Parliament sends border treaty bill for approval

The Baltic Times
TBT Staff
January 25, 2007

RIGA-Parliament has sent the bill on authorizing the Cabinet of Ministers to sign the Latvian-Russian peace treaty – without an explanatory declaration – to the foreign committee for approval. The bill, which was proposed by the ruling People’s Party, was initialled in 1997.

The decision was passed 68 votes against 24.
Three coalition parties – People’s Party, Latvia’s First Party and Latvia’s Way election bloc, the Greens and Farmers Union, except for one lawmaker, the opposition leftist Harmony Center and For Human Rights in United Latvia supported the decision, while the opposition New Era party, the nationalist alliance For Fatherland and Freedom/LNNK and Visvaldis Lacis from the Farmers Union were against the decision.

During the debates, foreign committee head Andris Berzins (LPP/LC) called on lawmakers to support sending the bill to committees and reflected on the border treaty’s progress since 1997, when Latvia tried all possible ways of getting the treaty signed. The declaration that was adopted in 2005, and Russia’s response to it, Berzins said, shows that Russia has not changed in the past 10 years, leaving only one option for Latvia.

“The agreement can be signed only if both parties want it,” said Berzins.
New Era lawmaker Sandra Kalniete said she believes that the project’s sole aim is to make Parliament take up part of the responsibility, but “the constitution has been violated.”

“Neither Parliament, nor the government has the right to violate Latvia’s constitution,” said Kalniete, adding that a referendum should be held on the issue.

Foreign Minister Artis Pabriks from the People’s Party said that he was not entitled to judge whether the Constitution had been violated, as he was not a lawyer. In order to clarify whether a violation occurred, the Constitutional Court should be asked to evaluate the law.

Pabriks said that, according to Latvia’s legislation, it is not possible for the Constitutional Court to assess a bill. Therefore, there are only two possibilities left – to do nothing or move forward, taking into account that somebody might file a law to the Constitution Court.

“We believe this to be the only possible way,” said Pabriks. Based on the law on the sovereignty of the Republic of Latvia, adopted by the Latvian Supreme Council on Aug. 21, 1991, and the internationally recognized continuity of Latvia’s sovereignty, Parliament can legally authorize the Cabinet of Ministers to sign the border treaty with Russia, initialled on Aug 7, 1997, without attaching any explanatory declaration.

The Latvian-Russian border treaty, which has remained unsigned for years, was finally scheduled for signing in May 2005. However, shortly before the planned date, the government adopted a unilateral explanatory declaration to the treaty. The declaration contained a reference to the 1920 Latvian-Russian Peace Treaty under which Abrene County (now Pytalovo) belongs to Latvia.

The government said the declaration was meant to solve contradictions in the Latvian Constitution as regards Abrene County, which used to be a Latvian territory when the constitution was first adopted in the 1920s. Russia interpreted the declaration as a territorial claim and refused to sign the border treaty.