Activities in the area of legislation
14 times during his term in office, President of Latvia Valdis Zatlers has taken advantage of the right to propose legislation that is guaranteed for him in Section 47 of the Latvian Constitution.
Amendments to Laws Proposed to Reduce Effect of Money on Political Processes
On June 10, 2011, Latvian President Valdis Zatlers sent three draft laws to Parliament, proposing amendments to the criminal law, the law on campaigning in advance of Saeima and European Parliament elections, and the law on the Corruption Prevention and Combating Bureau. In his letter to Saeima Speaker Solvita Āboltiņa, the President said that one necessary step toward open and honest politics is a transparent system of financing for political parties, also providing for effective oversight of the process and an adequate punitive system for those who violate the rules.
Amendments to the Law on Diplomatic and Consular Service
President Valdis Zatlers has written to Saeima Speaker Solvita Āboltiņa today to propose amendments to the Law on Diplomatic and Consular Service. The issue which the President has identified with respect to state protocol regulations has to do with the Foreign Ministry’s need to ensure that diplomatic protocol is observed in Latvia so that there is a unified understanding of diplomatic protocol and its harmonised application.
On November 17 of last year, the President established a working group on legal regulations of state protocol, asking it to think about ways of improving laws and regulations in this area. Members of the panel included representatives of the Saeima Chancery, the foreign affairs advisors to President Zatlers and Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis, as well as representatives of the Foreign Ministry, Defence Ministry, and National Armed Forces. The head of state protocol at the Foreign Ministry, Rets Plēsums, was elected chairman of the working group.
The working group looked at the practice of several European countries when it comes to the legal regulations of state protocol. It also analysed Latvia’s experience with protocol issues. The group prepared an extensive review of diplomatic protocol practices, as well as guidelines that can be put to use in organising visits and events at different levels in which the country’s top officials take part.
The working group concluded that the law at this time does not define a specific institution which has the task of ensuring unified diplomatic protocol practice in the Republic of Latvia and of guaranteeing the harmonised approach of all relevant institutions to issues of diplomatic protocol. The Foreign Ministry, which handles diplomatic protocol functions in Latvia, has only the right of recommendation in this area at this time. The Law on Diplomatic and Consular Service must be amended to address this matter.
Latvian President Presents Legislative Initiative on Amending Constitution
Latvian President Valdis Zatlers has on several occasions called for a discussion about reforming Latvia’s basic law, the Constitution, in the context of Latvia as a parliamentary republic. He did so when addressing the Saeima on June 17, 2010, as well as on November 2 of the same year, when the newly elected 10th Saeima was meeting for the first time. On August 10, 2010, the President asked his Commission on Constitutional Law to draft views about the functions of the President in Latvia’s system of parliamentary democracy, the purpose being to see whether the regulations which are currently enshrined in the Constitution should be updated.
The commission’s conclusions about the President’s functions are based on a scholarly and analytical study, and the President’s letter of motivation in support of the relevant legislative initiatives is based thereupon. The purpose of the initiative is to improve the balance of power among the branches of governance, also ensuring more effective mechanisms for the taking of decisions and strengthening the role of the President as a politically neutral arbitrator between the legislative and the executive branch of government. The central issue relates to the role of the President in a modern parliamentary republic. In his speech before the Saeima on November 2, President Zatlers said that only by developing the country’s political and legal system can Latvia hope to ensure economic flourishing and the welfare of the people. That is why he has taken advantage of the rights given to him in Section 47 of the Constitution to propose the relevant amendments to the Latvian Constitution.
On amendments to the citizenship law
On February 1, Latvian President Valdis Zatlers sent a proposal to Saeima Speaker Solvita Āboltiņa on amendments to the citizenship law which is in force at this time. The President believes that because more than 15 years have passed since the adoption of the law, the first generation born in the independent Republic of Latvia has grown up, and Latvia has joined the world’s most important alliances and organisations of countries, the time is right to update the citizenship law in line with the country’s long-term interests and so as to ensure and facilitate the preservation of Latvia’s community of citizens. The Presidential Chancery has worked on the proposed amendments for several months after studying the experience of other countries and surveying legal experts to find out their views about the matter.
The President wants legislators to look at two issues. First, there is the ban on double citizenship. President Zatlers points out that the transitional regulations associated with the law limit the right of émigré Latvians to hold both Latvian citizenship and citizenship in the country which has given them and their successors shelter. He believes that this is an unfair norm which cannot be justified in rational terms from the perspective of the country’s interests, adding that the situation of double citizenship for émigré Latvians is a consequence of Latvia’s occupation. For that reason, President Zatlers is calling on Parliament to eliminate limitations on the registration of Latvian citizens and their successors – people who wish to maintain their citizenship in another country and who, between June 17, 1940, and May 4, 1990, fled Latvia as refugees in order to avoid the horror of the Soviet and Nazi occupying regimes, were deported, or were unable to return to Latvia because of the occupation and underwent naturalisation abroad.
