Legislation that would allow dual citizenship for a wide range of Latvians living abroad has passed its first reading in the Saeima, but the bill’s second reading will come only after Sept. 1.
MPs voted 92-0 on March 31 to support a bill proposed by the Unity (Vienotība) bloc. The bill, No. 238/Lp10, would amend the Citizenship Law to allow World War II exile Latvians and their descendants to claim Latvian citizenship without giving up ties to their adopted countries.
Among other affected groups, the bill also would allow dual citizenship for former Latvian citizens who have become citizens of European Union, European Free Trade Association and NATO defense alliance member states.
The vote followed a half hour of debate that saw MPs from the right-wing National Alliance (Nacionālā apvienība “Visu Latvijai!” – “Tēvzemei un Brīvībai/LNNK”) suggest that some amendments could be pushed through sooner than later, such as lifting the post-1995 restriction on dual citizenship for the exile community.
Dzintars Rasnačs of the National Alliance told the Saeima that while his fraction would support the Unity proposal, putting off the second reading of the entire bill until after Sept. 1 would mean that the fixes to the Citizenship Law might only be ready by Christmas.
“But there are things that we could solve quickly and without delay,” Rasnačs said, according to a translation of the Saeima debate transcript. “They are questions about resolving the dual citizenship issue for occupation-era exiles and their descendants… As you know, on July 1, 1995, a stop was put to this procedure. This should be restarted.”
Rasnačs was referring the so-called “transitional rules” of the Citizenship Law that allowed exiles and their descendants to register as Latvian dual citizens from 1991 until the summer of 1995. Under the law, it no longer is possible to become a dual citizen.
The first reading came after the Saeima’s Law Commission (Juridiskā komisija) on March 23 decided to kill a similar bill, No. 201/Lp10, proposed by the National Alliance. The commission also had considered an initiative from President Valdis Zatlers, many of whose suggestions for reforming the Citizenship Law were included in Unity’s bill.
Missing from the bill is the president’s proposal to ease the path to Latvian citizenship for children born of non-citizens living in Latvia, the majority of whom are Russian speakers. Under the president’s proposal, citizenship would be granted automatically, rather than through the bureaucratic process now in place requiring the parents to register the child. Instead, Zatlers suggested that those parents who want to renounce Latvian citizenship for their children could do so through a formal process.
Even the center-left and pro-Russian Harmony Centre (Saskaņas centrs) backed the Unity bill. However, MP Valērijs Agešins told the Saiema that his fraction would want to see some changes to the legislation.
“In my opinion, it is necessary for us to support Unity’s proposed bill with a goal of then consolidating this bill with the president’s proposals,” he said. “Only in that way can we move forward.”
Rašnacs, however, promised a fight over the president’s proposal on registration of non-citizens’ children. He said it is “interesting” that Tatjana Ždanoka, a European Commissioner and member of the pro-Moscow For Human Rights in United Latvia (Par cilvēka tiesībām vienotā Latvijā), has expressed her support for Zatlers’s proposal.
The Saeima also supported setting a Sept. 1 deadline for recommendations in advance of the second reading. The deadline was approved with a vote of 82 for, 8 against, and 2 abstaining. The National Alliance had called for a May 1 deadline.
The parliament also briefly debated the need for a special subcommission being set up to discuss modifications to the Citizenship Law. The subcommission, which would answer to the Law Commission, is to have two representatives from each of the five parties represented in the Saeima.
Māris Kučinskis of the For a Good Latvia! (Par labu Latviju!) fraction wondered why a subcommission is needed if the Saeima already has an established commission that reviews implementation of the Citizenship Law.
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