INSTITUTIONAL COMMITTEE

PUBLIC DOCUMENT

CG/INST (12) 3

Strasbourg, 19 October 2005

INFORMATION REPORT

ON LOCAL DEMOCRACY

AND ON THE PARTICIPATION OF NON-CITIZENS

IN PUBLIC AND POLITICAL LIFE AT LOCAL LEVEL

IN LATVIA

Rapporteur:
Kathryn SMITH (UK, L, SOC),

Document approved

by the Institutional Committee of the Congress

at the meeting of 7 October 2005

I INTRODUCTION

1. Since 1994, the Congress has been conducting a systematic programme of monitoring of the state of local and, where relevant, regional democracy in member states of the Council of Europe. In all cases, the monitoring is conducted by one or two rapporteurs appointed by the Institutional Committee of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe or of the relevant Chamber and assisted by a member of the Group of Independent Experts on the European Charter of Local Self-Government. On the basis of their report, a Recommendation to the national authorities concerned is adopted. The monitoring is conducted and the reports and recommendations are formulated mainly in the light of the principles and standards established by the European Charter of Local Self-Government of 1985.

2. According to this system, a monitoring report on Latvia was drawn up in 1997-98. In May 1998, the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe adopted Recommendation 47 (1998) on local and regional democracy in Latvia. The Recommendation contains a number of observations on non-compliance with the Charter or on possible further developments of the system on local democracy in Latvia, including the right of non-citizens to political participation at local level.

3. In its meeting of 22 April 2004 in Saint-Gallen (Switzerland), the Institutional Committee of the Congress instructed the Secretariat to present an information document on the participation of non-citizens in political life at local level in Latvia on the basis of Council of Europe activities conducted in the previous years (Parliamentary Assembly, Human Rights Commissioner). The resulting document (CG/INST (11)8) of 20 October 2004 concluded in the following way:

4. “In view of above, the Institutional Committee may wish to suggest that the Congress prepare in 2005 an information report on local democracy in Latvia. A special section of this report may be dedicated to assessment of participation of non-citizens in political and public life as well as in elections at local level.”

5. Following a proposal of the Institutional Committee, the Bureau adopted terms of reference for such a report. Ms Kathryn Smith, United Kingdom was appointed as the Congress rapporteur to conduct the mission and prepare an information report on local democracy and on the right of non-citizens to take part in political and public life as well as in elections at local level in Latvia. Professor Eivind Smith (Norway), Vice-Chair of the Group of Independent Experts on the European Charter of Local Self-Government, was asked to assist her in carrying out this task. Mrs. Pilar Morales (Council of Europe Secretariat) assisted the delegation in the initial stages and during the main visit of the Council of Europe Congress delegation to Latvia.

6. On 15-17 June 2005, the Delegation visited Riga, the capital city of Latvia, and met a number of representatives from the Saeima (Parliament), the Government and the Human Rights Office of Latvia, municipalities (including the Union of Local and Regional Governments of Latvia) and NGOs. The programme of the visit is presented in Appendix 1.

7. During a second, technical visit to Riga on 29 August 2005, organised in order to supplement the information gathered during the visit of the full Delegation in June, the expert (Professor Eivind Smith, Norway) met Mr Arvids Pilegis (Deputy State Secretary), Mr Artis Stucka (Director of the Legal Department) and Ms Kristine Jaunzeme (Head of the Rules’ Evaluation Division) of the Ministry of Regional Development and Local Governments, and Mr Andris Jaunsleinis (Chairman), Ms Ligita Zagesta (Secretary General) and Ms Evita Grzibovska (Adviser) of the Union of Local and Regional Governments of Latvia.

8. It is important to recall that the Congress has commissioned an information report, not a full monitoring report. This limitation was observed when the information visits to Riga were prepared and carried out as well as during the stages of collecting written material. In the first instance, this entails similar limits to the scope of the report, limited as it is to the questions that led to the decision to prepare the text and to a follow-up of questions highlighted in Recommendation 47 (1998) on local and regional democracy in Latvia. In the second instance, the choice of form leaves the Congress with considerable discretion as to how to proceed in order to follow up the material and findings presented in the report.

II BACKGROUND INFORMATION

9. The Republic of Latvia covers an area of 64.000 sq.km. By 1 April, 2005, the overall population was close to 2.3 million. More or less half of the total population is concentrated in or around Riga.

