Weekly News Update: December 31st - January 7th, 2018

Good evening everyone! We hope that you had a fantastic holiday season, and a great start to the new year. Those of you who enjoy snow were likely happy, as snowfall was common throughout the week including blizzard conditions in western Latvia. In terms of news things were a bit slow compared to some of the blockbuster weeks we had throughout the autumn, but we still have a few important points to cover.  This is also the first weekly update that we have written in the new format that we have been working on, so please feel free to let us know your feedback! Let's begin as we have for the past few months with a story that looks like it finally might be drawing to a close...

Major Stories

Coalition talks seem to enter final stage

The unprecedented three-month coalition talks that have been ongoing since the inconclusive October 6th election that elected seven diverse parties to Saeima (Latvian parliament) seem to have made a major step toward concluding today with President Raimonds Vējonis' nomination of Jaunā Vienotība candidate Krišjānis Kariņš. Kariņš' premiership is supported in principal by his party, KPV LV, Jaunā konservatīvā partija, Attīstībai/Par!, and Nacionālā apvienība. If the government is approved, it will have the support of 66 votes in Saeima, with the traditionally friendly Saskaņa party remaining in opposition and being joined by Zaļo un Zemnieku savienība (the party of outgoing prime minister Māris Kučinskis and current President Raimonds Vējonis). The current proposed government consists of the following potential ministers:

Minister of Foreign Affairs: Edgars Rinkēvičs (Jaunā Vienotība)
Minister of Finance: Jānis Reirs (Jaunā Vienotība)
Minister of Justice: Jānis Bordāns (Jaunā konservatīvā partija)
Minister of Transportation: Tālis Linkaits (Jaunā konservatīvā partija)
Minister of Science and Education: Ilga Šuplinska (Jaunā konservatīvā partija)
Minister of Economics: Dīdzis Šmits (KPV LV)
Minister of the Interior: Sandis Ģirģens (KPV LV)
Minister of Welfare: Ieva Krapāne (KPV LV)
Minister of Defense: Artis Pabriks (Attīstībai/Par!,)
Minister of the Environment and Regional Affairs: Jūris Pūce (Attīstībai/Par!,)
Minister of Health: Ilze Vinkele (Attīstībai/Par!,)
Minister of Culture: Dace Melbārde (Nacionālā apvienība)
Minister of Agriculture: Kaspars Gerhards (Nacionālā apvienība)

If confirmed, this will be the first government in Latvian history to be led by the smallest faction in parliament, as Jaunā Vienotība was able to win just six seats in Saeima. The party's retaking of the premiership is also stunning considering that the faction was projected to get less than the required 5% of the vote necessary for inclusion in parliament as recently as the end of July. Kariņš would become the party's third prime minister after Valdis Dombrovskis and Laimdota Straujuma, and the Latvian Republic's 23rd overall.
Source: LSM

Medical association calls for health care changes to be postponed

The Latvian Medical Association has caused for changes to Latvia's health care system to be postponed until June, as there are concerns of the IT system being able to determine which patients are covered under the new model and which are not. If you are covered by Latvia's state-run health care service, Latvia Weekly would like to remind you to check with your employer to make sure that the changes to the system do not affect you, as those who are not covered must now pay a yearly fee in order to have access to nationalized services.

Business and Economy

  • Industrial output was down 0.6% in November 2018 compared with November 2018, but manufacturing turnover was up 6.6% according to the state's central statistics bureau.
    Source: LSM
  • Changes in the law on solidarity tax came into effect this week, with the new rate being set at 25.5%.

Culture and Society

  • The State Culture Capital Fund announced that Latvia will spend €1.24m on cultural events that represent national importance in 2019, including €130,000 on Rīga's international film festival.
    Source: LSM
  • The state's media watchdog has appointed Vikija Valdmane-Rozenberga as temporary Latvijas televīzija (LTV) board member in the wake of the firings of board member Sergejs Ņesterovs and LTV head Ivars Belte over issues with financial management.
    Source: LSM

Health and Welfare

  • According to EU data released on January 1st, Latvia spent the second most on alcohol as a percentage of overall household expenditures (4.9%) in 2017, behind only its northern neighbor of Estonia (5.2%)
    Source: LSM
  • Four people were killed in a four-day period due to fires, the worst fire-related loss of life since 2015 according to the state's fire fighting service.
    Source: LSM
  • Speaking of fires — a survey conducted by the state fire fighting service found that 83% of houses in Latvia still have no smoke detectors installed despite new legislation requiring them by 2020.


  • 2018 was a record year for tobbacco smuggling, with over 100,000 contraband cigarettes being seized by border guards throughout the year.
    Source: LSM (Latvian only)
  • A court in Rīga decided to keep arrested businessman Māris Martinsons behind bars pending his ongoing corruption and bribery probes, denying an appeal by him and fellow inmate Edgars Teterovskis to be released.
    Source: LSM


  • As the parties were unable to reach an agreement in the government formation process before January 1st, the country began the new year with a "temporary budget" that will likely be revisited once a cabinet is confirmed.
    Source: LETA
  • The Ministry of Economics has identified 2022 as a possible end date for the country's unpopular and scandal-plagued green energy subsidy surcharge, abbreviated in Latvian as "OIK."
    Source: LSM


  • Latvian forward Rūdolfs Balcers scored his first goal in the NHL as a member of the Ottawa Senators as part of a 5-4 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes.
    Source: CBS Sports
  • Latvia's highest-ranked tennis player Ernests Gulbis made it to the Maharashtra Open tournament in Pune, India, where he was defeated by Ivo Karlović of Croatia.
    Source: LSM


  • Rīga International Airport (RIX), the busiest airport in the Baltic countries, announced the fastest growth in its history, according to chairperson Ilona Līce — a 16% increase in passenger traffic in 2018 compared with 2017, as well as 10.4% more cargo turnover and an 11.5% increase in the amount of flights.
  • Rīgas satiksme, the capital city’s public transit authority, has cancelled a contract with Moduls-Engineering firm to build a €3 million data center due to that company’s ties with the aforementioned Māris Martinsons, with legal experts expected to review whether such a data center is even necessary. 
    Source: LSM
  • Five people were injured in a bus accident near the village of Pienava 65 kilometers west of Rīga on the Rīga-Liepāja highway after a bus carrying 12 passengers and a driver slid off the road into a ditch due to icy conditions, though all were in stable condition after the crash.
    Source: LSM

Poll of the Week:

This week we asked people how they were enjoying the snow that has become ubiquitous so far throughout the winter. Roughly 2/3 of our audience seems to be happy about the winter wonderland outside, while the other third seems to be "dreaming of spring" as Jon Snow is doing in the picture on the right.

That's all for this week! We hope you enjoy the new format of the weekly updates, and find them more useful than they were before. Take care, and see you next Sunday!