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Latvia

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1) REFERENCES

Commission Opinion [COM(97) 2005 final - Not published in the Official Journal]
Commission Report [COM (98) 704 final - Not published in the Official Journal]
Commission Report [COM(1999) 506 final - Not published in the Official Journal]
Commission Report [COM(2000) 706 final - Not published in the Official Journal]
Commission Report [COM(2001) 700 final - SEC(2001) 1749 - Not published in the Official Journal]
Commission Report [COM(2002) 700 final - SEC(2002) 1405 - Not published in the Official Journal]
Commission Report [COM(2003) 675 final - SEC(2003) 1203 - Not published in the Official Journal]

Treaty of Accession to the European Union [Official Journal L 236 of 23.09.2003]

2) SUMMARY

In its July 1997 Opinion the Commission broadly identified serious gaps in Latvian law, institutional shortcomings, and a lack of resources and experienced staff. It called on Latvia to make a major legislative effort in order to comply in the medium term with current European Union (EU) rules in this area.
The November 1998 Report called on Latvia to continue judicial reform, in particular to improve the status of judges and pursue the fight against organised crime. Progress with the introduction of legal and institutional instruments needs to be continued and backed up by strengthening police capabilities. The same holds for most other sectors: the progress that has been made is essentially on the legal and organisational front and it remains to be seen how this will translate into operational terms. This applies in particular to border control and efforts to control drug trafficking and abuse, both medium-term priorities for the Accession Partnership.
Overall, the October 1999 Report was more positive than the two previous reports. The Commission noted that Latvia had taken significant steps forward in aligning its legislation in all areas relating to justice and home affairs, and especially in border controls, migration and asylum. Progress was not as significant in the field of police cooperation and the fight against organised crime and drugs.
In its November 2000 Report the Commission noted that some progress had been made since the last report as regards visas, data protection and police cooperation. However, in order to ensure alignment with the acquis some effort still needed to be made.
In its November 2001 Report the Commission noted that some progress had been made as regards data protection, visas and border controls. However, Latvia should continue its efforts in the fight against fraud and corruption, the fight against money-laundering and police cooperation.
The October 2002 Report notes that Latvia has made significant progress, in particular, with regard to legislative alignment. The country has also continued to strengthen its institutions. It must now concentrate on reinforcing the resources necessary to apply the legislation.
In its November 2003 Report the Commission called on Latvia to pursue its efforts in matters of international cooperation to combat corruption, fraud and drug trafficking. Progress is also needed as regards the alignment of the data protection, migration and asylum rules on the acquis.

COMMUNITY ACQUIS

Free movement of persons

The principle of free movement and the right to residence of all European citizens is provided for by Article 14 (former Article 7a) of the Treaty as well as by the provisions on European citizenship (Article 18, former Article 8a). Among the matters of common interest to the Member States, the Maastricht Treaty included asylum policy, the crossing of the external frontiers of the Union and immigration policy. The Amsterdam Treaty, which came into force on 1 May 1999, incorporated these into the EC Treaty (Articles 61 to 69), while making provision for a transitional period of five years before Community procedures would be applied to the full. In the long term " an area of freedom, security and justice " will be created without checks on persons at internal frontiers, irrespective of their nationality. At the same time, common rules must be laid down relating to checks on the external frontiers of the Union, visas, asylum and immigration policies. The action plan of the Council and the Commission of 3 December 1998 sets out a timetable for the measures to be adopted in order to achieve these objectives within five years.

Some Member States already apply common rules in these areas under the Schengen Agreements, the first of which was signed in 1985. These intergovernmental agreements have been incorporated into the European Union following the entry into force of the Amsterdam Treaty and now constitute part of the Community acquis to be adopted by the applicant countries.

Poland has stated that it wants to comply with the provisions of the Schengen Agreement. It has begun to prepare for this and has asked the Member States for assistance, in particular with regard to the strengthening of checks at the external frontiers.

