Czech Republic

   

Quality of Democracy

#19
Key Findings
Despite fair and transparent electoral procedures, the Czech Republic falls into the middle ranks (rank 19) in terms of democracy quality. Its score on this measure has declined by 0.2 points relative to 2014.

A major new reform has significantly strengthened campaign-financing regulations, although some key issues remain unaddressed. The minister of finance is a major media-company owner, and has used his holdings to strengthen his political power. This helped spur a new law barring media owners from holding first-chamber parliamentary mandates.

Civil rights are generally respected. Police forces are occasionally criticized for protest policies. Discrimination against women and Roma is problematic, and Muslims are increasingly subject to hate speech and discriminatory treatment.

Executive actions are typically predictable, although legal ambiguities sometimes cause controversy. The president has repeatedly shown disrespect for the law. The courts are generally independent. Corruption remains widespread, but little has been done to address the issue effectively.

Electoral Processes

#20

How fair are procedures for registering candidates and parties?

10
 9

Legal regulations provide for a fair registration procedure for all elections; candidates and parties are not discriminated against.
 8
 7
 6


A few restrictions on election procedures discriminate against a small number of candidates and parties.
 5
 4
 3


Some unreasonable restrictions on election procedures exist that discriminate against many candidates and parties.
 2
 1

Discriminating registration procedures for elections are widespread and prevent a large number of potential candidates or parties from participating.
Candidacy Procedures
10
Electoral registration procedures are fair and transparent. To establish a political party, three citizens aged 18 or over need to submit the new party’s statutes to authorities, backed by 1,000 signatures. The 1991 law on political parties and movements establishes conditions to exclude parties that lack democratically elected organs, that break the law, that aim to remove the democratic foundations of the state or take power for itself, that restrict the freedoms of other parties, or that threaten morality and public order. Calls to ban the Communist party have not faded, but no legal steps have been taken and there is no consensus that such steps are necessary. As of November 2016, there were 215 active political parties and political movements.

To what extent do candidates and parties have fair access to the media and other means of communication?

10
 9

All candidates and parties have equal opportunities of access to the media and other means of communication. All major media outlets provide a fair and balanced coverage of the range of different political positions.
 8
 7
 6


Candidates and parties have largely equal opportunities of access to the media and other means of communication. The major media outlets provide a fair and balanced coverage of different political positions.
 5
 4
 3


Candidates and parties often do not have equal opportunities of access to the media and other means of communication. While the major media outlets represent a partisan political bias, the media system as a whole provides fair coverage of different political positions.
 2
 1

Candidates and parties lack equal opportunities of access to the media and other means of communications. The major media outlets are biased in favor of certain political groups or views and discriminate against others.
Media Access
6
The electoral law guarantees parties access to state radio and television, with a total of 14 hours set aside for all parties to express their views with equal allocation irrespective of the party’s size or previous electoral performance. Thus, all parties do have access to the public media, although presentations are often tedious and unlikely to hold viewers’ and listeners’ attentions. Space is also provided by municipalities for billboards, and political advertisements are carried in newspapers. There is an obvious bias toward more coverage and presentation for the larger parties, however, reflecting the parties’ greater resources and also media perception that such parties are more important. Moreover, MAFRA, the media holding owned by Andrej Babiš, founder of ANO and Minister of Finance, have been criticized for their political bias. In summer 2016, leaders of five major political parties for that reason refused to participate in a debate organized by an online branch of the main weekly MF Today, part of MAFRA. Concerns about uneven media access led to the passage of a law deeming media ownership (defined as printed media, radio or television) as incompatible with governmental position in the Chamber of Deputies, the first chamber of parliament, in September 2016 (“Lex Babiš”).

To what extent do all citizens have the opportunity to exercise their right of participation in national elections?

10
 9

All adult citizens can participate in national elections. All eligible voters are registered if they wish to be. There are no discriminations observable in the exercise of the right to vote. There are no disincentives to voting.
 8
 7
 6


The procedures for the registration of voters and voting are for the most part effective, impartial and nondiscriminatory. Citizens can appeal to courts if they feel being discriminated. Disincentives to voting generally do not constitute genuine obstacles.
 5
 4
 3


While the procedures for the registration of voters and voting are de jure non-discriminatory, isolated cases of discrimination occur in practice. For some citizens, disincentives to voting constitute significant obstacles.
 2
 1

The procedures for the registration of voters or voting have systemic discriminatory effects. De facto, a substantial number of adult citizens are excluded from national elections.
Voting and Registration Rights
9
All adult citizens, including convicted prisoners, can participate in national elections, and voter registration is relatively straightforward. However, while special provisions for a mobile ballot box facilitate voting for the disabled and seriously ill, there is no general ability to vote by mail. Czech citizens residing abroad can vote at Czech embassies and consulates. For them, participation in elections is complicated by a special deadline for registration and the limited number of embassies and consulates. Unlike in previous elections, no cases of vote-buying were reported in the 2016 regional and Senate elections.