10. Out of the total population, 35 431 were foreigners (citizens of other countries) and 442 565 non-citizens (residents of Latvia, but with no citizenship). According to statistics provided by the Naturalisation Board and updated by 1 April 2005, inhabitants of Latvian origin represent 58.9 % (1 353 474) of the total population, whereas Russians (28.6 % of the total population), Belo-Russians (3.8 %) and Ukrainians (2.6 %) altogether represent 35 % (804 558) of the total population; somewhat misleadingly, this group is often qualified as “Russian-speaking”. Other groups of non-Latvian origin include Poles (2.4 %) and Lithuanians (1.4 %). Among the residents who are neither of Latvian origin nor dispose of foreign citizenship, approximately half (440 376 out of 901 221) are non-citizens.

11. To a large extent, the multi-ethnic character of the population living in the Republic of Latvia is due to migration during the Soviet period since 1940. Whereas 75.5 % of the population was of Latvian origin in 1935, that share had dropped to 52 % in 1990. These facts, as well as the parts of the country’s recent history to which they are linked, should be kept in mind when one tries to understand some of the present administrative and political problems in Latvia.

12. The Constitution (Satversme) of the Republic of Latvia was adopted in 1922 and fully restored in 1993 following the previous proclamation of independence from the Soviet Union.

Even if the setting-up of local self-governments was one of the main themes during the very first years of transition, however, Latvia remains a unitary state under the Constitution. – Since May 2004, Latvia has been a member of the European Union.

13. The legislation basically provides for the establishment of one level of local self-government headed by directly elected councils. In June 2005, the number of municipalities was 530 (444 countryside municipalities, 53 towns, 7 large cities with extended competencies and 26 recently amalgamated municipalities). Extensive discussions on the structure of local self-government in Latvia have been conducted over the last few years, and a programme for considerably limiting the number of municipalities has been adopted. So far, however, it does not seem to have entailed a drastic reduction in the overall number.

14. At present, there are 26 districts (operating outside the 7 large cities) headed by indirectly elected councils, and discussions on the need for reducing their number have been conducted. Moreover, the idea of adopting separate legislation on the status of the capital city has been proposed. But the Council of Europe Congress delegation did not leave Riga with the impression that such reforms would necessarily be adopted in the near future.

III DEVELOPMENTS IN THE STATUS OF LOCAL SELF-GOVERNMENT IN LATVIA SINCE THE ADOPTION OF CONGRESS RECOMMANDATION 47 (1998)

15. Subsequent to its ratification, the European Charter of Local Self-Government entered into force in Latvia on 1 April 1997. However, the government did not undertake to abide by Articles 6.2, 7.2, 9.4 and 9.8 of the Charter regarding respectively the conditions of service and recruitment of local government employees, financial compensation for expenses incurred in the exercise of the office of local elected representatives, the nature of the financial systems on which resources available to local authorities are based, and local authorities’ access to the national capital market.

16. The overall legal situation of local self-government in Latvia does not seem to have undergone major changes since the monitoring of Latvia’s compliance with the European Charter of Local Self-Government took place in 1997-98. For the purpose of establishing a more limited information report, we therefore concentrate on the observations highlighted in Recommendation 47 (1998) of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe.

17. Since Recommendation 47 (1998) was adopted, the first three of the four reservations to full application of the Charter on Latvia have formally been withdrawn following relevant changes in the Latvian legislation on local self-government. This development should be welcomed.

18. Other positive developments to be recalled include, first, the fact that a system of financial equalisation based upon objective criteria seems to have been established by the 1998 law on the equalisation of self-government finances in a way removing a great part of the discretion of the central administration deplored in Recommendation 47 (1998) paragraph 6 b). Second, the emergence of a quite advanced system of consultations (on a wide range of draft legislation, etc.) and of proper negotiations (regarding the financial situation of local councils) between the Union of Local and Regional Governments of Latvia (on behalf of local governments) and various layers of central government according to the provisions enshrined in Chapter XI of the 1994 law on local governments and other legal instruments, deserves positive attention (cf. Recommendation 47 (1998) paragraph 7 a).

19. When it comes to other parts of the financial system, however, the situation does not seem to have changed much since Recommendation 47 (1998) was adopted. First, local councils are still denied the right to borrow from other sources than the State treasury or from the capital market without explicit permission from central government. Correspondingly, the last of Latvia’s original declarations regarding the application of the European Charter of Local Self-Government (on Article 9.8 on the access to the capital market) is still standing. And when it comes to the financial resources, less than 1 % (on average, but more in Riga and consequently even less in other parts of the country) at their disposal stems from sources that can reasonably be qualified as their “own” (Article 9.1 of the Charter), namely in the sense that “they have the power to determine the rate” (Article 9.3 of the Charter). As a matter of fact, the quasi-totality of the financial resources of the local government sector in Latvia is composed of taxes levied according to rates set by central government or by equalisation and other forms of transfer, thus leaving little or no room for each council to accommodate its income to local needs and responsibilities.

