After the proclamation of the Republic of Latvia in 1918, two levels of territorial division were introduced: there were 19 districts and more than 500 rural or cities municipalities. Self- governments were abolished after the coup d’état, which established the regime of Kārlis Ulmanis on 15 May 1934.
During WWII Latvia was occupied three times: in 1940 by the USSR, in 1941 by the national- socialistic Germany and in 1944 by the USSR again. The third occupation ended in 1994 when Russia withdrew its occupation troops.
Self-governments were re-established at the end of 1989. On 21 April 1990, deputies of local governments and district governments in the town meeting gathered the newly elected parliament to proclaim the restoration of national independence. From 1990 to 2009 self- governments of 26 districts gained the status of regional government, and 7 self-governments (cities) were granted a dual – regional and local government status.
Regional governments’ principles
The following principles were used with regard to regional governments in Latvia in the early 1990s:
- there are no hierarchical relations between the regional and local government; the budgets and properties, as well as administrative competences are strictly separated;
- the revenue base of regional governments is a portion of the personal income tax earmarked for the regional self-government in the amount of 30 % (70 % was earmarked for local governments);
- regional governments, just like local governments have the legislative right (its binding regulations are binding on everybody within the territory of the region);
- disputes of regional government with individuals, the state, or other self-governments are resolved in court.
In fact, several larger competence blocks were determined with shared competence between either the state and regions (such as health care) or between the state, regional and local governments (such as general education), however, it did not serve as grounds for introducing hierarchical relations.
There were several attempts of centralisation during 1990s. The abolishment of direct elections in regional governments was achieved by the central government in 1997. The response of local governments was the voluntary establishment of planning regions during 1997-1997.
The Planning regions
After the abolition of district governments in 2009, the role of regional governments now pertains to the planning regions. The competence of these institutions is narrow, compared to what is optimum; however they correspond to the features of a regional government:
- They are subjects of public law, having the competence established in law;
- They are established as a result of two-level elections, no official is appointed by the senior level with a decision of a state institution;
- They hold their own property;
- They have their own separate budget that can be adopted only by a democratically elected senior decision-making body.
The territories of planning regions formed through the voluntary unification of local governments. To a certain extent these regions cover territories of cultural history; however there are several shortcomings determined by the subjective choice of self-governments.
The planning regions were voluntarily established as a tool for spatial planning and development planning. Taking into account the small scale of regional governments of that time — the districts — a need arose to plan and manage development measures in a bigger territory. The second most essential competence of the planning regions was related to the implementation of regional level projects, thus implementing co-operation in the interests of local governments of the region. The third most important competence of a planning region was related to the public transport planning and regulation.
The current planning region development council is made from the bottom up. Voters elect local government councils. Council chairs independently adopt legislative documents of the planning region, along with internal statutes. Council chairs meet to create a planning region development council, the members of which are selected by the self-government councils from among the deputies. All officials are appointed by the development council, which also establishes companies and institutions of the planning region.
- During the restoration of national independence, Latvia underwent rapid decentralisation, in which local and regional governments gained significant administrative, fiscal, and legislative autonomy.
- Following the withdrawal of the USSR occupation forces, the central structures of the state tried to regain the lost influence and focused mainly on reducing the influence of regional governments. They also centrally governed matters of local and regional government responsibilities.
- In the early 1990s, local governments did not support the replacement of regional governments with governors appointed by the central governments; therefore, the proponents of centralisation opted for a policy of gradual reduction of financial and administrative autonomy, which resulted in the elimination of district governments in 2009.
- The planning regions established voluntarily by self-governments are currently regional governments that have a narrow range of competences. The boundaries of these self- governments and the key competences are established in the national law.
- The discussion continues in Latvia between the proponents of state administration regions and those in favour of restoring directly elected regional governments.
by Maris Pukis
The Report on the state of Regionalisation in Europe.
More than 40 experts contributed to this work, by delivering detailed reports about the state of regionalisation and multilevel governance in chosen European countries. The study covers 41 countries, and each country report is based on a similar structure, thereby allowing a comparative approach among all studied countries.
- The first part of the report gives the political impetus from the main European stakeholders
- The second part of this report entails a summarised version of the country reports. The objective is to provide interested readers with a short overview of the main features of regionalisation in various European countries. The complete versions of the country reports are available on the AER website, under LINK
- The third part provides a thematic approach based on the main findings delivered by the country reports and the current state of regionalisation in Europe. The trends and outlooks lead to open questions on the future of the regions in the European landscape, and more broadly on the role of subnational authorities in the shaping of the continent.
- The fourth part gives the floor to the actual regional decision-makers in Europe, across a series of interviews and statements by Presidents, Vice-Presidents and elected representatives of the European regions.
Over the next months, we will be focusing on a different European country’s approach to regionalisation. During these months, look out for #RoR2017 on Twitter and/or Facebook and follow us at @europeanregions.
Strong European regions are a pathway to a stronger Europe.