|14th Prime Minister of Latvia|
23 January 2019
|Member of the European Parliament|
14 July 2009 - 23 January 2019
|Minister for Economics|
2 December 2004 - 7 April 2006
|Born||13 December 1964|
Wilmington, Delaware, U.S.
|Political party||New Era Party (2002-2011)|
|Alma mater||University of Pennsylvania|
|Profession||Linguist, businessperson, politician|
Arturs Kri?j?nis Kari (born 13 December 1964) is a Latvian-American linguist, businessperson, and politician who has served as Minister of Economics, a Member of the European Parliament, and is currently the Prime Minister of Latvia. Born in Wilmington, Delaware, United States, to parents who had left Latvia during the Soviet occupation, he was active in the American Latvian community throughout his youth.
After completing a bachelor's degree and PhD in linguistics at the University of Pennsylvania, Kari moved to Latvia in 1997 and founded a frozen food business. He helped found the New Era Party in 2002, which in 2011 merged with others to form the Unity Party (renamed New Unity in 2018).
After serving as a deputy in Latvia's parliament (the Saeima), as Minister of Economics, and also as a Member of the European Parliament throughout the 2000s and 2010s, Kari was selected by New Unity to be its prime ministerial candidate in the 2018 Latvian parliamentary election. In the event, New Unity was the smallest party elected to the 13th Saeima. Following months of contentious negotiations in which leaders of the larger parties were unable to form a coalition, Kari was nominated by President Raimonds V?jonis in January 2019 as a compromise candidate to form a government. He took office on 23 January 2019, and survived a 58-33 vote of no confidence on 11 April 2019.
Kari was born in Wilmington, Delaware, United States, to a Latvian American family. His parents had fled from the Soviet occupation of Latvia in 1944 and had grown up, met, and married in Sweden before migrating to the United States. His father, Uldis, was a civil engineer who founded a firm in Delaware which later acquired other companies in the Mid-Atlantic region.[clarification needed]
According to Kari, he and his older sister were the only two ethnic Latvian children in their elementary school. His family was active in Delaware's Latvian community, regularly attending Latvian church and Sunday school, singing in Latvian choirs, and attending and later working at Latvian summer camps including Garezers in Michigan. Throughout his youth, Kari played guitar and drums with his Latvian friends in a band that traveled throughout the United States and played at events such as weddings. He also took part in demonstrations in Washington, D.C., against the Soviet occupation. Kari first visited Latvia in 1984 and he spent summers there until moving to the country full-time in 1997.
After graduating from high school, Kari studied at the Münster Latvian Gymnasium in 1983. One of his teachers was Egils Levits, who was elected President of Latvia in 2019 a few months after Kari would become prime minister. From 1984 to 1986 he studied at St. John's College in Annapolis, Maryland, before switching to a linguistics program at the University of Pennsylvania where he graduated summa cum laude in 1988. In 1990, he received a grant from the American government to take Russian language classes in Leningrad, and in 1994 he received another government scholarship study to pitch accents and to teach sociolinguistics courses as a guest lecturer at the University of Latvia. In 1996, Kari finished a Ph.D. in linguistics from the University of Pennsylvania and specialized in the field of automatic speech recognition.
Soon after, he moved to Latvia, where he intended on teaching language but was denied a teaching position as an academic due to inexperience in teaching. Instead, he founded Lu ledus, a producer and distributor of ice and frozen foods, that he led until 2002. According to Kari, negative experiences working with the Latvian bureaucracy during his time in business was his original inspiration for joining Latvian politics. He was also briefly the president of an automobile and office supplies company called Formula from 1999 to 2000.
In the early 2000s, Einars Rep?e invited Kari to take part in the founding of the New Era Party, and Kari helped write the party's original platform. He was elected to the Saeima on the party's ticket in October 2002, with New Era becoming the single largest party in parliament. While in the Saeima, he served on the education, culture, and science committee as well as on the constitutional committee. He also served as the chairman of the parliamentary faction of New Era from 2002 to 2004.
