Latvia Unitary state

History and trends

Latvia is a parliamentary Republic. Its Constitution was adopted on 15 February 1922, and was substantially revised in December 1997.

During World War I, the Germans captured Courland (1915), Riga (1917) and Livonia (1918). Following the German defeat, the Latvian Provisional National Council declared independence on 18 November 1918.

The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact led to Soviet occupation on 16 June 1940. Latvia was declared a Soviet republic on 21 July and was annexed by the USSR on 5 August. Kārlis Ulmanis and 35,000 Latvians were deported to Siberia.

Following the failed Soviet coup d’état attempt and the subsequent collapse of the USSR, the Popular Front of Latvia led the country to independence, which was declared on 21 August 1991. Between 1991 and 1993, the country attempted to find its bearings and rebuild, pursuing a reformist, pro-Western policy agenda.

Local level :

Prior to the 2009 local government reforms, Latvia was divided into 523 municipalities (including 7 conurbations (Republikas pilseta)), 53 cities (pilseta), 444 parishes (pagasts) and 26 districts.

At the time, Latvia’s local governments were entrusted with broad powers (public service management, land-use planning, health care, social care, education and training, economic development, housing, cultural policy, supervision, civil registry, child protection and public order). Some authorities, especially the smaller ones, were unable to fulfil their remit because of insufficient investment, staff shortages, and a failure to adequately resource modernisation of their structures.

Each subdivision influenced different aspects of public services and collected a portion of income taxes from people enrolled within the subdivision.

The Latvian government sought to address this problem by encouraging municipalities to form federations on a voluntary basis.

The reform, backed by financial incentives, set four criteria for the creation of municipal federations:

  • at least 5,000 inhabitants
  • lead municipality with between 2,000 and 25,000 inhabitants
  • road network leading to the lead municipality
  • maximum distance of 30 km between the lead municipality and the outer boundary of the Federation’s territory.

These criteria, as well as the very principle of the reform, did not meet with unanimous support. The new government planned to hold elections for members of the new federation councils in 2009.

Latvia’s local governments do not have their own resources. Aside from central government allocations, their funds principally come from tax revenues (income tax, land tax, natural resource tax), non-tax revenues (gambling tax), and grants from the financial equalisation oversight body.

Education accounts for 45% of local government spending. The central government pays teachers’ wages and covers pre-school provision, while the local governments are responsible for school building construction, maintenance and repair.

The country is also divided into four constitutionally recognised historical regions or administrative provinces – Semigallia (south), Courland (west), Latgallia (south-east) and Vidzeme (north). However, these regions play only a secondary administrative role.

Regional level :

Latvia’s planning regions are public entities established by the law on regional development. They were created in August 2006 for the purpose of planning regional development in Latvia and liaising between municipalities and other government bodies.

In June 2006, the Latvian government amended the law on regional development, which entered into force on 1 August 2006. It was at this point that the planning regions acquired legal personality. There are five planning regions in total, although Eurostat divides Latvia into six regions (Riga is considered separately from the region to which it belongs).

The 2009 local government reforms restructured the regional level. The districts were abolished and the planning regions were assigned the role of regional governments, along with all the associated powers and responsibilities.