Secondly, President Zatlers focused attention on the issue of registering children who are born in Latvia as citizens of the country. In 1998, Parliament approved a law to say that children born to stateless persons or non-citizens in Latvia since August 21, 1991, have the right to become citizens of Latvia, but at this time the issue relates entirely on the readiness of the child's parents to engage in the necessary formalities.
On Independence Restoration Day
On January 19, 2010, President Valdis Zatlers sent a letter to the Speaker of the Latvian Saeima, Gundars Daudze, in which he proposed a new legislative initiative, stating that as the 20th anniversary of the declaration on the restoration of independence of the Republic of Latvia, which was adopted on May 4, 1990, approaches, it is important to honour and strengthen the historical memories and heritage of the Latvian people so that these can be transferred to future generations. The President also noted in his letter that there has been an increase in discussions about the importance of this historical event.
In his letter, President Zatlers emphasised the fact that the continuity of the Latvian state and the official view of the Republic of Latvia about its establishment on November 18, 1918, existed without interruption and was first reaffirmed in Soviet Latvia via the declaration on the restoration of independence which was adopted on the aforementioned date. The historical decision meant that the Supreme Council of the Latvian SSR accepted the fact that Latvia declared independence on November 18, 1918, and undertook to restore the country’s independent statehood. The de facto restoration of this statehood was the central goal of the declaration. This means that of key importance is not just the declaration itself, but also its juridical consequence -- the full restoration of Latvia’s independence. The President hopes to emphasise the goal of the declaration and to inform younger generations about the importance of Latvia’s independent statehood, and that is why he is using the rights that are given to him in Article 47 of the Latvian Constitution to propose that the law on holidays and commemorative days be amended to replace the words “the date of the proclamation of the independence declaration of the Republic of Latvia” be replaced with “the date of restored independence,” thus stating that May 4 is a holiday and the date of restoration of the country’s independence. In his letter to Speaker Daudze, President Zatlers writes that the May 4 holiday should be given a name which is symbolic and which reflects the goal of the independence declaration in a more specific way, adding that the proposal came from the Latvian People’s Front. The idea has also been discussed by an honorary committee established to organise the 20th anniversary celebration of the declaration.
On April 7, 2011, the Saeima approved amendments to the law on holidays, commemorations and dates of observation to declare that May 4 will henceforth be known as the Day of the Restoration of the Independence of the Republic of Latvia, while August 21 will be known as the Day of Approving the Constitutional Law on the Statehood of the Republic of Latvia.
About the assurance of political neutrality among civil servants
On July 8, 2009, President Zatlers sent Speaker Daudze a letter of legislative initiative, proposing amendments to several laws so as to improve the assurance of political neutrality among civil servants working for the Civil Service.
The aim of this initiative is to provide for good governance, which includes elements related to the internal organisation and operations of the national governance system such as a Civil Service that is professional, competent and politically neutral. President Zatlers has proposed in this regard that state secretaries and directors of other institutions of direct governance be banned from holding positions in political parties. These are officials with an important role to play in the functions of institutions of national governance, including the need to direct their administrative operations. Therefore, the active participation of such officials in political parties may create logical doubts about their neutrality and objectivity. It is important to ensure that such officials, when doing their job, think only about professional and not political criteria.
Secondly, President Zatlers has proposed that state secretaries and directors of institutions of direct governance not be allowed to become candidates for political office. If they become candidates, according to the legislative initiative, they must take a leave of absence from their job, and without pay. This would guarantee that candidates from different political forces would have equal opportunities during the campaign, because people holding high-ranking positions in the system of governance can have unfair advantages in comparison to other candidates. The norm would also protect voters against pressure from government officials who can take important decisions to improve their image in the eyes of voters and to influence their choice.
In order to address the possibility that the new norms might come into conflict with limitations already set out in the law on preventing conflicts of interest among government officials, the President has called on the Saeima to make sure that the norms are in line with other laws.
The President has also suggested improvements to laws which regulate election procedures to say that directors of institutions of direct governance (including state secretaries) automatically lose their job when they are elected. He has furthermore called for a new Section 42 in the law on the responsibilities of civil servants, providing for disciplinary sanctions against those who violate the principle of political neutrality. Political neutrality is one of the most important prerequisites for a member of the Civil Service, because all members of the service must strictly keep the interests of the public in mind.