Upon the resignation of Prime Minister Einars Rep?e in early 2004, Kari was discussed as a candidate to become the next prime minister. However, he was passed over by President Vaira Ve-Freiberga in favor of Indulis Emsis, and again in favor of Aigars Kalvit?s after Emsis's resignation a few months later. He instead became Minister for Economics in the First Kalv?tis cabinet from December 2004 to April 2006. According to Kari, he had a contentious relationship with Kalv?tis during his time as minister. In April 2006, Kari was threatened with prosecution due to his relationship with a company that allegedly misused EU funds. Although Kari initially refused to resign, his entire New Era party left the government on 6 April 2006 due to an ongoing conflict with Kalv?tis and his People's Party.
Kari was re-elected to the Saeima on 7 October 2006. Although New Era was tied for the second largest party in parliament with 18 seats, the party did not re-join Kalv?tis's coalition and remained in opposition. In March 2007 Kari became one of two co-leaders of New Era together with Rep?e. When New Era voted to merge with the Unity party in July 2011, Kari became a member of Unity. In July 2017, he criticized five members of parliament who left Unity for the new For! party as being primarily motivated by their re-election prospects, and indicated that he would not be leaving the party has his "values had not changed." He remained a member when the party was renamed "New Unity" in April 2018.
In July 2009, Kari became a Member of European Parliament. He was a Member of the Committee on Industry, Research and Energy, substitute in the Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs and was a substitute in the Special Committee on Tax Rulings and Other Measures Similar in Nature or Effect. In the Parliament he was part of the European People's Party, the largest political grouping the parliament. He was also a member of the Reconciliation of European Histories Group. Kari was re-elected at the 2014 European Parliament election.
In a May 2015 interview, Kari argued in favor of Latvia accepting its controversial quota of refugees proposed by the European Union in order to alleviate the European migrant crisis, saying that in the future Latvia would expect help from other EU countries in settling Ukrainian migrants from a potential major crisis.
Upon assuming the prime ministership, Aleksejs Loskutovs took his seat in European Parliament.
On 23 April 2018, Kari was announced as New Unity's candidate for the Latvian premiership for the 2018 election. He decided not to run for election to the Saeima, instead choosing to maintain his seat in the European Parliament. In announcing his candidacy, he criticized the Ku?inskis government as "foolish," even though five of the thirteen ministers were fellow members of New Unity. Despite polls predicting as late as July that New Unity would not receive the minimum 5% share of the vote necessary for election to the Saeima, the party was able to stage a comeback and on 6 October was elected as the smallest of seven parties with just eight seats.
On 7 January 2019, he was tasked by Latvian President Raimonds V?jonis with forming the next government, following the failures of previous nominees J?nis Bordans and Aldis Gobzems in a contentious negotiation process. In accepting the nomination, Kari announced that his government's priorities would include financial sector reform, education reform, anti-corruption action, and liquidation of a controversial green energy surcharge that had been abused by companies in previous years. Mayor of Ventspils Aivars Lembergs called on Kari, a dual citizen of both the United States and Latvia, to give up his American citizenship while the prime minister, but he refused to do so.
Kari took office as prime minister on 23 January 2019, leading a broad centre-right coalition of five conservative and liberal parties that includes KPV LV, New Conservative Party, Development/For!, National Alliance and New Unity. The Union of Greens and Farmers and Harmony parties went into opposition, as did independent Member of Parliament Julia Stepanenko.
During his confirmation session, Kari promised that his government would be "evolutionary, not revolutionary, and announced a seven-point program that prioritized financial sector reform, implementing anti-corruption measures, continuing the Ku?inskis government's education reforms, improving but not overhauling the health care system, eliminating the controversial green energy subsidy, reducing the number of administrative divisions, and addressing "demographic issues." On 5 April 2019, he supported Minister of Environmental Protection and Regional Development Juris P?ce's action in dismissing long-serving Mayor of Riga Nils U?akovs from his position due to multiple violations of the law.
On 13 June 2019, the Saeima approved measures that allowed Latvian institutions to implement UN sanctions more quickly, reduced the Financial and Capital Market Commission from five members to just three, and made these commissioners' positions subject to appointment by parliament. Commission chairman Peters Putni protested that the measures would allow politicians to have greater control of what should be a non-political regulatory body.