To what extent is private and public party financing and electoral campaign financing transparent, effectively monitored and in case of infringement of rules subject to proportionate and dissuasive sanction?

10
 9

The state enforces that donations to political parties are made public and provides for independent monitoring to that respect. Effective measures to prevent evasion are effectively in place and infringements subject to effective, proportionate and dissuasive sanctions.
 8
 7
 6


The state enforces that donations to political parties are made public and provides for independent monitoring. Although infringements are subject to proportionate sanctions, some, although few, loopholes and options for circumvention still exist.
 5
 4
 3


The state provides that donations to political parties shall be published. Party financing is subject to some degree of independent monitoring but monitoring either proves regularly ineffective or proportionate sanctions in case of infringement do not follow.
 2
 1

The rules for party and campaign financing do not effectively enforce the obligation to make the donations public. Party and campaign financing is neither monitored independently nor, in case of infringements, subject to proportionate sanctions.
Party Financing
7
The rules for party and campaign financing and their enforcement have been a major political issue for some time. In April 2015, the Ministry of Interior eventually submitted an amendment to the law on political parties to parliament. The proposal was based on the Group of States against Corruption of the Council of Europe (GRECO) recommendations to the Czech Republic issued in 2011. The suggested changes included an overhaul of the structure of the parties’ annual reports, the introduction of a new threshold for donations to political parties set at CZK 2 million (€75,000) per year, establishing a new and independent regulatory body shifting the task of monitoring party and campaign financing away from parliament, and the creation of new political foundations (modeled loosely on the structure, functioning and funding of German party foundations). The amendment was adopted by the Chamber of Deputies in June 2016, by the Senate in August 2016 and subsequently signed by the president. It will come to force in January 2017. The coalition of anti-corruption NGOs, Reconstruction of State, was a major proponent of the law, and significantly contributed to the law’s adoption by convincing MPs and Senators to support the reform, and monitoring their behavior. Several issues remain, undermining the efficiency of the reform, including some unjustified exceptions for financial operations, lack of control for companies and organizations connected to political parties, lack of attention to functioning of political think tanks, and small-scale sanctions.

Do citizens have the opportunity to take binding political decisions when they want to do so?

10
 9

Citizens have the effective opportunity to actively propose and take binding decisions on issues of importance to them through popular initiatives and referendums. The set of eligible issues is extensive, and includes national, regional, and local issues.
 8
 7
 6


Citizens have the effective opportunity to take binding decisions on issues of importance to them through either popular initiatives or referendums. The set of eligible issues covers at least two levels of government.
 5
 4
 3


Citizens have the effective opportunity to vote on issues of importance to them through a legally binding measure. The set of eligible issues is limited to one level of government.
 2
 1

Citizens have no effective opportunity to vote on issues of importance to them through a legally binding measure.
Popular Decision-Making
5
In the Czech Republic, there is no legal framework for referendums at the national level. On the municipal and regional level, referendums exist and are held on issues such as mining, the construction of nuclear fuel/waste plants, stricter regulations on lotteries and gaming, and the use of public space and municipal property. Initially, a minimum participation of at least 25% of registered voters was stipulated (298/1992 Col.), which was later increased to 50% (22/2004 Col.) and finally was settled at 35% of registered voters (169/2008 Col.) being required to ensure the validity of a referendum. In the period under review, no regional referendum took place. However, ten local referendums were held together with the regional elections in October 2016. The most prominent of referendum took place in Brno, the second largest Czech city. A broad majority of voters rejected the planned change to the location of the central train station and supported the search for a new architectonical solution. However, as only 23.83% of eligible voters (73,156 from 306,981) participated, the results of the referendum have not been binding.

Access to Information

#13

To what extent are the media independent from government?