20. Against this background, the overall impression remains that the local councils in Latvia ought to have a far greater proportion of their financial resources of their own (cf. Article 9.3 of the Charter) and a more open access to the capital market enabling capital investment (cf. Article 9.8 of the Charter), see Recommendation 47 (1998) § 6 a) and c) and
§ 7 b) (on financial autonomy).

21. Despite the explicit invitation to do so that is contained in Recommendation 47 (1998), the Latvian authorities have not amended the Constitution (Satversme) in order to enshrine a provision positively recognizing the principle of local self-government according to Article 2 of the European Charter of Local Self-Government. Moreover, no intention to amend the Constitution in order to fully respond to Latvia’s obligation under this provision to recognize “the principle of local self-government, […] where practicable in the Constitution” was expressed during the visits of the Council of Europe Congress delegation to Riga.

22. One of the reasons put forward in defence of this position is the reluctance to change that text due to the particular symbolic value of the Satversme in post-Soviet Latvia (see above). This argument certainly deserves respect, but nevertheless becomes somewhat less convincing when we take into account that so far, the Satversme has actually been amended seven times since its reinvigoration in 1993. It is also worth mentioning that the formal requirements for amending the Constitution of Latvia are less demanding than in many other countries of Europe.

23. On the other hand, several provisions explicitly presupposing the existence of “local government authorities” or “local governments” count among those that have been introduced in the text of the Constitution since 1993 (see namely Articles 25,1 1012 and 1043). The most interesting of them in the perspective of Article 2 of the European Charter of Local Self-Government even provides that “local governments shall be elected by Latvian citizens and citizens of the European Union who permanently reside in Latvia” (Article 101). At a first glance, this looks very much like a formal recognition of “the principle of local self-government” understood as political institutions (councils) directly elected at local level.

24. A closer look makes a similar appreciation more doubtful, however. Even if we accept that there is no significant difference between the expressions “local governments” and “local self-governments” when it comes to the autonomy for the directly elected local bodies towards central government, it might be argued that the provisions in Article 25 of the Satversme according to which the committees of the Saeima “have the right to require of […] local government authorities information and explanations necessary for the work of the committees, and the right to invite to their sittings responsible representatives from […] local government authorities to furnish explanations” are in less compliant with basic requirements of local self-government. For such reasons, it seems reasonable to conclude that the form chosen for formally recognizing the “the principle of local self-government” is not entirely appropriate.

25. Moreover, the primary aim of the provisions enshrined in Article 101 of the Satversme seems to be to ensure compliance with Latvia’s obligation as a member of the European Union to open up the right to vote to EU-citizens at local level while explicitly albeit indirectly ruling out the possibility for doing the same in favour of other persons residing in Latvia without Latvian citizenship (including “non-citizens”). In the same direction, Art. 101 explicitly guarantees “the right […] to participate in the work of […] local government” to “every citizen of Latvia” and to “every citizen of the European Union who permanently resides in Latvia”. In this way, not only the right to vote at local level, but even the right to participate in the work of local governments in other ways is explicitly albeit indirectly denied even to permanent (sometimes life-long) residents without citizenship.

26. The latter observations point directly to the second main task of this mission of information (see further in part IV of the report). Suffice it here to mention that similar purposes would be quite different from that of formally recognizing the principle of local self-government as part of the Latvian system of government.

27. By now, the form of constitutional “recognition” chosen by the Republic of Latvia seems to be well below what could be expected had the principal aim of the said amendments been to honour Latvia’s obligation under Article 2 of the European Charter of Local Self-Government. This observation is aggravated by the maintenance of Article 58 of the Satversme which provides that “The administrative institutions of the State shall be under the authority of the Cabinet”. Read in conjunction with the State Administration Structure Law describing local governments as a part of the “State administration” (see further below), it would be preferable to make it explicitly clear in the Satversme itself that local self-government is not “under the authority of the Cabinet”.

28. According to Article 2 of the European Charter of Local Self-Government, “the principle of local self-government” shall in any case be recognized in domestic legislation. At legislative level, this obligation seems to be well taken care of by Section 5 § 1 of the 1994 law on local governments,4 declaring that “local governments, within the scope of their competence and the law, shall act independently”.

29. According to Recommendation 47 (1998) § 5, “the Latvian parliamentary and governmental authorities [should] make the 19 May 1994 Act on local self-government comply totally with Article 2 of the European Charter of Local Self-Government, no longer describing local self-government as a form of state administration”. By later amendment, this part of the said law has been abolished in a way that no such qualification actually appears in the text of the law. This is another step to be welcomed.

