Matt Atlas

Government Debates Stricter Regulations For Lobbyists


The Czech government has taken steps, once again, to try and regulate lobbying. The country is among a handful in Europe that have no specific rules governing  lobbyists conduct and how elected politicians or civil servants, are allowed to interact with them.


In the Czech Republic, lobbyists aren’t held in the highest regard. Thanks to the activities of some shadowy figures who have had close access to power in the recent past. Among these characters, the former Miroslav Slouf, the former eminence grise of Milos Zeman; Marek Dalik, who performed the same role for former prime minister Mirek Topolanek, or more recently the lawyer Radek Pokorny, reckoned to be one of the most influential figures close to recent prime minister Bohuslav Sobotka. Marek Dalik is now serving a prison sentence for soliciting bribes in connection with the awarding of an armoured vehicle contract for the Czech army.


While such shadowy figures are generally described in journalistic shorthand as lobbyists, official lobbyists or public affairs specialists would beg to disagree. Unlike the notorious behind the scenes movers and shakers, official lobbyists say they are up front about who they represent and what they are seeking. The Czech Association of Public Affairs agencies groups six of the biggest lobbying companies on the local market including the local branches of some international big names, such as Grayling and Fleishman Hillard.


They abide by a code of conduct, which includes bans on employing or hiring the services of ministers, top civil servants, or members of parliament and not to pay bribes or provide other fees or gifts to promote their clients’ interests. Vaclav Nekvapil, chairman of the association and main speakers at a seminar held in the Czech parliament earlier this month aimed at working out new rules on lobbying.


Previous attempts failed because the government collapsed or there was simply not enough impetus to push through a measure which while mainly focusing on the lobbyists would also affect those dealing with, politicians and civil servants. Vaclav Nekvapil says the scope and ambition of the current push for lobbying legislation is still largely unclear.


But the head of the Czech association of public affairs agencies is adamant that those who see regulating lobbyists as a shortcut to dealing with corruption and misuse of influence are mistaken. Although there are no specific Czech rules now on lobbying, the best that can be delivered is more clarity and transparency for those working above board.


Czech politicians are inspired to regulate lobbying by Brussels and the joint register of lobbyists created in 2011 by the European Commission and European Parliament. The basic rule of the register is that lobbyists have to be written in the register and declare basic facts about who they are and who they represent to get access to the people in the Commission and parliament.


Currently some Czech members of the European Parliament list who they meet with and what they discuss on their personal websites. This is done voluntarily and there’s no way to check on if they are declaring everyone and everything. But many Czech politicians have in the past said that making such declarations voluntarily is one matter, being forced to make them under some new rules is a very different thing.


Source: Radio Praha