a network of constitutionalists from countries throughout the world
Dr.iur. Jānis Pleps, Docent at the University of Latvia
This blog post was originally published on the website of the IACL research group on constitution-making and constitutional change in December 2014.
The practice of the Constitutional Court of Latvia and the verities of the theory of constitutional law clearly mark the most essential fundamental values of the statehood of Latvia. The Court acknowledged that ‘the State of Latvia is based on the core values that among other include the fundamental human rights and personal freedoms, democracy, sovereignty of state and people, division of authority and rule of law. The state is obliged to guarantee these values, and they cannot be infringed by the statutory amendments to the Constitution.’ (Case no. 2008-35-01)
At the same time, analysing the amendments of the Constitution from a sociological perspective, it is possible to recognize, which are the real constitutional values – values the constitutional legislator has considered as being in need of constitutional protection by securing them in the text of the Constitution.
A remarkably essential issue in the constitutional system of Latvia is the protection of the constitutional status of the Latvian language. In the text of 1922, the issue of the Latvian language was not constitutionally regulated. After the restoration of independence, however, the issue of the protection of the Latvian language had become constitutionally significant. In 1998, the amendment of the Constitution secured the official status of the Latvian language as a State language. In 2002, the amendments were made to further secure the official status of the Latvian language. The legislator defined the Latvian language as the working language of the Saeima and the municipal structures, and established the persons’ rights to receive the response from the state and municipal institutions in the Latvian language. A solemn vow (oath) of parliamentarians was also introduced, in which, among other, it is promised to strengthen the Latvian language as the only State language. Not taking into account the existing regulation, the status of the Latvian language is strengthened also in the Preamble of the Constitution. It defines the existence and development of the Latvian language through the centuries as one of the goals of the state. The Preamble of the Constitution’s also states that the Latvian language is one of the factors constituting the identity of Latvia in the European cultural space. The legislator also deemed necessary to define that the Latvian language as the only official language is one of the foundations of a united society. Overall, it can be concluded that securing the Latvian language required three amendments of the Constitution. The Latvian language as a concept in the text of the Constitution is used eight times.
Several amendments address the issues of Latvia’s membership in the European Union. In 2003, the amendments formed the legal framework for Latvia’s participation in the European Union. They were of technical character, prescribing only the procedures of participation in the European Union. Nevertheless, the first sentence of the second part of Article 68 provided a substantial limitation of foreign cooperation. The delegation of competencies of the Latvian state institutions to the international authorities can be allowed on condition that it strengthens democracy. The Constitution prohibits a closer integration of Latvia into unions that include authoritarian or semi-totalitarian states or are not based on the values of democratic states and rule of law. The amendment of 2004 provided the rights to citizens of the European Union to participate in the elections of the local government. The amendments to the Preamble of the Constitution define expanded regulations of the principles of the foreign policy of Latvia and the attitude towards European integration processes, though the first sentence of the second part of Article 68 already was a clear point in the text of the Constitution.
Concepts of ‘freedom’ and ‘independence’ are also used explicitly often in the Preamble, and both the Preamble and the text of the solemn vows (oaths) of the state officials included in the Constitution emphasize the importance of the State of Latvia. The text of the Constitution indicates the key values the legislator has assigned protection – the State of Latvia, its independence, personal freedom, the Latvian language and belonging to Europe.