30. On the other hand, the 2002 State Administration Structure Law encompasses not only the parts of the “state administration” that are subordinated to the Government (cabinet), but even i.a. “derived public persons” defined by the law itself as “a local government or other public person established by law or on the basis of law” (Section 1 (2)). The underlying idea seems to be that local governments are parts of the “State administration” of Latvia in the sense of being a part of the overall public administration of that country. As such, they are bound by overarching general principles of good administration like those enumerated in Section 10 of the law (observance of human rights, obligation to act in the public interest, and so on).

31. The law makes it clear that the qualification as part of the “State administration” does not in itself entail for instance subordination to central government in a way incompatible with the European Charter of Local Self-Government. According to Section 3, “the principles of State administration and other provisions of this law are also applicable to institutions that are not subordinate to the Cabinet, insofar as it is not otherwise prescribed in the special legal norms of other laws”. And the legal definition in Section 1 (2) already makes clear that a “derived public person” has been “conferred its own autonomous competence by law, which includes also establishing and approval of its own budget” and that “such a person may have its own property”.

32. From what has just been said, it follows that when it comes to further determining the status of local councils towards (other parts of) a state apparatus of which they – in a certain sense – may be said to be parts, the answer must first and foremost be sought in other pieces of legislation. In other words, “the form and content of the institutional subordination of derived public persons shall be determined by the law, by which or on the basis of which the relevant derived public person has been established” (see Section 8), including the abovementioned 1994 law on local governments and the 1998 law on equalisation of self-government finances.

33. Against this background, the submission to general principles of good administration laid down in the State Administration Structure Law may hardly be seen as a violation in itself of the European Charter of Local Self-Government. But even here, the choice of words may have consequences beyond the relevant piece of legislation itself, in this case in the direction of regarding local councils as part as the “State administration” in the narrow sense. There is a risk that such tendencies are strengthened by Article 58 of the Satversme, stating that “the administrative institutions of the State shall be under the authority of the Cabinet” (see above). For such reasons, a modified terminology in the relevant law – referring for instance to “public administration” instead of “state administration” – would be preferable in the scope of the European Charter of Local Self-Government.

34. In 1998, the Congress recommended that the Latvian parliamentary and governmental authorities “ensure that […] regional authorities’ representatives are once again elected directly by the people” (Recommendation 47 (1998) § 8). During its visits to Riga, however, the Council of Europe Congress delegation saw no sign of a change in the attitude at this point. If the “regional” structure of the Republic of Latvia (districts, planning regions, and so on) is frequently under public discussion, no process towards the re-establishment of directly elected councils at “regional” level seems actually to be on the agenda.

Conclusions

35. Two main positive developments since Recommendation 47 was adopted by the Congress in 1998 should be underlined here. Firstly, the first three of the four reservations to full application of the Charter on Latvia have formally been withdrawn following relevant changes in the Latvian legislation on local self-government. This development should be welcomed. Secondly, a system of financial equalisation based upon objective criteria seems to have been established by the 1998 law on the equalisation of self-government finances in a way removing a great part of the discretion of the central administration deplored.

36. However, from what has been said in the preceding sections, the rapporteur would like to draw a general conclusion that the overall legal situation of local self-government in Latvia does not seem to have undergone any major changes since the monitoring of Latvia’s compliance with the European Charter of Local Self-Government took place in 1997-98. This concerns mainly the financial resources available to local authorities and constitutional and legal provisions which the Congress suggested changed in 1998.

(a) With the exception of the equalisation scheme the overall situation does not seem to have changed much since 1998. The rapporteur was left under the impression that the local councils in Latvia ought to have a far greater proportion of financial resources of their own.

(b) As underlined above, despite an explicit invitation from the Congress in 1998, the Latvian authorities have not amended the Constitution (Satversme) in order to enshrine a provision positively recognizing the principle of local self-government according to Article 2 of the European Charter of Local Self-Government. This change should be regarded as an important move towards a clearer institutional basis for local self-government and indeed it would be preferable to make it clear in the Satversme that local self-government is notunder the authority of the Cabinet”.

37. In addition, a modified terminology in the relevant law – referring for instance to “public administration” instead of “state administration” – would be preferable in terms of the European Charter of Local Self-Government.

38. Lastly, the rapporteur would like to draw the attention to the fact that during the visits to Riga the delegation saw no sign of a change as regards regional authorities. If the “regional” structure of the Republic of Latvia (districts, planning regions) is frequently under public discussion, no prospect for re-establishment of directly elected councils at “regional” level seems to be on the current agenda.


IV ON THE PARTICIPATION OF NON-CITIZENS IN POLITICAL AND PUBLIC LIFE AT LOCAL LEVEL

39. The second main task assigned to the Council of Europe Congress delegation is to inform the Congress about the status of participation of non-citizens in political and public life at local level in Latvia. The question has been dealt with in various contexts and in various forms over the years, including a report by the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe (CommDH(2004)3) based on information gathered during a visit to Latvia in October 2003. On Council of Europe documents on the subject, see also the Information document prepared by the Secretariat of the Congress (CG/INST (11)8) to which it has already been referred (see § 3 above).

