Functions of the Saeima
The main functions of the Parliament of Latvia are:
- legislation – the adoption of laws and legislative amendments;
- parliamentary scrutiny – the supervision of the work of the government;
- the adoption of the state budget;
- the appointment and approval of public officials;
- foreign policy.
Laws are at the top of the hierarchy of legal force, meaning that any other legal acts, such as Cabinet regulations or binding regulations of local governments, must conform with the laws in effect.
The Saeima is the legislature of Latvia, and one of the main functions of the Parliament is the adoption of laws. Lawmaking involves drafting and adopting new laws, as well as amending laws already in effect.
Laws are adopted by a majority vote in plenary sittings of the Saeima. A draft law can only be adopted after it has been considered by the Saeima in three readings. However, in certain cases, for example, upon proposal of the responsible committee or ten MPs, the Saeima may determine a draft law to be urgent and consider it in only two readings.
The Saeima may amend the Constitution (the Satversme) in sittings with at least two thirds of the Members of the Saeima present. The amendments can be passed by a majority vote of not less than two thirds of the Members present. If the Saeima amends the core of the Constitution (its first, second, third, fourth, sixth, or seventy‑seventh Article), such amendments, in order to come into force, must be submitted to a national referendum.
All international agreements that require legislative decision-making are also ratified by the Saeima.
Latvia is a parliamentary republic, and one of the functions of the Saeima is parliamentary scrutiny, or the supervision of the work of the government. The Cabinet of Ministers (the government) is the leader of the executive branch. The government as a whole and each minister individually are politically accountable to the Saeima.
Once a year, the Prime Minister reports on the government’s performance and planned activities at a plenary sitting. The Saeima also hosts an annual foreign policy debate.
The work of the Saeima committees
The Saeima carries out parliamentary scrutiny of the executive branch in numerous ways, including through the work of its committees. The committees scrutinise the work of the government, request information about topical issues from ministers and institutions subordinated to or supervised by the ministries, and provide recommendations for streamlining the work of the executive branch. The committees have the right to request explanations from officials of the executive branch directly.
Parliamentary inquiries and questions
Parliamentary inquiries are among the tools of parliamentary scrutiny. If Members of the Saeima are dissatisfied with the work of a particular sector, they may submit an inquiry to the government. If the Saeima supports the inquiry, it may decide, in the context of the inquiry, to hold a vote of confidence in the relevant minister or the entire Cabinet.
Additionally, Members of the Saeima may submit questions to the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, and the Governor of the Bank of Latvia regarding matters within the scope of competence of these officials. Answers may be submitted in writing or provided in person at the relevant sitting of the Saeima.
Parliamentary investigative committees
The Saeima may form a parliamentary investigative committee for investigating and collecting information regarding the actions of government institutions. The Saeima must appoint a parliamentary investigative committee if at least one third of MPs request it.
Parliamentary investigative committees have the right to request the necessary information and explanations from ministers, institutions subordinated to the ministries, municipalities, and other public authorities. Parliamentary inquiry committees may request an audit of state and municipal institutions, private agencies, and capital companies, as well as other types of companies (commercial companies), public organisations, and individuals, if they have state or municipal resources at their disposal.
The adoption of the state budget
Each year, the Saeima decides on the annual state budget for the following year and the medium‑term budget framework for the next three years. The state budget is a plan of revenues and expenditures of the state for a period of one year. The government submits the draft state budget to the Saeima, where it is considered in two readings. Consideration of the draft state budget and related draft laws usually results in the lengthiest debates at plenary sittings.
A vote on the state budget is actually a vote of confidence in the government. If the annual draft budget submitted by the Cabinet is rejected by the Saeima at the first or second reading, it is regarded as a vote of no confidence in the Cabinet. In that case, the Cabinet of Ministers must resign, continuing to fulfil their duties until a new government is formed.
After the end of the fiscal year, the Cabinet of Ministers submits an overview of the state budget implementation to the Saeima for approval.
The appointment and approval of public officials
The Saeima is responsible for electing, approving and appointing high‑ranking public officials, as well as accepting their resignation or dismissing them. These public officials include the President of Latvia, members of the Presidium of the Saeima, the Auditor General, the Ombudsman, the Governor of the Bank of Latvia, the President of the Constitutional Court, and the Prosecutor General. All officials are elected, approved, or appointed in an open ballot, meaning that information about the vote of each individual MP is available to the public.
Furthermore, the government may only commence its duties after it has received the Saeima’s vote of confidence. The President of Latvia nominates the Prime Minister who is tasked with the formation of the Cabinet, and the Saeima takes a vote of confidence in the new government after the nominated Prime Minister has presented the government’s platform to the Saeima.
The Saeima is one of the branches of power engaged in the development of Latvia’s foreign policy. The Foreign Affairs Committee and the European Affairs Committee of the Saeima are responsible for matters pertaining to foreign policy.
In addition, it is the task of the Foreign Affairs Committee to consider legal acts related to foreign affairs. The Committee coordinates Latvia’s foreign policy positions and proposals for the development of relations with other countries. The Committee is responsible for considering international treaties and Latvia’s accession to international conventions. The Foreign Affairs Committee also evaluates candidates for the ambassadors of Latvia and provides an opinion of a recommendatory nature to the President, who appoints ambassadors.
The European Affairs Committee decides on the national positions elaborated by the government regarding the European Union. In addition, the Committee cooperates with the European Parliament and the European Commission, representing the interests of the Saeima. The European Affairs Committee holds meetings with Latvia’s representatives elected to the European Parliament.
The visits of public officials are also used as a foreign policy instrument. To strengthen bilateral relations with other countries, members of foreign parliaments are invited to visit the Saeima; likewise, Members of the Saeima visit parliaments abroad. Meetings of foreign ambassadors to Latvia and officials and Members of the Saeima are also held.
Members of the Saeima are elected to delegations to international parliamentary organisations. There are also Saeima groups for promoting cooperation with parliaments of other countries, serving as platforms for promoting bilateral cooperation with other countries.