Increasingly in recent years, businesses and other organizations have sought to understand the complex nature of the legal relationships between the European Commission, EU member states and the European Parliament, and to engage more effectively with “government,” whether at local, national or European levels.
Some governments across Europe have been stepping up to address this challenge by providing guidance as to how businesses can best engage with public bodies in their own jurisdictions. It is particularly welcome to see the Czech government, towards the end of last year, finalize its new Lobbying Act, which is intended to shed light on the process of legislation and define more clearly the parameters of lobbying and advocacy with government.In the autumn of 2017, the Czech government anti-corruption committee put the finishing touches to its proposal for the Lobbying Act. The proposal is a result of the long-term efforts of the previous government to oust what has been viewed as undesired influence from the legislative process. The anti-corruption committee has designed various ways (some more radical than others) to approach the issue, and, if enacted, the measures could change how lobbying is conducted in the Czech Republic.
The Lobbying Act defines lobbying as “(i) a communication made to influence the legislative process and/or public decision-making, (ii) an activity, which is perpetual, organized and systematic, (iii) done for remuneration and that (iv) is done to represent interests of third parties.” The regulation focuses on lobbying of individuals listed in section 2 of Conflict of Interests Act (e.g., MPs, senators and other public servants).
The planned legislation includes proposals such as mandatory registration of professional lobbyists, the maintenance of a public calendar designed to show who is meeting who at a given time, and amendments to the Conflict of Interest Act, such as increased restrictions regarding gifts and requirements for income disclosure for government officials. The proposed act also plans to provide for incentives that should make registration more appealing, one of them being the permission to access parliamentary premises.
As a law firm with a long history of public policy work, advocacy and legal lobbying in the US and around the globe, we welcome the plans to provide a strong and practical legal framework for lobbying in the Czech Republic. In 2016, we formally launched our European Public Policy Practice, which brings together legal, regulatory and policy experts in our 15 European offices, who, working with our global colleagues, can advise clients on a wide range of public policy issues. Our Prague office has also led the way in the provision of professional public policy services in the region with the appointment in 2014 of senior advisor Petr Kolář. Petr himself views the Czech government’s proposals as a step in the right direction: “Despite a very, very long process,” he says, “we are now finally seeing light at the end of the tunnel. As a professional public policy advisor for many years, from my perspective the proposed act could be seen as a keystone of a modern democracy, laying out and defining how individuals and organizations can interact with the state and shape the laws that affect them.”
It is now up to the new Czech government to turn this proposed act into a functioning and effective piece of legislation. We will closely watch the legislative process in the days to come.