Since Latvia joined the European Union (EU) on 1 May 2004, the Saeima of the Republic of Latvia actively participates in the work of the EU by taking part in the lawmaking of the EU, conducting parliamentary scrutiny over the work of the government in the field of EU affairs and cooperating with the European Parliament and national parliaments of other EU member states.
The national positions on various EU matters are voiced through the European Affairs Committee of the Saeima.
Each year, after receiving the annual report of the Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Saeima holds a debate on the accomplishments and planned future activities regarding foreign policy and EU affairs. The foreign policy debate ensures that the discussion and planning of short-term foreign policy goals and EU activities are discussed in a manner that is open and accessible to the general public.
Cooperation with non-governmental organisations (NGOs) plays an important role in the work of the Saeima, particularly in regard to EU affairs, because it increases public participation and promotes a better understanding of EU matters.
The European Affairs Committee
The European Affairs Committee is the largest committee of the Saeima. Currently the Committee consists of 17 members. According to the Rules of Procedure of the Saeima, at least one MP from each parliamentary group established in the Saeima must be a member of the Committee. The number of MPs representing each parliamentary group is proportional to the number of seats that the relevant parliamentary group has in the Saeima. The administrative work of the Committee is performed by staff members of the Committee and the Saeima’s attaché to the Permanent Representation of the Republic of Latvia to the European Union.
The European Affairs Committee was established in November 1995, when the government of Latvia submitted its application for accession to the EU. The role of the Committee changed when Latvia became a full-fledged EU member state on 1 May 2004. Since then its tasks have involved considering and approving national positions, supervising the absorption of EU funding, involving NGOs and civil society in legislative processes of the EU, as well as cooperating with the EU’s neighbouring countries, particularly with the Eastern Partnership countries.
The European Affairs Committee considers and approves national positions prepared by the government before submitting them to the Council of the European Union. The minister who represents Latvia in the relevant Council of the European Union has to inform the Committee on the government’s position regarding all significant decisions before they are presented to the Council of the European Union. The relevant minister is authorised to present Latvia’s position to the Council only when it has been approved by the Committee. If the Committee rejects the position approved by the government, the relevant ministry must amend the position in accordance with the recommendations of the Committee before presenting it to the Council.
Meetings of the Committee are held twice a week. The European Affairs Committee cooperates with other sectoral committees of the Saeima by holding joint meetings devoted to discussing topical issues in the EU and formulating Latvia’s opinion on events and processes taking place in the EU.
The European Affairs Committee cooperates with the European Parliament and regularly meets with the eight MEPs who represent the people of Latvia in the European Parliament. MEPs participate in the Committee meetings devoted to urgent issues in order to coordinate opinions and exchange current information on relevant issues.
The Committee regularly meets with its counterparts from the parliaments of other EU member states, as well as cooperates with parliaments of the EU’s neighbouring countries. In this way, experience which Latvia accumulated during its EU integration process is shared with the EU’s neighbouring countries. The Committee has organised a number of training programmes for colleagues from the Ukrainian, Georgian and Moldovan parliaments, as well as the parliaments of the Balkan countries.
The European Affairs Committee, in collaboration with social partners, NGOs, experts and academicians, regularly organises discussions on topical issues of public interest related to the EU.
Cooperation with NGOs
Public participation, namely, cooperation between the Saeima and NGOs, has a significant role in successful implementation of the presidency priorities.
Non-governmental organisations play an important role in the work of the Saeima. By evaluating legislative initiatives and submitting proposals, NGOs influence the decisions made by the Saeima. When considering various matters, committees invite NGO representatives as experts. Each committee of the Saeima has a coordinator who is responsible for cooperation with NGOs.
Since 2006, when the Saeima adopted a declaration on cooperation with NGOs, along with daily cooperation, it has now become a tradition to hold annual forums of the Saeima and NGOs during which the results of previous cooperation are evaluated and further cooperation scenarios are defined.