President Levits finds shortcomings in regional reform law

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On February 1, the President of Latvia Egils Levits sent a letter to Prime Minister Krišjānis Kariņš pointing out shortcomings in the long-debated territorial reform, according to the President's press service.

The President has welcomed the draft Local Government Law prepared by the Ministry of Environmental Protection and Regional Development, which provides for electing community councils in parishes and cities and grants a specific competence to these community councils.

“Administrative territorial reform should not make local communities feel that their ability to influence local government decisions after reform is reduced and that the local government is distancing itself from them. It is the task of the State to create the necessary pre-conditions for the voice and interests of local communities to be heard and taken into account within the municipality, even after the territorial reform,” Levits said.

The President stated that the draft municipal law “has a fundamental and principal loophole, not granting the right of residents of local communities (municipalities and cities) to directly elect members of the community council”.

"From the perspective of democracy and democratic participation, the community council and the competence given to it is meaningful only when the relevant council is entitled to be directly selected by the people of the local community themselves. The approval of the community councils in the municipal council is not a sufficient mechanism for that purpose. Direct democratic legitimization and the democratic representation of local communities in the work of the municipality cannot only be replaced by consultation and public hearing mechanisms,” the letter from the President stated.

The President of Latvia said in his letter that the current transitional rule of the Law on Administrative Territories and Populated Areas provides for the Cabinet's obligation to submit to the Saeima a draft law providing for the right of local communities to directly elect their community councils.

On 10 June 2020, the Saeima supported the controversial administrative territorial reform after long ruminations. It expects to reduce the number of municipalities in Latvia from 119 to 42 starting July 2021, while local communities will have their elected representatives.

The President of Latvia received a letter signed by 46 current municipal leaders a week later with a request to pass the reform bill to the Saeima for review, but the President signed the Law regardless.

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