Asylum policy

European asylum policy, a matter of common interest to the Member States since the Maastricht Treaty, is based mainly on instruments without legal force such as, for example, the London resolutions of 1992 on requests for asylum manifestly unfounded and the principle of "host third countries" or on international conventions such as the 1951 Geneva Convention relating to the status of refugees.

On 15 June 1990, under the Schengen Agreements, the Member States signed the Dublin Convention, which came into force on 1 September 1997, determining the State responsible for examining applications for asylum lodged in one of the Member States of the European Union. This matter had not been settled by the Geneva Convention but various implementing measures were subsequently adopted by the Committee that it set up.

In addition to the Council and Commission action plan of 3 December 1998, a comprehensive strategy is necessary. Hence the task force on asylum and migration set up by the Council.

Immigration policy

Immigration policy, a matter of common interest since the Maastricht Treaty, comes under intergovernmental cooperation in the field of home affairs but does not yet really exist as a European policy. No rules have been drafted relating to the entry into the Community and the right of residence of nationals of non-member countries. However, the action plan of 3 December 1998 does provide for the adoption of specific measures in this area.

Judicial cooperation in civil matters

Few measures have been adopted in the area of judicial cooperation in civil matters, an area in which the EU can act since the Maastricht Treaty. To date, the most important measure is the Convention on the service of documents in civil or commercial matters in the Member States of the European Union. Following the entry into force of the Amsterdam Treaty, there is now a proposal for a Regulation to replace this Convention. The main instruments to facilitate civil judicial cooperation have been drafted at international level (the Brussels and Rome Conventions, for example).

In addition, in December 1998, the Council and Commission action plan listed the objectives to be attained in the medium term (two years) and the longer term (five years) and set out the list of measures to be adopted for that purpose.

Police, customs and judicial cooperation in criminal matters

The existing legislation in these fields stems mainly from the cooperation framework defined in Title VI of the European Union Treaty or the " third pillar ". The Amsterdam Treaty amended the legal provisions in the matter by creating a link with the " area of freedom, security and justice ". Now Title VI deals mainly with police cooperation, the fight against organised crime, the fight against drug trafficking, the fight against corruption and fraud, judicial cooperation in criminal matters and customs cooperation.

The existing legislation relating to justice and home affairs presupposes a high degree of specific cooperation between government departments as well as the preparation and effective application of rules and regulations. To this end, the first "Octopus" programme was financed by the European Commission and the Council of Europe between 1996 and 1998. The aim of "Octopus II" (1999-2000) is to facilitate the adoption of new legislative and constitutional measures by the countries of Central and Eastern Europe and also by some Newly Independent States along the lines of the rules in force in the EU by providing training and assistance for all persons responsible for the fight against corruption and organised crime. In addition, a pact to combat organised crime was signed by the EU and the countries of Central and Eastern Europe on 28 May 1998.

Within the Union, the Council and Commission action plan of 3 December 1998 sets out the various measures to be adopted in the short term (two years) and the medium term (five years) in order to establish a genuine area of freedom, security and justice. These measures include the setting up of the European Police Office (Europol), the organisation of relations between the Office and the judicial authorities of the Member States, the incorporation of the Schengen acquis relating to police and customs cooperation, and the organisation of the gathering and storage of the requisite information concerning transborder crime.

The Europe Agreement and the White Paper on the countries of Central and Eastern Europe and the internal market

The Europe Agreement with Poland includes provision for cooperation in the fight against drug abuse and money laundering.

The White Paper does not deal directly with third-pillar subjects, but reference is made to first-pillar matters such as money laundering and freedom of movement of persons, which are closely related to justice and home affairs considerations.

EVALUATION

In January 2001 the national inspectorate for data protection, which had been set up in March 2000, started operating. In September 2001, the 1981 Council of Europe Convention on the Protection of Individuals with regard to the Automatic Processing of Personal Data came into force. The 2003 report observed that the authority had been given extra resources. However, further efforts must be made towards alignment on the Europol and Schengen acquis and better interinstitutional cooperation.

