LATVIA: As negotiations continue, CSOs look forward to good relations with new government

(European Civic Forum on CIVICUS Monitor) Following a heated political campaign during the October 2018 election, political debate calmed in Latvia as parties began the process of negotiating the formation of a new government. In the election, the social democratic party won 24% of votes, followed by KPV with 15%. The two main conservative parties, JKP and PAR, gained 14% and 11% respectively. The right-wing populist and national-conservative party National Alliance remained at around 9%.

With these results, civil society leaders do not expect a deterioration in their relationship with government institutions. According to Iveta Kazoka from the CSO Providus, “while the formation of the government is difficult, we are optimistic as we expect a government friendly towards the media and civil society”. She also reported that the leading political parties apologised for the verbal attacks against civil society during the election period.

Society integration fund

The newly elected Parliament is currently debating amendments to the Society Integration Law. The law establishes a fund, the Society Integration Foundation, to provide financial support to the non-governmental sector and promote the integration of society.

Deputies in the relevant parliamentary commission are also now hearing from institutional representatives and CSOs on a number of problems identified with funding of civil society in the past. Bureaucratic obstacles and problems in the management and structure of funding mechanisms are the two main issues highlighted. The current review of the draft incorporates several changes in the administrative procedures designed to help non-governmental organisations make full use of the programme.

On 4th December 2018, Arturas Kaimiņš, chairman of the commission, noted after a meeting with civil society that:

“The Society’s Integration Fund’s budget amounts to 11 million euros a year, but after the commission’s discussion it clearly shows that there is no communication between the major non-governmental organisations that are actively interested in improving the functioning of the fund and the director of the fund that has been in it for years. The commission is prepared to fulfill the round table function in this situation in order to solve the problems.” (Translated from Latvian)

Civil society is now advocating for further funds to be made available. As noted by the national platform for civil society organisations Civil Alliance Latvia (NVO):

“The purpose of the call is to find the possibility of providing the NGO Fund with additional resources of at least 5 million euros in the state basic budget in order to promote citizens’ participation and cooperation in social processes, improve the quality of life of the population and strengthen democracy in Latvia”.

The draft law has passed its first Parliamentary reading and needs to go through two more readings before it can be enacted.

2018 civil society sustainability index

The 2018 Civil Society Sustainability Index concluded that the situation for Latvian civil society has worsened due to the reform of the tax policy which reduced the amount of donations and significantly complicated bookkeeping. Nevertheless, the report also highlighted a number of positive developments which defended the interests of civil society. These include the amendments to the Animal Protection Act that prohibited the use of wildlife in circus performances, as well as the amendments to the Sexual and Reproductive Health Act.

Further developments

In 2014, The platform launched a petition to curb discrimination in the job markets for youth who do not have Russian language proficiency. According to the new bill, employers will be prohibited from imposing disproportionate demands on a specific foreign language.

Despite the fact that the number of signatories was lower than the threshold of ten thousand supporters, above which the Saeima (parliament) is obliged to consider the initiative, the Parliamentary Committee on Social and Economic Affairs decided to examine it in September. The platform stated:

“it must be appreciated that this legislature has shown the political will to take over the initiative.”

This is one of three initiatives presented by the platform and voted for by citizens that the new Seima has already approved.

The Manabalss platform also launched a successful initiative calling for “an open vote in the presidential elections”, which collected over 11,500 signatories. The initiative called for an open and transparent procedure for the election of the President in Latvia. Previously, the President was the only official elected by secret ballot. The Saeima’s deputies have now approved the amendments to the electoral law which stipulates that the President shall be elected by the Saeima by open vote.