The Latvian parliament's foreign affairs committee on Jan. 17 sent to the parliament a bill which authorizes the government to sign the Latvian-Russian border treaty.
After lengthy debate, the bill was supported by lawmakers from the ruling People's Party, Latvia's Way, Latvia's First Party (LC/LPP) election bloc and the leftist alliance Harmony Center supported the decision. Representatives from the opposition New Era party were against it. Two members, Leopolds Ozolins from the Greens and Farmers Union (ZZS) and Nikolajs Kabanovs from the leftist alliance For Human Rights in United Latvia (PCTVL), abstained.
The foreign affairs committee sent the bill to the presidium, which has to include the issue on the agenda of the next parliament session. The parliament will have three readings of the bill.
Launching debates on the bill, Foreign Minister Artis Pabriks from People's Party said that the government's proposal solved the problem of the continuity of Latvia's sovereignty and therefore there is no need to attach any explanatory declaration.
Meanwhile Kalvits maintained during a debate on the issue on the popular Latvian television program "Kas notiek Latvija" that, "Russia should have no concerns about the bill as it is based on the law they have already recognized".
Parliament speaker Indulis Emsis from ZZS said that he saw "no risk of threats to the legal continuity of the state" in the bill. However, Ilma Cepane from the opposition New Era questioned the constitutionality of the government's plan and did not rule out the chance that any decision could be brought before the high court.
All previous Latvian governments have made statements to the international community that Latvia has no territorial claims against Russia and "stepping back now would look rather bad, it might even be interpreted as a deliberate deception," Emsis maintained.
Emsis said that the bill should be signed and afterwards the parliament might decide whether any declaration or preamble should be attached.
The document was criticized by New Era lawmaker Sandra Kalniete. She said that she was surprised over the government's decision as the Cabinet of Ministers already is entitled to sign the border treaty, therefore it is not necessary "to put the responsibility on the parliament's shoulders."
Kalniete said that there were many countries in the world and the European Union (EU) who have not signed border treaties with Russia and to rush this issue is not acceptable.
Echoing the statements of Cepane, earlier in the day Kalniete voiced concerns that this bill "raised serious questions about its compliance with the Constitution" as Russia has not given a clear opinion on the continuity of Latvia's sovereignty.
"The government is already authorized, and it has to be determined enough to act," said Kalniete.
Pabriks responded that the parliament's mandate would show that the Latvian government, the parliament and the president were united in this issue and Russia would make sure that no surprises can be expected. It will promote sooner finalization of the document.
Asked after her meeting with Prime Minister Aigars Kalvitis about whether or not she would like to see the issue settled while she was still in office, President Vike-Freiberga told journalists "I am completely indifferent about this issue. As president, I would be pleased to see Latvia really reinforcing its borders."
"In my opinion, it would be very logical and reasonable for Latvia to settle the border issue with Russia... This is my understanding about what would be advantageous for Latvia," the president noted.
She underscored repeatedly that the signing of the border treaty "is a question about whether Latvia has a strong enough political will and resolve to reinforce its border with Russia"
Commenting on the fact that the draft law on signing the border treaty refers to Latvia's Constitutional Law passed on August 21, 1991, the president said it is an attempt to break the deadlock... to introduce a new element that would stir a discussion".
"It is important to send a signal to Russia that the government is united with the parliament," said Pabriks.
Harmony Center lawmaker Nils Usakovs in the debates voiced his appreciation of the government "becoming more constructive".
Usakons also supported the parliament giving a new mandate to the government as "wide political debates on the bill are still necessary".
PCTVL representative Kabanovs was against the bill, saying that the Russian State Duma will not sign such a border treaty due to "Latvia is hiding the situation with the non-citizens."
The ruling coalition on Tuesday decided to propose to the parliament a bill, saying that, on the grounds of the Constitutional 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, the parliament authorizes the Cabinet of Ministers to sign the border treaty with Russia which was initialed on Aug 7, 1997, and not to attach any explanatory declarations to the border treaty.
The Latvian-Russian border treaty, which had remained unsigned for years, was finally scheduled for signing in May 2005, but shortly before the planned signing the Latvian government adopted a unilateral explanatory declaration to the treaty. The declaration contained a reference to the 1920 Latvian-Russian Peace Treaty under which the Abrene county (now Pytalovo) belongs to Latvia.
The government said the declaration was meant to solve the contradictions in the Latvian Constitution as regards the 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.