40. In May 2005, the Parliament of Latvia ratified the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities. This step has been welcomed by various authorities at European level including the High Commissioner for National Minorities of the OSCE. It is true that the Latvian decision to ratify only under the reservation that Articles 10.2 and 11.3 (on the use of the state language regarding street names and in local government affairs only to the extent compatible with the Constitution and other legislation regarding the use of the state language) has attracted some criticism.

41. According to Article 3 (2) of the European Charter of Local Self-Government, the concept of local self-government denotes a system according to which the right is exercised by councils or assemblies composed of members freely elected by ballot on the basis of direct, equal, universal suffrage. In itself, this provision does not imply a right to vote for non-citizens of the relevant State. But a situation where permanent long-term residents without citizenship of other States are denied the right of vote and of other forms of participation in the life of “their” municipality would barely be fully in line with the said provision read in connection with the attention paid by the Preamble to the Charter to principles of democracy common to the member-states of the Council of Europe.

42. On this basis, Congress Recommendation 113 (2002) on relations between the public, the local assembly and the executive in local democracy (the institutional framework of local democracy) refers explicitly to Article 3, paragraph 2 of the European Charter of Local Self-Government as a basis for the invitation to “member states that have not yet done so to sign and ratify the Convention on the Participation of Foreigners in Public Life at Local Level (ETS No. 144) …” The importance of the right to vote at local level is stressed also by Recommendation 1714 (2005) of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, calling upon the Committee of Ministers to appeal to member states to sign and ratify the 1992 Convention on the Participation of Foreigners in Public Life at Local Level and to grant active and passive electoral rights in local elections to all legal residents. These invitations and recommendations have not yet been honoured by Latvia.

43. The Preamble to the European Charter of Local Self-Government is invoked even as the basis for the following Congress observations and recommendations (Recommendation 47 (1998) § 9):

44. “Considering the large number of Latvian residents who have no political or civic rights, reaching nearly 50 % of the population in some cities, such as the capital, and having regard to the Preamble to the European Charter of Local Self-Government:

a) Believes that it is important to integrate residents into the country’s democratic system and that local democracy offers a significant opportunity to achieve this;

b) Recommends that the Latvian parliamentary and governmental authorities recognise the people’s right to vote on issues within the competence of local authorities by acceding to the European Convention on the participation of foreigners in public life at local level.”

45. As already stated (see § 9 above), some 440 000 residents of Latvia are neither of Latvian origin nor possess foreign citizenship. Altogether, this group represents some 20 % of the total population of the Republic of Latvia. Many of these people have spent their entire life in Latvia, before and (or – for children and young people – only) after the reestablishment of Latvian independence, as only persons who were Latvian citizens on 17 June 1940 (the start of the Soviet occupation) and their descendants have been recognised as Latvian citizens by simple registration. Moreover, there is a certain concentration of non-citizens in Riga (30 % of the population) and in some other cities (like the eastern town of Daugavpils (27 %), Jelgava (24 %), Jurmala (25 %) or Liepaja (31 %), with a tendency to live in urban communities where other people of Russian-speaking origin are concentrated. This feature is not likely to facilitate their integration into a Latvian-speaking environment. And from a political as well as a cultural perspective, it is important to recall that people of Latvian origin seem to be in a minority position in a majority of the major Latvian cities.

46. As already indicated, the Constitution (Satversme) of Latvia clearly bars resident non-citizens from the right to vote not only at national, but even a local level. By some, this is seen as discriminatory, an impression that is easily enhanced by the fact that the Constitution has recently been amended in order to open up the right to vote at local level for EU-citizens only. It may even be seen as counter-productive in the way expressed in Recommendation 47 (1998), where it is stressed that local democracy offers a significant opportunity to integrate residents into the country’s democratic system.

47. To the series of arguments advanced against the denial of voting rights to permanently resident non-citizens at local level, Latvian authorities seem quite systematically to answer that their aim is to integrate the population of non-citizens into the entire social and political system of Latvia and that the best way for them to obtain full citizens’ rights at local as well as national level is to apply for Latvian citizenship through the procedure of naturalisation. In the light of this fundamental aim, they affirm that granting voting rights at local level would not only be unnecessary, but even counter-productive as full political rights at local level take away an important mobile for obtaining full citizenship. At no point during the Council of Europe Congress delegation’s visit to Riga, were political intentions expressed to change the authorities’ basic position when it comes to the question of granting voting rights at local level to non-citizens.

