Public participation - an opportunity for the democratic development of Latvia and European Union



Organized on 20th July, 2012 in Riga,  in the Trade union house, by Foundation for European Progressive Studies (FEPS) and the Freedom and Solidarity Foundation (BSF), the Forum consisted of two parts - first performed by experts, followed by question/ answer session, while the second was intense discussion between the parliamentary parties representatives and the audience.

At the forum the first insight into the current situation and future prospects was given by the representative of PROVIDUS and political scientist Linda Jēkobsone. Head of the Association of Progressive Ansis Dobelis gave insight into the Latvian referendum history and how future of referendums could be affected by the planned changes in legislation. President of the Latvian Free Trade Union Pēteris Krīgers gave an insight into the work of trade unions using a variety of participatory tools, thus revealing the Latvian opportunities and obstacles. Harald Baumann-Hasske, Lawyer, President of EUSONET presented the new EU participatory tool - collection of signatures for the support of petitions. He stressed that the initiative is new, and the first results of the assessment can be the conclusion that it was necessary and could still be improved. Mārcis Rubenis, from the initiative portal Manabalss.lv, outlined the progress made so far and presented a new forms of participation on the Internet. On the contrast Karīna Voronova, Member of the Board of the Latvian Youth Council (LJP) reported on discussions that took place among the youth organizations about the opportunities granted to the right to vote from the age of 16.

The participants of the forum tried to find answers and look for a common denominator for the participatory tools for future development of the European Union and Latvia. Discussion took place on already adopted participatory tools and those who are under development and discussion stage. Very strenuous talk developed on subjects such as changes in the current referendum law, initiating and funding arrangements for referendums,  the opportunity to vote via internet and gains and losses from youth participation in elections from age 16 years.

Discussion on the possible referendum restriction, supported by the ruling parties, raised strongly voiced opposing views from the participants of the forum. Overall, it was concluded that the introduction of restrictions on referendum actually means to increase the influence of money on the political process in the country. In this case, neither Trade unions`, nor pensioners' associations, nor the majority of other Latvian organizations active citizens can no longer afford to initiate referendums– this instrument will become oligarchs and foreign fund support group prerogatives. On this background, particularly hypocritical is the same change initiator election promises to promote popular participation in politics and to reduce the powers of individual oligarchs and the impact on the political process in Latvian.

Forum served as a good discussion platform for various public organizations and unions, giving the opportunity to hear the opinions of experts and to address in person the representatives of political parties. Forum life-stream was available on one of the largest Latvian Internet news sites www.tvnet.lv, that led to substantive discussions on various social media platforms. As a significant benefit to the forum was chosen timing, that coincided with a debate in the public space of the Latvian participation in the development of tools and especially referendum voting mechanism.

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