Recommendation 47 (1998)1 on local and regional democracy in Latvia

The Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe,

1. Having regard to its Resolution 58 (1997), adopted at its 4th Plenary Session (Strasbourg, 3 to 5 June 1997), based on the report on the situation of local democracy in the member States [Rapporteur: Mr Chénard, France] and on the appendix to that report – including the document entitled “Local self-government in Latvia since 1989”, prepared by the Latvian Association of local authorities, and the Latvian central administration’s observations on this document – and, more precisely, in view of:

a) paragraph 14 of the above-mentioned Resolution, noting that the Latvian local authorities complain of a serious shortage of financial resources, which limits their prospects for autonomy, and the Government’s centralising tendencies, which include abolishing the direct election of regional representatives;

b) paragraph 18 of the above-mentioned Resolution, recommending that the Congress draw up a specific report on the situation of local and regional democracy in Latvia;

2. Having regard to the report on the situation of local and regional democracy in Latvia, prepared for the Working Group on the Situation of Local Democracy in Member States and for the Working Group on Regionalisation in Europe by the rapporteurs Mr Markku Pohjola (Finland), dealing with local aspects, and Mr Leon Kieres (Poland), dealing with regional aspects;

3. Welcoming:

a) the procedure employed for drawing up the report mentioned in paragraph 2, above, whereby frank, constructive dialogue was established with the Latvian central, regional and local authorities concerned;

b) the fact that Latvia has ratified the European Charter of Local Self-Government, which came into force in that country on 1 April 1997, but regretting Latvia’s failure to undertake to abide by paragraphs 6.2, 7.2, 9.4 and 9.8 of the Charter, concerning 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 representative, the nature of financial systems on which resources available to local authorities are based, and local authorities’ access to the national capital market;

4. As regards constitutional recognition of the principle of local self-government, bearing in mind Article 2 of the European Charter of Local Self-Government:

Invites the Latvian Parliament (Saeima) to amend the Constitution (Satversme) so that it expressly refers to the above-mentioned principle in accordance with Article 3 paragraph 1 of the Charter;

5. As regards legal recognition of the principle mentioned under paragraph 4, above:

Recommends that the Latvian parliamentary and governmental authorities make the 19 May 1994 Act on local self-government conform totally with Article 2 of the European Charter of Local Self-Government, no longer describing local self-government as a “form of state administration”;

6. As regards local authorities’ financial resources:

Recommends that the Latvian parliamentary and governmental authorities:

a) change their legislation and practice so that, in future, local and regional authorities may have at their disposal a greater proportion of financial resources of their own, derived from exclusive local taxes, the rate of which they have the power to determine, in accordance with Article 9 paragraphs 1 and 3 of the European Charter of Local Self-Government;

b) base the function of financial equalisation on a standardised system laying down objective criteria in order to remove the central administration’s discretion in this field;

c) take immediate steps to reduce the unstable and precarious nature of local and regional authorities’ sources of finance and, in the near future, increase further the number of different sources and permit capital raising as a way of encouraging local and regional authorities to invest;

7. Aware that, on the one hand, the central authorities are faced with major national socio-economic problems, but stressing, on the other, the serious difficulties, caused by a lack of financial resources, experienced by local authorities trying to carry out their tasks:

Recommends that the Latvian parliamentary and governmental authorities base the current reforms of local and regional authorities:

a) on prior consultation with the local and regional authorities and with their representative bodies in accordance with Article 4 paragraph 6 and with Article 5 of the European Charter of Local Self-Government;

b) on the need to strengthen local and regional authorities’ political, administrative and financial autonomy and to apply the subsidiarity principle as it is expressed in Article 4 paragraph 3 of the European Charter of Local Self-Government;

8. Regretting the fact that, following the cancellation of the 1997 regional elections, regional parliamentary and executive bodies now comprise local elected representatives appointed by the municipalities:

Recommends that the Latvian parliamentary and governmental authorities ensure that, as soon as the reforms mentioned under paragraph 7, above, are complete, regional authorities’ representatives are once again elected directly by the people;

9. 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 of the European Charter of Local Self-Government:

a) Believes that it is important to integrate these 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.

1 Debated by the Congress and adopted on 28 May 1998, 3rd sitting (see doc. CG (5) 5, draft Recommendation, presented by Markku POHJOLA and Leon KIERES, Rapporteurs)

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