Latvia’s parliament leans towards merge of national cities with adjacent municipalities

On Thursday, 21 October, Latvia’s Saeima conceptually passed amendments to the Law on Administrative Territories and Populated Areas. These amendments provide for merging Latvia’s national cities Daugavpils, Jelgava, Liepaja, Rezekne and Ventspils with their adjacent municipalities in 2025.
During debates Viktors Valainis said these amendments are rushed, poorly put together or properly discussed. He also said these amendments contradict previously passed amendments. The politician said the proposed changes would damage the development of respective regions.
Valainis said previously representatives of Jelgava and Jelgava municipality, Ventspils and Ventspils municipality and Augšdaugava municipality all objected to such a merge. He also invited making decisions based on facts, not emotions, adding that, according to data available to him, there are not many residents who welcome the administrative territorial reform.
The member of the Union of Greens and Farmers also said amendments in question are justified with artificial urgency, because their authors do not mention any sections of the ruling made by the Constitutional Court. These amendments are not based on the ruling of the Constitutional Court because the ruling mentions nothing about any urgency regarding the need to merge Jelgava and Jelgava municipality, said the Saeima deputy. He added that this way authors of amendments basically mislead the Saeima.
Valainis said he sees signs of political score-settling against parties that achieved better municipal election results in municipalities in question.
Saeima deputy Inga Goldberga said the initiative to rescue the situation with this legislative draft can be described with the words «what a mess we’ve made». Everyone – from the ministry to those who pushed the reform, decision-makers in the Saeima – had a hand in this mess, even the Constitutional Court, said the deputy.
The politician says certain national cities are prepared to merge with their adjacent municipalities. This is largely because people do not believe this situation is any different from the country’s general regional policy.
Saeima deputy Ilga Šuplinska turned her colleagues’ attention towards the fact that many smaller municipalities protest not the reform itself – they protest the lack of a competent, outlook-based and financially justified vision for the future.
The ill-considered approach in the proposed amendments is that population number is the used as the sole parameter, said the deputy.
This year the Constitutional Court overturned multiple decisions made by the Saeima in regards to the creation of new municipalities,
stressing that politicians forgot to create development centres for several of Latvia’s new municipalities even though they were previously mentioned as the cornerstones of positive changes during the reform’s development.
To fix this problem, it is proposed in the legislative draft to promote cooperation between Daugavpils and Augšdaugava municipality, Jelgava city and Jelgava municipality, Liepaja city and South Kurzeme municipality, Rezekne city and Rezekne municipality, Ventspils city and Ventspils municipality. It is planned to merge these municipalities by the time the next municipal elections come – 2025.
Until then, however, the government plans to promote and expand cooperation between the aforementioned municipalities and national cities.
According to vice-chairman of the National Alliance’s Saeima faction Jānis Dombrava, corrections may be added to the legislative draft in the second reading. More discussions are planned about topics related to centres of regional importance and which municipalities and cities should be merged.
Members of the Saeima intend to discuss if the ruling of the Constitutional Court in regards to Jelgava and Augšdaugava municipality should also extend to Liepaja, Ventspils and Rezekne, said the politician.
Ministry of Environment Protection and Regional Development previously explained that those changes were prepared in relation to the ruling of the Constitutional Court, in which the court declared the addition of Ilūkste municipality to Augšdaugava municipality and Ozolnieki municipality to Jelgava municipality in breach of the Constitution. This is why law amendments are intended to making sure Ilūkste municipality is merged with the newly-formed Daugavpils municipality and Ozolnieki municipality is merged with the newly-formed Jelgava municipality.
As the chairman of the Administrative Territorial Reform Committee Juris Pūce said at a meeting this summer, the Saeima should pass law amendments by mid-December.