Latvia – The President’s legislative initiative on granting citizenship to new-borns is rejected by the Saeima

Latvia is a parliamentary republic with a 100-member unicameral parliament (Saeima), which is elected under a proportional system for a four-year period.

The Saeima elects the President by a secret ballot. To be elected, candidates must win at least fifty-one votes. The President serves for a term of four years and is limited to two consecutive terms. A presidential candidate must be a citizen of Latvia and must be at least forty years old. A person with dual citizenship may not be elected President. The functions of the President are determined by the Constitution of the Republic of Latvia.

The main role of the President is to promote the prosperity of Latvia and its inhabitants.

The President is the Head of State, nominating the Prime Minister, representing Latvia internationally, appointing the diplomatic representatives of Latvia, and receiving foreign representatives to Latvia. The President has the right to convene, to preside over extraordinary meetings of the Cabinet of Ministers, and to determine the agenda of such meetings.

The Head of State is also the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces.

In the event that the President is sick, on vacation or resigns from office, the Chairperson of the Saeima assumes the duties of the President.

The current President of the Republic of Latvia is H.E. Mr Raimonds Vējonis. The President took office on July 8, 2015. President Vējonis used to be a member of the Green Party, which is part of the Union of Greens and Farmers. The President has suspended his party membership.

Legislative Power

One of the most powerful functions of the President is the right to initiate legislation, proclaim or veto laws passed by the Saeima and grant clemency. The President proclaims bills passed by the Saeima no earlier than the tenth day after the bill has been adopted and no later than the twenty-first day. A law comes into force fourteen days after its proclamation unless a different term has been specified in the law. The President may use the suspended veto power within ten days of the adoption of a law by the Saeima by means of a written and reasoned request to the Chairperson of the Saeima, requiring the law to be reconsidered. If the Saeima overrides the law, the President then may not raise objections a second time. The President has the right to suspend the proclamation of a law for a period of two months if so requested by not less than one-third of the members of the Saeima. This right may be exercised by the President, or by one-third of the members of the Saeima, within ten days of the adoption of the law by the Saeima. The law thus suspended shall be put to a national referendum if so requested by not less than one-tenth of the electorate. If no such request is received during the two-month period, the law shall then be proclaimed after the expiration of such period. A national referendum shall not take place, however, if the Saeima again votes on the law and not less than three-quarters of all members of the Saeima vote for the adoption of the law. Should the Saeima, by not less than a two-thirds majority vote, determine a law to be urgent, the President may not use suspended veto rights and request reconsideration of such law, it may not be submitted to national referendum, and the adopted law shall be proclaimed no later than the third day after the President has received it.

The President is not politically responsible[1]. The President can propose the dissolution of the Saeima. Following this proposal, a national referendum shall be held. In such case, the President shall determine the agenda of the Saeima. However, if in the referendum more than half of the votes are cast against the dissolution of the Saeima, then the President shall be deemed to be removed from office.

The President’s legislative initiative on granting citizenship to new-borns

In this post, I would like to focus on a latest legislative initiative and political leadership of the President to grant citizenship to all new-borns in Latvia regardless of whether their parents are ‘non-citizens’.

In November 2016, the President initiated the idea, which received a cautious reaction from parties in the coalition government. For a year the President, using a form of network governance, discussed the issue with experts, representatives of different groups in politics and society, such as the Ombudsman, the Ministry of Interior, marketing and public opinion research centres, and academics.

The President’s decision is based on the fact, that granting non-citizens status to new-borns is an inheritance left by the former USSR and should not be maintained for more than 25 years after the restoration of independence. The President emphasizes that Latvia is a modern and democratic European country which needs to do everything to strengthen and consolidate its people. In mid-September the President submitted the legislative initiative to the Saeima, stating that it is a symbolic step which weakens the cleavage between different groups of Latvian society. The President points out that this regulation would apply to approximately 50 to 80 new-borns a year and that in 2016 non-citizen status was granted to 52 children. According to the data from the Office of Citizenship and Migration Affairs, up to October 2017 non-citizen status had been granted to 30 children. According to the report of Arnis Kaktiņš, the executive director of public opinion centre SKDS, in May 76% of the public support the idea that children from non-citizens born in Latvia would automatically become citizens of Latvia at the time of their birth unless the parents of the child chose the citizenship of another country. The draft law complies with Latvia’s international commitments under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. If the parents fail to ensure the right on behalf of their children, it should be done by the state.

However, due to the coalition agreement, and after the cursory debates with two speakers at the end of September, the Saeima rejected the President’s proposal. A total of 39 of the 100 members of the Saeima voted to move the proposal forward, 38 voted against and 14 chose to abstain. The opposition supported the initiative, but it was not sufficient to move the legislative process forward, which requires support from half of the Saeima.

The President expressed the hope that the Saeima’s vote would only postpone the decision for a while and that there will be another opportunity to vote on the topic in the future.

Reference:

[1] Dišlers K. Latvijas valsts varas orgāni un viņu funkcijas. Rīga: TNA, 2004., page 137.

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