Finally, the President has called for less politicisation of the process of recruiting people for the Civil Service by setting limitations on the right and ability of political officials to interfere in the work of a professional and politically neutral Civil Service. This would mean a clear separation between political and professional responsibility. It would also reduce the level of political involvement in personnel selection processes.
In pursuit of all of this, President Zatlers has proposed specific amendments to five laws – the law on the system of national administration, the law on the Civil Service, the law on European Parliament elections, the law on local government elections, and the law on the disciplinary liability of members of the Civil Service. He has also asked for a debate about amendments to the law on preventing conflicts of interest among government officials.
On September 15, the Cabinet of Ministers approved a proposal from President Valdis Zatlers on promoting political neutrality among employees of the Civil Service, submitting to Parliament amendments on the law on the Civil Service and the law on the disciplinary liabilities of members of the Civil Service.
On November 12, Parliament supported the President’s initiative to limit the ability of government officials to combine that status with a job at a political party or alliance. This involved amendments to the law on preventing conflicts of interest in the work of government officials. Article 7 of the law has been supplemented with a new, 14th section:
“(14) In addition to those government officials who are barred in other laws and in this article of the law from combining the position of a government official with a job in a political party or alliance, the said combination of jobs shall also not be permitted for the director of the State Chancery, the deputy directors of the State Chancery, state secretaries, deputy state secretaries, and members of the boards and councils of state capital enterprises.”
On January 21, 2010, the Latvian Saeima gave second-reading approval to amendments to the law on the Civil Service which indicate that civil servants must do their work irrespective of political influence and strictly on the basis of professional criteria. Civil servants, according to the changes, will not be allowed to be dependent on political influence. Those civil servants who do not observe the principle of neutrality will be reprimanded, their salary will be lowered for a period of time, or they will be given a lower-ranking job. If the violation causes substantial losses or damages to the state or an individual, the relevant civil servant may be assigned a lower-ranging job or sacked without the right to return to government service for a year’s time. Disciplinary liability will also be faced by civil servants who have used national budget resources in an unlawful way. The regulations were drafted on the basis of a protocol of intent between the Latvian government and the International Monetary Fund. The new rules also say that civil servants will have to go on a two-month holiday if they stand for election in a parliamentary election and a one-month break if they stand for election to the European Parliament or a local government.
The two aforementioned Saeima decisions were proclaimed on March 11, 2010, and took effect on March 25, 2010.
On improvements to the procedure for expropriating real estate for public needs
After evaluating the possibility of sending back for secondary consideration a law on alienation of real estate for the public necessity of implementing the third round of construction on the Southern Bridge across the Daugava River, the President took advantage of the right of legislative initiative given to him in Section 47 of the Constitution, calling for supplements to Section 15 of the law on forced alienation of real estate for state or public needs to say that the rights of the relevant real estate owner be fully in line with a clear and specific mechanism for pursuing those rights.
Note: On the basis of a constitutional complaint filed by one Modris Ozoliņš, the Constitutional Court is currently considering whether the law on alienation of property in pursuit of the third round of construction on the Southern Bridge is in line with Section 105 of the Constitution.
On limiting social guarantees for members of the Civil Service
On September 26, 2008, the President returned to the Saeima the law on amending the law on the Civil Service which had been approved on September 18, 2008. On the basis of Section 47 of the Constitution, he proposed stricter limitations on the maximum subsidy paid after the birth of a child. The President also called on the Saeima to draft new legal regulations on specifying the subsidy received by civil servants upon the birth of a child, either linking it to the minimum monthly wage or defining a maximum subsidy in this regard.
The Saeima has not reviewed the cited law, but on December 1, 2009, it approved a law to amend the law on the National Civil Service, excluding articles in the law which regulated the monthly wages, subsidies, additional income, bonuses, compensation, etc., of civil servants. The issues are now regulated by the law on compensation for officials and employees of state and local government institutions. The law does not provide for subsidies when a child is born.
On amending the Constitution of the Republic of Latvia to grant independent rights to the people of Latvia and to the President of Latvia to decide on the dissolution of the Saeima
On August 6, 2008, President Valdis Zatlers wrote to Saeima Speaker Gundars Daudze, calling on the Saeima to amend the Constitution and grant the right to propose the dissolution of the Saeima to two subjects – the President and a certain percentage of voters.