48. Even if the number of non-citizens in Latvia, and thereby their part of the total population, remain exceptionally high by European standards, it has considerably decreased. According to statistics provided by the Naturalisation Board of Latvia, the number of resident non-citizens in 1998 (the year of the full monitoring of Latvia’s compliance with the European Charter of Local Self-Government) was approximately 634 000 (the number indicated in the exploratory memorandum to the Congress is slightly higher). By May 2005, the number has decreased by close to 200 000. According to statistics provided by the Naturalisation Board of Latvia, the main reasons for the reduction are naturalization (representing close to half of the number), decease or emigration.

49. Available statistics give some substance to the Latvian claim that the naturalisation process is advancing.. By 1 May 2005, some 93 000 persons have been naturalised since 1995 (out of which some 80 000 after 1998). The annual number of naturalisations by decision of the Council of ministers varies quite considerably, with a peak in 2004 (16 064). Even if the year 2000 saw almost as many cases, it may seem as if the tendency is towards an increase in the annual number (7 481 people were naturalised during the first 4 months of 2005, whereas more than 10 000 applications for naturalisation were presented during the same period). It is also worth mentioning that so far, only one application has been denied on grounds other than failure in the language and history tests; at present, this case is examined by the judiciary on demand of the applicant himself.

50. On the other hand, it is of course too early to come to any conclusions on the sustainability of this tendency. It should also be considered in the light of the fact that children born in the non-citizen “community” reduce the impact of (applications for) naturalisation on the total number of non-citizens in Latvia. As a matter of fact, the annual number of naturalisations in the peak year (2004) represents less than 5 % of the total non-citizen population in that year.

51. To some extent, the admissibility of the arguments proposed by the Latvian authorities when it comes to the question of political rights at local level (see § 35 above) depends on the norms and practises governing the naturalisation procedures. It is not for the Council of Europe Congress delegation to undertake a close scrutiny of the norms and practices of naturalisation. The overall impression of the delegation, however, is that the system is working well according to fixed and quite objective rules and standards.

52. The Council of Europe Congress delegation remains nevertheless under the impression that there is some potential for further improvement, namely in order to speed up the process. In one direction, more active efforts of information might be useful in order to make the procedures and requirements for obtaining Latvian citizenship better known among the relevant parts of the population. In another direction, the system itself might be further improved by following the recommendations from the Commissioner for Human Rights (CommDH(2004)3) regarding namely a) facilitation of naturalisation for vulnerable people such as the elderly, the disabled and the young, b) more extensively providing naturalisation free of charge, c) modifying the procedure for children and new-born babies and d) increasing the financial support for Latvian language training programs, notably in areas where the possibilities for practicing the Latvian language as a part of every-day life are particularly infrequent (see § 132 (4) and (8) of the Commissioner’s Report).

53. When it comes to other forms of participation of non-citizens in political and public life at local level than inclusion in the electoral system, the questions are partly about statistical aspects about de facto participation of different groups, partly with opportunities offered. At none of these points, the Council of Europe Congress delegation disposes of sufficient information to draw up a broad or close to complete picture. It should also be recalled that many aspects of these questions could hardly be addressed without taking into account that for many purposes, the status on non-citizens could not be fully understood without understanding that the citizenship and language questions are closely intertwined when dealing with integration in the Latvian society. To a large extent, political appreciations of the present situation seem to be more concerned with the position of the Russian-speaking (in the broad sense, see above) minorities as a part of the Latvian society than with that of (mainly Russian-speaking) non-citizens as such.

54. When it comes to the legal appreciation, Article 101 of the Constitution (Satversme) as presently phrased provides a good starting point. As already pointed out, this provision does not deal only with voting rights, but also with other aspects of public participation at local level in Latvia. Namely, it provides that citizens of Latvia and permanently residing citizens of the European Union have the right “to participate in the work of local governments”. As the right to vote for the same groups is dealt with in a separate phrase, the word “participate” is bound to address other aspects of the relationship between local councils and people residing in their area. In this way, it seems to indicate that other groups than the two explicitly mentioned have no right to such participation.

55. Strikingly enough, however, this point was not raised as an argument against enhanced participation during the Council of Europe Congress delegation’s visit to Riga, and this part of Article 101 does not seem to be understood in a way barring participation of permanently residing non-citizens in consultative committees, etc. at local level. Even more, non-citizens acting as home-owners, tax-payers, parents of school-children, etc. should of course enjoy the same rights as Latvian or EU citizens acting in similar capacities, and actually seem to do so by virtue of Article 104 of the Constitution (see above),5 the basic principles of public administration laid down in the State Administration Structure Law (see above) and other relevant legislation. If these impressions are correct, it might be a good idea to reconsider the quite negative signal given by the above-mentioned parts of Article 101 of the Constitution the next time constitutional amendments are on the agenda.