10
 9

Public and private media are independent from government influence; their independence is institutionally protected and fully respected by the incumbent government.
 8
 7
 6


The incumbent government largely respects the independence of media. However, there are occasional attempts to exert influence.
 5
 4
 3


The incumbent government seeks to ensure its political objectives indirectly by influencing the personnel policies, organizational framework or financial resources of public media, and/or the licensing regime/ market access for private media.
 2
 1

Major media outlets are frequently influenced by the incumbent government promoting its partisan political objectives. To ensure pro-government media reporting, governmental actors exert direct political pressure and violate existing rules of media regulation or change them to benefit their interests.
Media Freedom
7
The Czech Republic has traditionally been characterized by a high degree of media freedom, partly because of the independence of public media but also because prevalent foreign ownership did not exercise any visible influence over the content and coverage of private media. In recent years, media freedom has been threatened by ownership transfers from foreign to Czech owners. The main concerns are found in print media, as the motivations of new domestic media owners are at best ambivalent – they seem to be driven both by economic and political interests. The main player on the Czech media market, the owner of MAFRA and Radio Impulse, Minister of Finance Andrej Babiš has clearly used his media power to strengthen his political power. President Zeman has not hidden his contempt for journalists. When FTV Prima pulled a popular show for criticizing President Zeman in October 2016, journalists complained about censorship. After a public protest, FTV Prima broadcasted the pulled program.

Citations:
Hajek, R. (2015): Last Western Media Owner Sells Up In Czech Republic. September 10. European Journalism Observatory, Lugano (http://en.ejo.ch/media-economics/business-models/last-western-media-owner-sells-up-in-czech-republic).

To what extent are the media characterized by an ownership structure that ensures a pluralism of opinions?

10
 9

Diversified ownership structures characterize both the electronic and print media market, providing a well-balanced pluralism of opinions. Effective anti-monopoly policies and impartial, open public media guarantee a pluralism of opinions.
 8
 7
 6


Diversified ownership structures prevail in the electronic and print media market. Public media compensate for deficiencies or biases in private media reporting by representing a wider range of opinions.
 5
 4
 3


Oligopolistic ownership structures characterize either the electronic or the print media market. Important opinions are represented but there are no or only weak institutional guarantees against the predominance of certain opinions.
 2
 1

Oligopolistic ownership structures characterize both the electronic and the print media market. Few companies dominate the media, most programs are biased, and there is evidence that certain opinions are not published or are marginalized.
Media Pluralism
7
The private media market in the Czech Republic has changed significantly in recent years. The most important tendencies are the concentration of media ownership, the departure of several international owners and the broadening of the scope of media holdings (print, online, radio and television). Measured by print circulation, the strongest media group in the Czech Republic during the period was the Czech News Center (owned by entrepreneurs Daniel Křetínský and Patrik Tkáč) followed by MAFRA (owned by Andrej Babiš). The former was initially owned by a Swiss group and the latter by German groups. The concentration of ownership is not as evident in the TV sector. Here the strongest private owners are the U.S. owned Central European Media Enterprises (CME) and Czech-owned FTV Prima. In the period under review, no major changes in media ownership took place.

Citations:
Cichowlas, O., A. Foxall (2015): Now the Czechs have an oligarch problem, too, in: Foreign Policy.com (http://foreignpolicy.com/2015/04/10/now-the-czechs-have-an-oligarch-problem-too-andrej-babis/).

To what extent can citizens obtain official information?

10
 9

Legal regulations guarantee free and easy access to official information, contain few, reasonable restrictions, and there are effective mechanisms of appeal and oversight enabling citizens to access information.
 8
 7
 6


Access to official information is regulated by law. Most restrictions are justified, but access is sometimes complicated by bureaucratic procedures. Existing appeal and oversight mechanisms permit citizens to enforce their right of access.
 5
 4
 3


Access to official information is partially regulated by law, but complicated by bureaucratic procedures and some poorly justified restrictions. Existing appeal and oversight mechanisms are often ineffective.
 2
 1

Access to official information is not regulated by law; there are many restrictions of access, bureaucratic procedures and no or ineffective mechanisms of enforcement.
Access to Government Information
8
The Czech constitution and the 1999 Law on Free Access to Information, substantially amended in 2006, provide for extensive access to government information. Public bodies have gradually learned what can and cannot be kept secret. There are still difficulties with regard to access within many municipalities, but municipalities can also be taken to court if officials refuse to respond to requests for information. Some smaller municipalities have faced stiff financial penalties following a failure to disclose information as requested. As a result, the actions of municipalities are becoming more transparent, through streaming municipal board meetings online and allowing citizens to participate in municipal activities in other interactive ways. An increasing number of NGO initiatives support better access to public administration information and the public’s right to accessing it. These initiatives, together with the pro-active approach of the ombudsman’s office, have contributed to an improvement in the quality of online portals for public administration and thus have further improved access to government information.