Latvian legislation on visa policy is broadly aligned with the acquis. Such is the case, for instance, of the visa issuing procedures and of the negative list (third countries whose nationals are subject to the visa requirement), though not yet of the positive list of 18 countries. In 2000, Latvia signed bilateral agreements on a visa-free regime with Israel, Japan and Cyprus. With regard to administrative capacity, a unified visa information system (UVIS) has been operating since January 2001 and diplomatic consulates abroad can consult it. Latvia must pursue its efforts to improve infrastructures and reinforce its technical capacities and human resources.
Visa exemption agreements have been concluded with Monaco, Panama and Romania.

Progress has been made on external border controls thanks to the implementation of a programme for developing the national Border Guard over the period 2001-05. The programme provides for the adoption of legislative texts and the development of infrastructure and administrative capacity. The Border Guard School was opened in April 2002. The border agreement with Belarus came into force in January 2003, and negotiations for border cooperation agreements with the Russian Federation are in progress. The integrated border management strategy is now being put into effect. Border surveillance equipment is being modernised, particularly at sea borders, and border crossing points on the eastern border are being constructed or upgraded.

An action plan for alignment on the Schengen acquis, with a particular focus on the SIS (Schengen Information System) was also adopted in May 2001. Latvia has continued to prepare for future participation in the Schengen information system (SIS II). After accession the country will have to prepare to abolish internal borders and give full effect to Schengen on the basis of a decision to be adopted by the Council. The separation of traffic in ports and airports will have to be controlled rather better.

Regarding immigration, the legislation is now fully aligned, except as regards carriers' liability. In May 2001, Latvia adopted a new law governing the procedure for issuing and registering residence permits which has simplified it considerably. An immigration service has also been set up within the Border Guard in order to combat illegal immigration. Readmission agreements have been signed with a number of countries (Austria, Benelux, Croatia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Italy, Russia, etc.) and others are under discussion between the Member States, the applicant countries and third countries such as Belarus and the Russian Federation. The law introducing the new passport system was adopted in 2002.
In 2003 the major preoccupation was the conditions of detention at the Olaine centre for illegal immigrants. The reconstruction of the centre should provide an opportunity to review detention procedures.

The legislation on asylum is substantially in conformity with the Community acquis. In 2002, the law on the right to asylum was adopted but Latvia has yet to issue the implementing regulations as regards appeals in the expedited procedure, the grounds for exclusion and termination of temporary protection and the minimum guarantees for asylum procedures (non-refoulement). Moreover, Latvia must still align its asylum legislation on the Dublin Regulation. The administrative structure was streamlined at the beginning of 2002 in order to speed up administrative procedures, but the capacity of the citizenship and migration office and other relevant bodies needs to be boosted. Latvia needs to pay special attention to the technical and administrative preparations for implementing Eurodac and Dublin II and to earmark the requisite financial resources.

In the field of police cooperation and the fight against organised crime, Latvia has made progress in the latter as well as in combating illicit trafficking and has increased the administrative capacity of the police. The national police (criminal investigation police and drugs squad) has been reorganised, but further measures are still needed, particularly to combat computer crime, money laundering, smuggling and other forms of serious crime. Fresh efforts are also needed to improve cooperation between police and judicial authorities and with the other institutions (customs, border guards, various police forces).
Latvia ratified the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organised Crime (Palermo Convention of 2000), but the protocols still have to be ratified. Conclusion of a cooperation agreement with Europol is still in progress. A special attaché from the Ministry of the Interior has been posted to The Hague since April 2002 in order to carry out the duties of liaison officer once the agreement has been concluded. Agreements on police cooperation have been signed with Belgium, the Netherlands, Sweden, Georgia, the Russian Federation and Slovakia. An intergovernmental cooperation agreement to combat terrorism, organised crime and drug trafficking was signed between Latvia and Uzbekistan in June 2002.

In addition, Latvia signed the UN Convention for the suppression of the financing of terrorism (1999) in December 2001. But it must expedite its preparations for accession to the 2000 Convention on mutual judicial assistance between Member States of the EU in criminal matters.