56. Another part of Article 101 of the Constitution that should be mentioned in this respect is the last phrase providing that “The working language of local governments is the Latvian language” (see also the last sentence in Article 104 of the Constitution6 and § 29 above on Latvia’s reservation to Article 11.3 of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities regarding the use of the state language in local government affairs).

57. To the extent that the language provision of Article 101 of the Constitution is strictly applied, it is most likely to present problems for the participation of non-citizens, who are mainly Russian speakers (in the broad sense, see above) – as for other residents whose mother-tongue is not Latvian. During its visit to Riga, however, the Council of Europe Congress delegation got the impression that a number of councils try to accommodate the constitutional point of departure with evident practical needs and in conformity with the principles of “State administration” laid down in Section 10 of the State administration structure law and other legislation. But it remains that an unqualified adherence to the principle of one language of administration is likely to create problems for the day-to-day integration of non-citizens and other residents whose mother-tongue is not Latvian, in the life of the municipalities.

58. The Latvian government seems to be well aware of the need for promoting social integration under the particular circumstances still prevailing in Latvia, including the presence of large Russian-speaking minorities and a large group of non-citizens and a low average income. One of the powerful signs of this awareness is the existence of a special assignments Minister for social integration and the development of the independent, ombudsman-like Human rights office. Under the responsibility of the ministerial secretariat for social integration, a number of programmes for the promotion of tolerance and other means aiming at the increase of social integration have been developed. And when it comes to the Human rights office, few examples seem to be reported of discrimination on ground of language or civic status (with a few albeit quite limited exceptions, including the right to hold a position in the civil service, a right that Article 101 of the Constitution – like in many other countries – explicitly reserves for Latvia’s own citizens).

59. Even at the level of local councils, there are many examples of consultative bodies, etc. created in order to promote co-operation between the local self-government and the entire population across distinctions based upon language, civic status and the like.

60. The Council of Europe Congress delegation is not in the position to evaluate the extent and efficiency of the different measures undertaken by central as well as local governments with the aim of furthering the integration process in Latvia. But even if many of them seem to be directed towards the integration of Russian speakers (in the broad sense, see above) more than towards the group of non-citizens as such, such initiatives deserve to be welcomed and further encouraged.

Conclusions

61. In general, the rapporteur would like to underline that a situation where permanent long-term residents without citizenship of other States are denied the right to vote and to other forms of participation in the life of “their” municipality would be barely in line with Article 3 (2) of the European Charter of Local Self-Government read in connection with the attention paid by the Preamble of the Charter to principles of democracy common to the member-states of the Council of Europe.

62. The number of non-citizens in Latvia, and thereby their part of the total population, still remains exceptionally high by European standards. In line with that, the rapporteur would like to draw the attention to the fact that given an important concentration of non-citizens in Riga (30 % of the population) and in some other cities (like the eastern town of Daugavpils (27 %), Jelgava (24 %), Jurmala (25 %) or Liepaja (31 %), long-term denial of their right to electoral and other forms of participation in local public life can only be counter-productive for the vitality and credibility of local democracy in Latvia. As underlined in Recommendation 47 (1998), local democracy offers a significant opportunity to integrate residents into the country’s democratic system.

63. The rapporteur remains under the impression that there is potential for further improvement of the situation (for exemple, as regards naturalisation). In one direction, more active efforts of information might be useful in order to make the procedures and requirements for obtaining Latvian citizenship better known among the relevant parts of the population. In another direction, the system itself might be further improved by following the recommendations from the Commissioner for Human Rights (CommDH(2004)3), namely : a) facilitation of naturalisation for vulnerable people such as the elderly, the disabled and the young, b) more extensively providing naturalisation free of charge, c) modifying the procedure for children and new-born babies and d) increasing the financial support for Latvian language training programmes, notably in areas where the possibilities for practising the Latvian language as a part of every-day life are particularly infrequent (see § 132 (4) and (8) of the Commissioner’s Report).

64. It might also be a good idea to reconsider the quite negative signals given by Article 101 of the Constitution when explicitly denying the right to vote at local level to people who do not enjoy Latvian or EU citizenship.

65. Lastly, the rapporteur finds that an unqualified adherence to the principle of one language of administration is likely to create problems for the day-to-day integration of non-citizens and other residents whose mother-tongue is not Latvian, in the life of the municipalities.

APPENDIX I

Visit of the Congress delegation to Latvia

15-18 May 2005

Delegation of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe:

Ms Kathryn Smith, Rapporteur

Mr Eivind Smith, independent Expert

Ms Pilar Morales, Congress Secretariat

Target of the visit:

Preparation of the report on the situation of local democracy in Latvia, part of which devoted to the participation of non Latvians in local affairs.