Civil Rights and Political Liberties

#20

To what extent does the state respect and protect civil rights and how effectively are citizens protected by courts against infringements of their rights?

10
 9

All state institutions respect and effectively protect civil rights. Citizens are effectively protected by courts against infringements of their rights. Infringements present an extreme exception.
 8
 7
 6


The state respects and protects rights, with few infringements. Courts provide protection.
 5
 4
 3


Despite formal protection, frequent infringements of civil rights occur and court protection often proves ineffective.
 2
 1

State institutions respect civil rights only formally, and civil rights are frequently violated. Court protection is not effective.
Civil Rights
7
The government and administration of the Czech Republic respect and protect its citizens’ basic civil rights. As complaints lodged with the European Court of Human Rights and the Office of the Public Defender of Rights (ombudsman) have indicated, the main problem is the length of legal proceedings. The relatively high number of complaints compared to other East-Central European countries shows that Czech citizens are increasingly aware of their civil rights and have the resources (financial, cultural and social) to pursue these rights. Most (and a growing number of) complaints address issues of public administration. During the period under review, the Constitutional Court defended civil rights by setting limits for undercover operations by the police, restricting sanctions against parents who refused to have their children vaccinated and declaring the repeated police custody for the members of a leftist group accused of preparing a terrorist attack unconstitutional .

To what extent does the state concede and protect political liberties?

10
 9

All state institutions concede and effectively protect political liberties.
 8
 7
 6


All state institutions for the most part concede and protect political liberties. There are only few infringements.
 5
 4
 3


State institutions concede political liberties but infringements occur regularly in practice.
 2
 1

Political liberties are unsatisfactory codified and frequently violated.
Political Liberties
9
Political liberties are respected by state institutions and their observance is supervised by the courts. In the case of the visit of the Chinese president, Xi Jingping, to Prague in March 2016, the police were criticized for not sufficiently protecting human rights activists against pro-China protesters and for preventing a previously approved demonstration by human rights activists in the city center. Civil society is vibrant, but has suffered from a reduction in EU funding.

How effectively does the state protect against different forms of discrimination?

10
 9

State institutions effectively protect against and actively prevent discrimination. Cases of discrimination are extremely rare.
 8
 7
 6


State anti-discrimination protections are moderately successful. Few cases of discrimination are observed.
 5
 4
 3


State anti-discrimination efforts show limited success. Many cases of discrimination can be observed.
 2
 1

The state does not offer effective protection against discrimination. Discrimination is widespread in the public sector and in society.
Non-discrimination
6
The Czech legal system guarantees equality of access to work, education and social services before the law. The implementation of EU directives has underpinned such guarantees. Compared to other developed countries, however, gender discrimination is still relatively strong, especially in the labor market. The World Economic Forum’s 2016 Global Gender Gap Report ranked the Czech Republic 77 out of 144 countries due primarily to challenges facing women in the areas of economic participation and political empowerment. Another major issue is discrimination against Roma. The ratio of Roma pupils in so-called special schools that service individuals with learning disabilities is about 30%, that is, significantly higher than the actual proportion of Roma living in the Czech Republic. Such tracking means that many Roma children have a poor chance of moving on to higher education and better work opportunities. As low-income Roma families have moved out of cities into rural areas in response to rising housing prices, territorial segregation has increased. Since 2015, the discrimination of Muslims has increased. Driven by populist political voices and unbalanced media reporting, they have been confronted with hate speech, and there have been controversies over issues such as whether schools should allow the hijab. In November 2016, a Prague court began hearing a case into whether it is within the powers of a local nursing school to ban two students from wearing the hijab. The Czech Ombudswoman, Anna Šabotová, argued that the school acted in a discriminatory fashion.

Citations:
World Economic Forum (2016): The Global Gender Gap Report 2016. Geneva (http://www3.weforum.org/docs/GGGR16/WEF_Global_Gender_Gap_Report_2016.pdf).

Rule of Law

#18

To what extent do government and administration act on the basis of and in accordance with legal provisions to provide legal certainty?

