Latvia. According to Countryaah.com, Latvia’s population continued to decline at a worrying rate during the year. Birth rates for the first quarter of the year decreased significantly compared to the corresponding period the year before, and at the same time the death rates increased. The Ministry of Education statistics show that the number of schoolchildren has dropped by almost a quarter in twelve years.
The Ministry announced that the country’s school system should be radically changed. The intention is to move to more modern and more creative teaching, with a look at the schools in Scandinavia, to train the students in critical and analytical thinking. When Latvia became independent from the Soviet Union in 1991, what the schools taught changed, but very old teaching methods have remained.
President Raimonds Vējonis criticized the government for not doing enough against the widespread tax fraud. The gray economy is estimated at more than one fifth of GDP. The President called for measures against wages under the table, unrecognized income and VAT cheating. A survey by the Global Fraud Survey showed that 58% of private and public employees at the managerial level in Latvia believe corruption is widespread. The corresponding figure for Swedish respondents was 4%. According to a study by the Council of Europe, Latvia has become one of several money laundering centers for Russian organized crime. During the year, the Swedish Financial Supervisory Authority fined five banks with high amounts, partly because of interference in attempts to circumvent international sanctions against North Korea.
The government of Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania signed an agreement on the construction of Rail Baltica until 2025. Fast tracks will connect Helsinki (via ferry) through the Baltics and Poland to Berlin. Traveling time by train from Tallinn to Berlin should be reduced from the current 60 hours to just over 10 hours.
In June, an illegal landfill with over 20,000 tonnes of plastic was burned in the resort of Jurmala on the Baltic Sea coast. The fire spread large clouds of toxic smoke. Some of the garbage had been shipped from Sweden, and the Swedish Minister of the Environment apologized to those affected in Latvia.
The former leading government party Unity was in crisis with internal power struggles and opinion polls pointing to disaster elections 2018. Several MPs left the party and formed a new liberal party.
The National Party Alliance proposed a tightening of the Language Act for public officials with fines of EUR 700 for individuals and up to EUR 10,000 for legal persons if a language (Russian) other than Latvian is used in official contexts. According to the proposal, repeated wrongdoing should lead to suspension of service for up to three years.
President Vējonis initiated a legislative change that would make it impossible for children to be born stateless in Latvia. Children born in Latvia to stateless parents should automatically be granted citizenship, according to the president. Parliament rejected the proposal in September, after the National Alliance vetoed the tripartite government.
During the year, NATO stationed around 1,000 soldiers in Latvia to provide the Baltic state with increased protection in the shadow of Russian military armament following the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014. NATO troops came from several countries and were under Canadian command.
Unemployment fell to around 7% during the year, the lowest figure in eight years. The average income in Latvia during the second quarter was EUR 927, while the minimum wage for the year was EUR 380 (about SEK 3,600) compared with, for example, Germany’s close to EUR 1,500 a month.