DRAFT PROGRAMME

Wednesday, 15 June

 
 

Arrival in Riga

   
 

Check in the City Hotel Bruninieks www.cityhotel.lv

 

Bruņinieku str. 6

   

Thursday, 16 June

 

9.00-10.30

Latvian Ministry of Regional Development and Local Governments (MRDLG) www.raplm.gov.lv

 

Lacplesa srt. 27, Riga

   
 

Mr. Arvīds Pīlēģis, Under-secretary of State of the Ministry of Regional Development and Local governments (tbc)

   

10.50-11.50

National Human Rights Office www.vcb.lv

 

Elizabetes str. 65-12, Riga

   
 

Mr. Olafs Brūvers, Director (tbc)

   

12.00-13.00

Secretariat of Minister for Special Assignments for Society Integration Affairs www.integracija.gov.lv

 

Elizabetes str. 20, 2nd floor

   
 

Representative of the Ministry (tbc)

   

13.00-14.00

Lunch

   

14.00-15.00

State Chancellery www.mk.gov.lv

 

Brivibas blvd. 36

   
 

Ms. Baiba Pētersone, Deputy Head of Policy Coordination Department of state Chancellery (tbc)

   

15.00-16.00

Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Department for international organizations and human rights www.mfa.gov.lv

 

Brīvības blvd. 36

   
 

Mr. Raimonds Jansons, Director of the Department (tbc)

   

16.30-17.30

Latvian Human Rights Committee

 

Dzirnavu str. 102a - 5

   
 

Mr Aleksejs Dimitrovs, Co-Chairman (to be contacted)

   
   

Friday, 17 June

 

9.00-10.00

Latvian Centre for Human Rights and Ethnic Studies (NGO dealing with human rights and minority issues) www.humanrights.org.lv

 

Alberta str. 13, 7th floor

   
 

Ms Ilze Brands Kehris, Director (tbc)

   

10.30-12.00

Office of Citizenship and Migration Affairs (supervisory body under the Ministry of Interior) www.ocma.gov.lv

 

Raiņa blvd. 5

   
 

Ms Maira Roze, Deputy Head of OCMA (tbc)

   

12.00-13.00

Lunch

   

13.00-14.00

Naturalization Board of the Republic of Latvia (acts under supervision of the Ministry of Justice) www.np.gov.lv

 

Smilšu str. 1/3

   
 

Ms Eiženija Aldermane, Head of the NB (tbc)

   

14.00-15.00

Parliament of the Republic of Latvia www.saeima.lv

 

Jēkaba str. 11

   
 

Ms Ingrīda Circene, Chairperson of Human Rights and Public Affairs Committee (tbc)

Mr Staņislavs Šķesteris, Chairman of Public Administration and Local Government Committee (tbc)

   

15.00-17.30

Meeting at the Latvian Association of Local and Regional Governments www.lps.lv

   
 

Mr Andris Jaunsleinis, Chairman of the LALRG

Mr Maris Pūķis, Senior Adviser of the LALRG

Ms Ligita Začesta, Secretary General of the LALRG

   
   
 

Meeting with local governments:

Riga city council www.riga.lv

Representative of the city council (tbc)

Ventspils city www.ventspils.lv

Representative of the city council (tbc)

Jurmalas city www.jurmala.lv

Representative of the city council (tbc)

Vangaži town www.vangazi.lv

Representative of the town council (tbc)

 

Maza pils str. 1

   
   

Saturday, 18 June

Departure

Written information or presentation about e-voting in Latvia will be prepared/ provided by the Secretariat of the Minister of Special Assignment for Electronic Government Affairs or by the Central Election Commission www.cvk.lv .

1 Article 25: The Saeima shall establish committees and determine the number of members and their duties. Committees have the right to require of individual Ministers or local government authorities information and explanations necessary for the work of the committees, and the right to invite to their sittings responsible representatives from the relevant ministries or local government authorities to furnish explanations. Committees may also carry on their work between sessions of the Saeima [emphasis added].

2 Article 101: Every citizen of Latvia has the right, as provided for by law, to participate in the work of the State and of local government, and to hold a position in the civil service. Local governments shall be elected by Latvian citizens and citizens of the European Union who permanently reside in Latvia. Every citizen of the European Union who permanently resides in Latvia has the right, as provided by law, to participate in the work of local governments. The working language of local governments is the Latvian language [emphasis added].

3 Article 104: Everyone has the right to address submissions to State or local government institutions and to receive a materially responsive reply. Everyone has the right to receive a reply in the Latvian language [emphasis added].

4 Translation established by the Translation and Terminology Centre (2001).

5 “Everyone has the right to address submissions to […] local government institutions and to receive a materially responsive reply”.

6 “Everyone has the right to receive a reply in the Latvian language.”



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