On 19 June 2020, the European Commission for Democracy through Law (the Venice Commission) published its opinion on a number of amendments made in 2018 to the legislation concerning the education reform implemented in Latvia (hereinafter – the Opinion).
The Latvian Foreign Ministry is content to note that the Venice Commission has acknowledged that the requirement of mandatory proportion of the State language as the language of instruction in national minorities’ schools established by State and local authorities is being handled in an appropriate manner in Latvia. In the Opinion, the Venice Commission has emphasised that implementation of such regulations serve a legitimate aim - strengthening of the proficiency in the State language. In addition, the legislative process leading to the adoption of the respective legal norms and regulations is compatible with the necessary procedural gurantees - consulations have taken place and the groups most affected by the draft regulations have been heard. Moreover, the amendments were not unexpected but rather part of a more than 25 year long process of education reform.
Due to restrictions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Venice Commission’s Opinion was vetted and adopted through a written procedure. In this regard, the Latvian Foreign Ministry regrets to note that the Venice Commission did not respond to Latvia's request to postpone the adoption of the Opinion. Thus, Latvia did not have the opportunity to engage in a dialogue with the experts in person at the plenary session.
At the end of 2019, the Committee on Equality and Non-Discrimination of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe requested an opinion of the Venice Commission on recent amendments to the legislation on education in minority languages in Latvia. The Opinion was prepared, inter alia, based on information acquired by the Venice Commission’s experts during their visit to Latvia at the beginning of 2020. Opinions of the Venice Commission are of recommendative nature and the legislator retains its prerogative to apply the expertise contained in the Opinion only in so far as it does not contradict the Constitution (Satversme) and rulings of the Constitutional Court.
The Council of Europe's Venice Commission is an independent advisory body that offers expertise and advice on constitutional matters, on democratic institutions, and in the fields of the rule of law, and justice. The Commission has 62 member states, and its experts form their opinions independently, acting in their individual capacity, regardless of the countries from where they come.