the non-taxed minimum to LTL 320 (USD 80), sort out social handouts and reduce the VAT to nine per cent for food, children's clothing, shoes, household services and books.
Party Chairman Algirdas Brazauskas admitted that the programme contains no revolutionary slogans to change the situation in the country because the party is preparing to come to power.
Conflict in Farmers Party
An open and bitter conflict exploded in the Farmers Party at its annual meeting on 17 March in Kursenai. Its leader, Seimas Deputy Chairman Ramunas Karbauskis, has managed to retain his position despite substantial blows to party unity and coherence.
One of the most influential party organisations, the Kaunas branch, with 215 members, openly tried to remove Karbauskis from his post. Having failed to do so, the branch has decided to break from the party and join the Social Democratic Party. Kaunas branch members blamed the party chairman for chaos in the party ranks and the loss of the Seimas elections. However, their accusations fell on deaf ears.
And in other news...
- Four new Lithuanian ambassadors have been appointed to Denmark, Norway, Austria and Poland. This year about ten new diplomatic appointments will be made.
- The biggest telecommunications company, Lietuvos Telekomas (Lithuanian Telecom), has successfully distributed three-year euro obligations worth LTL (Lithuanian litas) 150 million (USD 37,500,000).
- Only four of 24 patients are still fighting the flu, signalling the end of the epidemic in the country.
- Acting State Tax Office head Mindaugas Strumskis was appointed as official chairman of the office. This is the sixth appointment to the office in five years.
- Latvian President Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga opened a general consulate in Klaipėda on the final day of her visit to the city.
Inga Pavlovaitė, 22 March 2001
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