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International Internet Magazine. Baltic States news & analytics Tuesday, 28.05.2024, 22:21

Latvia: Constitutional Court rules against Puce over municipal survey on territorial reform

BC, Riga, 18.05.2020.Print version
The Constitutional Court has ruled Environmental Protection and Regional Development Minister Juris Puce’ (For Development/For) decree halting survey of local residents of Ikskile Region on the pending administrative territorial reform unconstitutional, the court’s representative Ketija Strazda informed LETA.

The Constitutional Court heard the case based on an application filed by the Ikskile regional council. With the disputed decree, the minister suspended the regulations of the municipal survey on the administrative territorial reform, which in its form was similar to local elections or referendum on a binding decision. 

The Constitutional Court concluded that the Latvian Constitution and the European Charter of Local Self-Government give local authorities the right to hear the opinion of the local residents of the respective municipalities on changes planned in the borders of the given administrative territory.

Since local governments are formed with the purpose to ensure the protection of local residents' interests, hearing residents' opinion is one of the elements of local governments' day-to-day work, which they can use in dealing with various issues in the area of their competence. 

The Constitutional Court concluded that the administrative territorial reform, which has been proposed by the Environmental Protection and Regional Development Ministry and involves changing the current borders of Latvia's administrative territories, directly affects the rights and legitimate interests of the residents of these administrative territories, as well as the performing of the local governments' functions. 

The court ruled that the surveying of Iksile Region residents' opinion on this region as a separate administrative territory is in the area of local government's competence. 

The court indicated that the minister, if he deemed it necessary to improve the regulation of the survey, could have used other, less restrictive measures of control in line with the law on local governments. 

The court underlined that relations between the central and local governments should be maintained in a form of dialogue, based on good faith and mutual respect to ensure effective governance and use of resources. 

Consequently, Puce did not have the right to suspend the regulation of the survey as far as it concerns the organizing of the municipal survey. The minister's decree therefore is not consistent with the principle of the rule-of-law as stipulated in Constitution. 

Puce issued the decree ordering a halt to Ikskile Region residents' poll about the region's autonomy on April 25. No representatives of the Environmental Protection and Regional Development Ministry attended the Ikskile Regional Council' subsequent meeting to explain why the decree was issued.

During the poll, which commenced on April 29, Ikskile Region residents were offered to express their opinion, either in person or online, about preservation of the region's autonomy.

The Environmental Protection and Regional Development Ministry maintained that Ikskile Regional Council may organize public discussions and debates, but it does not have the authority to organize polls such as the poll about the region's autonomy.

The Association of Local and Regional Governments of Latvia sent a letter to Puce, pointing out that his decree raises concerns about the principles of democracy and human rights, as residents may not be prohibited from expressing their opinion.

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