The scale of corruption in Latvia continues to give cause for concern. But the legislation has been improved and the institutional arrangements have been clarified and consolidated, thanks to the establishment of a central bureau to prevent and counter corruption, which has been up and running since February 2003 and has devised a new strategy. The bureau's budget was five times greater in 2003 than in 2002. And in June 2003 the Public Procurement Act and the Administrative Offences Code were amended. In December 2000, Latvia ratified the 1999 Council of Europe Criminal Law Convention on Corruption. To operate a genuine strategy for combating corruption, the country must adopt a national prevention programme, install a stable management and pursue the expansion of the requisite human resources, while developing its investigation capacities.

The country is continuing its preparations in order to be able to cooperate fully with the European Anti-fraud Office (OLAF) on accession. However, the country must intensify its preparations to ratify the 1995 Convention on the protection of the European Communities' financial interests. But, still on the fraud front, Latvia must designate its national central office to analyse notes and coins.

In June 2001, the Criminal Law was amended to increase the criminal liability of individuals selling narcotic and psychotropic substances to minors. A genuine plan of action for the implementation of the strategy as regards prevention of drug addiction needs to be adopted. Other amendments introduce criminal liability for illegal purchase or storage of small quantities, as well as use of narcotic substances without a prescription. The Drug Enforcement Bureau has been incorporated in the national police department responsible for combating organised crime so as to reinforce the institutional set-up.
With a view to participating in the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) and the European Information Network on Drugs and Drug Addiction (REITOX), the national focal point has been established, but the infrastructure needs boosting. The fact that there are no drug seizures at borders is a source of concern, and Latvia must see that its customs and border-guard services have better resources and cooperate more closely.

The legislative alignment with regard to money laundering has not been completed and the application of the acquis must be improved. The list of offences has been extended and now includes tax evasion. The Financial Intelligence Unit should be informed of any risk transactions linked to money laundering, but the legislation concerning the reporting of suspect transactions has not yet been adopted. The unit has 13 staff and computer systems enabling it to carry out research. However, it has no powers of investigation and reports on suspicious cases only to Parliament (at the latter's request).
In June 2002, amendments to the law on the prevention of laundering the proceeds from crime were adopted. They include provisions for freezing financial transactions linked to terrorism.
The administrative capacity was strengthened by the setting up of specialist divisions for matters relating to money laundering within the office of the economic police and financial police of the tax service. Training schemes related to this must be continued.

In the field of customs cooperation, interinstitutional cooperation is encouraged by cooperation agreements, but it still needs to be improved. Latvia must pay specific attention to monitoring its training strategy as regards controlled deliveries, searches for drugs, border surveillance, the right of pursuit and joint investigation teams.

Regarding judicial cooperation in civil and criminal matters, the need to reform the court system was acknowledged as a priority by the government, and a series of measures have been taken for the preparation of legislative instruments, the enforcement of judicial decisions, the modernisation of the courts, training for judges and a supplementary budget for 2003. The new Criminal Procedure Act and Courts Act are still in the process of enactment. The entry into force of the Administrative Procedures Act (passed in 2001) has been deferred until February 2004. Thorough reform of the courts administration is to begin in January 2004.

In order to develop international judicial cooperation, a Judicial Cooperation Division was established in the Ministry of Justice in January 2001. Significant progress has been made in the alignment of Latvian legislation with the acquis. Amendments to the code of criminal procedure in the fields of extradition and the transfer of convicted persons came into force in June 2002. Moreover, the Hague Convention of 1980 on civil aspects of international child abduction came into force in February 2002. The 1980 convention on the recognition and enforcement of decisions concerning the custody of children was ratified and came into force in August 2002. A manual on international judicial cooperation as well as a national action plan has been prepared.

Latvia has ratified all legal instruments relating to human rights, which are part of the EU acquis in the field of justice and home affairs.

This summary is for information only and is not designed to interpret or replace the reference document.

 
Last updated: 10.08.2005
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