Four days earlier, a national referendum had been held on amending Sections 78 and 79 of the Constitution to allow one-tenth of the electorate to propose dissolution of the Saeima. Although the necessary number of votes was not collected, the President pointed to the fact that a substantial segment of Latvia’s citizenry had voted in favour of the amendments, and as a statement of that desire, as well as on the constitutional system of Latvia and its historical traditions, which place a great deal of emphasis of direct democracy, he would propose a constitutional amendment to grant a certain percentage of voters to propose a national referendum on the dissolution of the Saeima.
In proposing these constitutional amendments on June 3 and August 6, 2008, the President did not offer a specific text for the amendments, preferring to allow MPs to hold a serious discussion in pursuit of a solution that would satisfy a majority of them. The goal would be to find a version of the constitutional amendments that would attract the necessary majority in the Saeima, as dictated by Section 76 of the Constitution.
From June 2008 until January 2009, sadly, MPs did not agree on a specific version of the constitutional amendments. On the basis of the rights given to him in Section 47 of the Constitution, therefore, President Zatlers submitted a specific version of the amendments on January 21, 2009.
On April 8, 2009, Parliament amended the Constitution to allow no fewer than one-tenth of the Latvian electorate to propose the dissolution of the Saeima. President Zatlers proclaimed the law on April 29, 2009, and will take effect once the next, 10th session of the Saeima is elected.
On the right of the President to dissolve the Saeima
On June 3, 2008, President Valdis Zatlers wrote to Saeima Speaker Gundars Daudze to propose an amendment to Chapter 3 of the Constitution, “The President” to grant the President the independent right to dissolve Parliament without requiring a national vote and without the possibility of the President losing his job as a result of that vote.
In his letter, the President expressed the view that the right to propose the dissolution of the Saeima should rest with the President and a specific percentage of voters. If the initiative for initiating the mechanism is awarded to two subjects, wrote the President, then current constitutional regulations related to the President’s rights should be changed. The President believes that he should be given the right to dissolve the Saeima without a national vote, because the President of Latvia acts autonomously and in the context of his or her competence. The constitutional function of the President in this regard is to serve as a politically neutral arbitrator, because the President must first think about the interests of the state as such, without regard given to the demands of individual political forces.
On improving procedures related to the awarding and wearing of national honours
Since the law on national honours took effect, it has been determined that several aspects of the awarding and wearing of national honours must be addressed to a greater degree.
During the term in office of President Valdis Zatlers, the Chapter of Orders, the State Commission on Heraldry, the National Protocol Office of the Latvian Foreign Ministry, and the Finance Ministry’s National Proof Supervision Inspectorate made a series of proposals on amending the law on state honours, doing so on the basis of experience with state honours since the law had taken effect. The proposals were discussed by the Heraldry Commission and the Chapter of Orders. The experience of other countries with more ancient traditions related to the awarding and presentation of state honours.
The law on state honours states that the Chapter of Orders has oversight over relevant matters. The chancellor and members of the Chapter of Orders are appointed by the President during his or her term in office. In consideration of his competence in relation to state honours and of Section 47 of the Latvian Constitution, President Zatlers proposed on April 9, 2008, that the Saeima take a look at the possibility of amending the law on national honours in several ways.
In the autumn of 2008, acting in response to an initiative from President Zatlers, the Legal Committee of the Saeima set up a special working group to draft amendments on the law on state honours. The amendments spoke to bringing in experts and specialists into the process, including the deputy chairwoman of the State Heraldry Commission, Ramona Umblija, the secretary to the Orders Chapter, Maira Sudrabiņa, the President’s legislative advisor, Sandra Sondore, and others.
A working group headed by the chairman of the Saeima Legal Committee, Dzintars Rasnačs, has submitted 47 detailed proposals on amending the law on state honours. The group also drafted proposals to make the law on state honours more precise in terms of the terminology that is used in relation to such honours. In accordance with norms related to etiquette and protocol, the working group updated the procedure whereby people wear all three types of state honours – the Order of Three Stars, the Order of Viesturs, and the Cross of Recognition. It also evaluated other aspects of traditions related to state honours. The working group proposed that the law on state honours be supplemented with illustrations of each type of state honours. The drawings were produced by the Latvian State Standards Bureau in co-operation with the Presidential Chancery.
On April 15, 2010, the Saeima approved amendments to the law on state honours, doing so on the basis of the President’s legislative initiative and the proposals from the aforementioned working group. The President proclaimed the law on April 29, 2010.
On the right of the National Ombudsman to appear before Parliament with an annual address
On February 25, 2008, the President proposed an evaluation of amendments to parliamentary rules of procedure so as to give the National Ombudsman the right to appear before a plenary session of the Saeima once a year to file an annual report.
The authority of ombudsmen throughout the world is based on the ability of the institution to act courageously, independently, actively and with sufficient publicity, and because of this the President believes that the system must listen to the ombudsman properly and hear what he or she has to say.
