Press release - 873(2008)

Non-citizens in Latvia: Congress urges voting rights at local level

Strasbourg, 02.12.2008 – In a recommendation to the Council of Europe Committee or Ministers, the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities urged Latvia’s authorities to grant non-citizens the right to vote at local level.

The recommendation was adopted following the debate held in the Chamber of Local Authorities on 2 December, chaired by Dubravka Suica (Croatia, EPP/CD), with the participation of Oskars Kastens, Special Assignments Minister for Social Integration of Latvia.

“Some 16 % of the population in Latvia, or 370,000 people, have the so-called ‘non-citizen’ status. Apart from this title which implies their exclusion, they do not possess de facto the same political rights as Latvian citizens,” stressed Congress Vice-President Jean-Claude Frécon (France, SOC), presenting his report on the participation of non-citizens at local level in Latvia.

The report pointed out that the vast majority of non-citizens are long-term residents, often born in the country and largely integrated within the society, but nevertheless excluded from electing representatives in their municipalities of residence. “We believe that not allowing these Latvian residents to participate in the local life undermines the spirit of the European Charter of Local Self-Government which Latvia signed and ratified in 1996,” stated Vice-President Frécon. Although the Latvian government undertakes serious efforts to further integrate non-citizens, it has not granted non-citizens voting rights at local level, he added.

He stressed that naturalisation was regarded by the Latvian government as a sufficient way to obtain voting rights, while many non-citizens for various reasons (in particular related to the history of the country) do not wish to go through the naturalization procedure. “We believe that the solution to the integration of non-citizens into Latvian society is different from the one envisaged by the government. We believe that giving them the right to vote in local elections will make them feel more involved in a society to which they already belong, and will turn them towards naturalization. Not the other way round,” concluded the Vice-President.

The Congress took into consideration the need to separate the question of political rights from that of naturalisation, and to grant political rights at local level to all non-citizens, which will foster their integration into Latvian society. It called on Latvian authorities to grant non-citizens voting rights at local level, and to think about the possibility of granting automatic naturalisation to the elderly and those born in Latvia. The Congress also recommended that Latvia sign and ratify the Convention on the Participation of Foreigners in Public Life at Local Level.

 

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