Week in Lithuania EUR 103m earmarked for border fence, President fires judge, gambling to be reformed

Last week, the top news stories in Lithuania were the government planning funding for border fence, President Gitanas Nausėda firing judge over corruption suspicions and the parliamentary approval for reforming gambling in the Baltic country.
UNHCR anxious about migrant pus-backs, living conditions in Lithuania
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) acknowledges the extraordinary irregular migration situation Lithuania is facing but is also concerned over the country’s legislative response and migrants’ accommodation conditions, UNHCR’s Representative to the Nordic and Baltic Countries Henrik M. Nordentoft said on Monday, October 11. Nearly 4,200 migrants, mostly Iraqi citizens, have crossed into Lithuania from Belarus undocumented so far this year.
Lithuania’s 2022 budget earmarks 103 million euros for fence
Lithuania’s 2022 budget bill includes almost 103 million euros in funding for the construction of a fence on the Lithuanian-Belarusian border, Finance Minister Gintarė Skaistė said on Monday, October 11. Lithuania has already started building it involving barbed wire and a 3-meter fence on its border with Belarus, and it is estimated to cost 152 million euros. Lithuania has a 679-km border with Belarus, including more than 100 km going along rivers and lakes. In late September, Tetas, part of the state-owned energy group Espo-G, started building a 111-km-long fence section.
Defence funding boost to 2.05 percent of GDP foreseen
Lithuania’s government has proposed increasing national defence funding by 128 million euros to 2.05 percent of GDP next year, Finance Minister Gintarė Skaistė said on Monday, October 11. Skaistė pointed out that the proposed increase is in line with political parties’ agreement to gradually increase defence spending to 2.5 percent of GDP by 2030.
President sacks judge amid bribery suspicions
President Gitanas Nausėda has fired Rimantas Grigas, a Kaunas judge suspected of taking a bribe, for discrediting the profession. The president signed the decree on Monday, October 11, after the move had been approved by the Judicial Council. Law-enforcement officials suspect Judge Grigas of taking a bribe of at least 2,000 euros to shorten the driver’s license suspension period from 12 months to three when hearing an appeal filed by a person in an administrative offence case.
Lithuania’s unemployment falls to 11.3 percent in September
Lithuania’s registered unemployment stood at 11.3 percent on October 1, down by 0.9 percentage points month-on-month, the country’s Employment Service said on Wednesday, October 13. There were 195,200 registered unemployed people in Lithuania on October 1, the service said. It registered 25,200 newly unemployed people in September, up 3.7 percent month-on-month but down 11.7 percent from a year earlier. The majority of newly registered unemployed people came from the areas of production (10.1 percent), retail (9.9 percent) and construction (6.2 percent).
Interior ministry proposes separating asylum seekers, migrants
Lithuania’s Interior Ministry proposed on Wednesday, October 13, separating asylum seekers and migrants under the new amendments to the Law on the Legal Status of Aliens it registered the same day. The ministry plans to submit the new amendments for the Cabinet’s consideration next week. Under the existing Law on the Legal Status of Aliens, asylum seekers can be detained for up to six months during the time of war, extreme or emergency situation until their asylum request is processed. The ministry believes that such changes would shorten procedures from 148 to 81 days and would see decision on foreigners’ legal status made faster.
Read also: Lithuania becomes UN Human Rights member for first time
Lithuania to donate 60,000 vaccine doses to Tajikistan
The Lithuanian government decided on Wednesday, October 13, to donate 60,000 doses of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine to Tajikistan. The decision was made in response to the country’s assistance request.  The Health Ministry was allocated 30,000 euros from the government’s reserve for transporting the humanitarian shipment to Tajikistan. Lithuania has donated over 606,500 vaccine doses so far, according to the country’s statistics office.
Cabinet okays plan to mitigate energy price hikes
In a bid to mitigate the impact of soaring energy prices on households, the Lithuanian government approved on Wednesday, October 13, a plan to spread out the increase in electricity and natural gas prices over five years and to push back the deadline for choosing an independent electricity supplier by six months. The measures have yet to be approved by the parliament.
Lithuanian MEP elected vice-chair of EPP Group in EP
MEP Rasa Juknevičienė, a member of the conservative Homeland Union–Lithuanian Christian Democrats, was on Wednesday, October 13, elected as vice-chairperson of the European People’s Party Group in the European Parliament. This is the first time that a Lithuanian MEP will hold the position of vice-chairperson in the EPP Group structures, the conservative Lithuanian MEPs’ office said in a press release. Juknevičienė was among the five candidates who received the most votes out of 11 candidates.
Hungarian parliamentary speaker visited Lithuania
Laszlo Kover, the speaker of Hungary’s National Assembly, visited Lithuania on Thursday, October 14. Kover met with Viktorija Čmilytė-Nielsen, the speaker of the Lithuanian parliament, President Gitanas Nausėda and Interior Minister Agnė Bilotaitė. The Hungarian and Lithuanian parliamentary speakers discussed bilateral and multilateral cooperation.
Lithuania’s Palanga airport to reopen next week
Lithuania’s Palanga Airport, closed for modernisation since early September, will reopen next week, Lietuvos Oro Uostai (Lithuanian Airports), the airport’s operator, said on Thursday, October 14. Latvia’s A.C.B. carried out the renovation project under a contract worth 16.5 million euros.
Parliament approves reform of gambling sector
Lithuania’s Seimas, the country’s parliament, passed on Thursday, October 14, amendments to the Gaming Law in a vote of 94 to five with 23 abstentions. They aim to reform gambling sector as of next July, introducing a one-off license fee and different share capital requirements for businesses, and allowing remote gambling operators not to have a physical chain.