Upon his confirmation, Kari announced that his government would continue implementing reforms that had been planned by the previous government led by M?ris Ku?inskis. These included the reorganization and liquidation of schools that had low numbers of students, the gradual transition to Latvian-only education in public high schools, and new competence-based curriculum standards.
On 7 February 2019, Kari announced that there would be no increase in 2019 to teachers' salaries as promised according to a timetable agreed upon by the Latvian teacher's union and the Ku?inskis cabinet. This led to a picket protest on 20 March, as well as the threat of an indefinite strike later that year. In an interview on 28 February, Kari expressed a wish to raise teachers' salaries without having to raise taxes, finding savings by liquidating and consolidating schools with low numbers of students. On 30 March, Minister for Education Inga ?uplinska claimed that money to finance the planned wage increases could be found by mid-May.
In April 2019, the Kari government announced a proposal for four tiers of minimum student numbers for schools based on the municipality's size and location. According to ?uplinska, roughly half of Latvia's schools would not meet the minimum requirements under the plan.
On 23 April 2019, the Constitutional Court of Latvia ruled that the planned transition to Latvian as the sole language of instruction in public schools did not violate the constitution.
In February 2019, the Kari government announced that it would abandon the "two basket" system of health care funding that the Ku?inskis government had begun to implement, a reform which would have made full access to state-provided health care only available to people paying social contribution taxes. The government announced in April 2019 that the health care system and tax code would both be reformed in 2021.
On 11 April 2019, he survived a 58-33 vote of no confidence spearheaded by Aldis Gobzems for not adhering to the Saeima's demand that his government cancel the green energy subsidy by the end of March. On that day, in a phone interview with Latvian Public Radio, he committed to canceling the subsidy within a reasonable timeframe and argued that the Minister of Economics, Ralfs Nemiro, Gobzems's former party member, had already published a report proving that doing so by the end of March was a legal impossibility.
On 9 April 2019, Minister of Environmental Protection and Regional Development Juris P?ce announced a controversial plan for the Kari government to reduce the number of municipalities in Latvia from 119 to 35, eliminating the "republican city" status for all cities aside from the capital of R?ga. The government attempted to block the town of Iks?ile from holding a survey regarding citizen's opinions about the reform, claiming that municipalities only have the legal right to hold public debates on municipal issues, but the survey continued as planned and found that 98.45% of respondents were opposed to the reforms.
Like his predecessors, Kari has stressed a commitment to a western-oriented foreign policy and has expressed caution regarding Russia's foreign policy intentions. On 7 January 2019 he announced that fellow party member Edgars Rink?vi, who had already at the time been Latvia's longest-serving foreign minister and had worked under prime ministers Valdis Dombrovskis, Laimdota Straujuma, and M?ris Ku?inskis, would continue in his current role. On 8 February, he made his first foreign visit to the neighboring country of Estonia, stressing the importance of relations between the two nations.
On hist first official visit to Brussels on 22 February 2019, Kari assured that Latvia would maintain a "Euro-Atlantic course," and that Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier had his full support. He addressed European Parliament on 17 April, arguing that it was "useless" to fight against the rise of populism and that it was necessary to understand why people listened to the promises of populists.
In a 9 May meeting with other EU leaders in Sibiu, Romania, he expressed support for the Spitzenkandidat process of electing a new European Commissioner used in 2014 that had come under fire by other leaders such as President Emmanuel Macron of France and President Dalia Grybauskait? of Lithuania. Along with Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovi? of Croatia, Kari represented the governments ruled by the center-right European People's Party (EPP) in the negotiations on new appointments to top posts in the European Union following the 2019 European elections, including the European Council, the European Commission and the European Central Bank.
Kari is married to family doctor Anda Kari?a, and has four children: Otom?rs Kri?j?nis, K?rlis Vilhelms, M?ra Aleksandra, and Anna. In March 2019, Saeima Deputy Aldis Gobzems asked law enforcement officials to investigate a property transaction between Kari and Kari?a from one side and Russian citizens, who are associated with Gazprom and Government of Moscow from another, that he alleged could be related to money laundering and tax avoidance. On 18 May 2019, state police announced that they would not be initiating criminal proceedings after finding no signs of illegal wrongdoing.