The right of the National Ombudsman to appear before a plenary session of the Saeima once a year to file an annual report would certainly be a way of bringing issues related to human rights and good governance to the attention of officials at the highest level, the President argued. He added that this is particularly important in that the Saeima is responsible for parliamentary control over the executive branch of government.
An annual report before a plenary session of Parliament, given by the National Ombudsman in the presence of all MPs and the media, would attach greater meaning to the institution’s work and, perhaps, encourage MPs to be more active in relation to the issue of the government’s responsibilities before Parliament.
On May 15, 2008, the Saeima approved the President’s legislative initiative and amended Section 8 of the rules of procedure to add Chapter 5.1 on reports from the National Ombudsman. The law took effect on June 5 of the same year.
On notarisation of signatures when collecting petition signatures on proposing a national referendum or submitting a draft law
On February 7, 2008, acting on the basis of Section 47 of the Constitution, the President proposed separate legal regulations related to the notarising of petition signatures related to a proposed national vote or the submission of a draft law. These regulations would be possible by reviewing the fee charged for the services offered by state registers to sworn notaries, or by defining a procedure different to that related to other types of signatures – one that would not make it necessary to check the data of signatories on the date of the signature with the Population Register and the Register of Invalid Documents.
On February 21, 2008, the Saeima’s Legal Affairs Committee wrote to the prime minister, proposing new draft regulations to amend those which placed unnecessary obligations upon the shoulders of sworn notaries in terms of paying for the use of state information systems.
On March 5, 2008, the justice minister wrote to the prime minister, finance minister, interior minister and regional development and local government minister to say that by March 20, 2008, the Justice Ministry would be submitting a proposal on establishing an inter-institutional working group on the matter. The working group would be assigned the task of preparing a conceptual report on the issue by June 15 of the same year.
Note: When asked to rule on whether the second sentence in Section 22 of the law on national referenda and draft legislation was in line with Section 1 of the Latvian Constitution, the Constitutional Court ruled that “the resources chosen by the state are the most effective resources in pursuit of a legitimate goal, because the legitimate goal cannot be reached at the same level of quality with other resources.” Thus the court ruled that the second sentence of Section 22 of the law was, indeed, constitutional.
On social guarantees for officials at interior affairs institutions and the Prisons Board
When, on December 28, 2007, the President returned to the Saeima the law amending the law on the Border Guard which had been approved on December 20, he pointed to Section 47 of the Constitution and proposed that the law on the service of staff of Interior Ministry systems and the Incarceration Board who hold special service levels be amended to specify that the social guarantees addressed therein would be supplemented with the right to ensure preference in finding a slot for the children of those who work in the Interior Ministry system in a preschool educational institution.
Given the vast amount of demand for places in preschool institutions and the fact that it is up to local governments to ensure that all children have access to such institutions, the President pointed out that priority in finding a slot in a preschool institution while the parent of the relevant child is in the service of the Interior Ministry’s institutions should be given first and foremost to those officials who are transferred to another location as part of their duties.
In response to the President’s initiative, the Saeima, on March 6, 2008, gave first-reading consideration to the law on amending the law on the service of staff of Interior Ministry systems and the Incarceration Board who hold special service levels and supplemented Section 43.1 of the law, “Other Social Guarantees” to say that when officials are transferred to new locations as part of their duties, their children are given priority in terms of slots in preschool educational institutions.
The Saeima gave final approval to the law on May 8, 2008, and it took effect on June 3, 2008.
Additional information about the President’s work in the area of legislation
On November 17, 2010, President Zatlers issued instructions co-signed by Foreign Minister Ģirts Valdis Kristovskis on the establishment of a working group to draft legal regulations related to national protocol and to consider ways in which relevant normative acts could be approved.
The group is chaired by the head of protocol for the Foreign Ministry, Rets Plēsums. Members include the deputy director of the Parliamentary Chancery, Valdis Ziemelis, the President’s foreign policy advisor, Andris Pelšs, the Prime Minister’s foreign policy advisor, Solveiga Silkalna, the head of protocol for the Presidential Division of the Foreign Ministry, Jana Trahimoviča, the head of the Administrative and Legal Division of the Foreign Ministry, Sanita Pēkale, the acting head of the Organisational Division of the Defence Ministry, Vita Rukse, and the commander of the Protocol and Ceremony Division of the headquarters of the National Armed Forces, Senior Lieutenant Jevgenijs Augustauskis.
The working group has until March 1, 2011, to draft normative acts related to national protocol.
Information prepared by:
Legislative Adviser to the President
March 16, 2011