10
 9

Government and administration act predictably, on the basis of and in accordance with legal provisions. Legal regulations are consistent and transparent, ensuring legal certainty.
 8
 7
 6


Government and administration rarely make unpredictable decisions. Legal regulations are consistent, but leave a large scope of discretion to the government or administration.
 5
 4
 3


Government and administration sometimes make unpredictable decisions that go beyond given legal bases or do not conform to existing legal regulations. Some legal regulations are inconsistent and contradictory.
 2
 1

Government and administration often make unpredictable decisions that lack a legal basis or ignore existing legal regulations. Legal regulations are inconsistent, full of loopholes and contradict each other.
Legal Certainty
8
Executive actions are generally predictable and undertaken in accordance with the law. Problems arise because of the incompleteness or ambiguity of some laws with general declarations, notably the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms, requiring backing from detailed specific laws. However, points are gradually being clarified as case law builds up, with regard to the freedom of information and general discrimination. Government bodies then learn to comply with established practices. President Zeman has continued to show a disrespect for the law. Ordered to pay a fine and apologize to the granddaughter of the Czech journalist and writer Ferdinand Peroutka in a high-profile libel case in 2016, Zeman has not stopped his slander.

To what extent do independent courts control whether government and administration act in conformity with the law?

10
 9

Independent courts effectively review executive action and ensure that the government and administration act in conformity with the law.
 8
 7
 6


Independent courts usually manage to control whether the government and administration act in conformity with the law.
 5
 4
 3


Courts are independent, but often fail to ensure legal compliance.
 2
 1

Courts are biased for or against the incumbent government and lack effective control.
Judicial Review
8
Czech courts have generally operated independently of the executive branch of government. The most active control on executive actions is the Constitutional Court, a body that has triggered much controversy with its judgments across the political spectrum. In the period under review, the Constitutional Court set limits for undercover operations by the police, restricted sanctions against parents who refused to have their children vaccinated and declared the repeated police custody for the members of a leftist group accused of preparing a terrorist attack unconstitutional. In August 2016, the Constitutional Court also reversed part of a Supreme Court ruling that would have led to retrospective wage increases for judges.

In January 2016, Minister of Justice Robert Pelikan presented his much-awaited plans for a reform of the judiciary along German lines. As his proposals remained vague and met resistance from all major figures within the judiciary, the reform was postponed indefinitely. Another issue in the period under review has been the slow generational change within the Czech judiciary. In November 2016, the Union of Judges announced its intention to challenge re-nominations of chairpersons and vice-chairpersons of courts of every level, including the Constitutional Court.

To what extent does the process of appointing (supreme or constitutional court) justices guarantee the independence of the judiciary?

10
 9

Justices are appointed in a cooperative appointment process with special majority requirements.
 8
 7
 6


Justices are exclusively appointed by different bodies with special majority requirements or in a cooperative selection process without special majority requirements.
 5
 4
 3


Justices are exclusively appointed by different bodies without special majority requirements.
 2
 1

All judges are appointed exclusively by a single body irrespective of other institutions.
Appointment of Justices
8
The justices of the Constitutional Court, the Supreme Court, and the Supreme Administrative Court are appointed by the Senate, the second chamber of the Czech parliament, on the basis of proposals made by the president. Within the Senate, no special majority requirement applies. The process of appointing judges is transparent and adequately covered by public media. The involvement of both the president and the Senate increases the likelihood of balance in judges’ political views and other characteristics. President Zeman’s proposals have continued to be uncontroversial.

To what extent are public officeholders prevented from abusing their position for private interests?

10
 9

Legal, political and public integrity mechanisms effectively prevent public officeholders from abusing their positions.
 8
 7
 6


Most integrity mechanisms function effectively and provide disincentives for public officeholders willing to abuse their positions.
 5
 4
 3


Some integrity mechanisms function, but do not effectively prevent public officeholders from abusing their positions.
 2
 1

Public officeholders can exploit their offices for private gain as they see fit without fear of legal consequences or adverse publicity.
Corruption Prevention
6
In the Czech Republic, corruption has remained widespread. Subsequent governments have emphasized their commitment to fight corruption, but have done little to effectively address the issue. Two major changes were adopted in 2016, the amendment to the law on party finance and the amendment to the law on conflict of interest, the so-called Lex Babiš in September 2016. In addition to making media ownership and governmental positions incompatible, the latter law prevents companies in which members of government hold more than 25% of shares from participating in public procurement processes and from receiving public subsidies. The adoption of this law, which was supported by all parliamentary parties excluding Babiš’s ANO, followed allegations that companies owned by Babiš’s holding Agrofert, the largest beneficiary of EU funding and state subsidies in the Czech Republic, had misused subsidies. At the same time, however, the controversial merger of organized crime and anticorruption police units announced in June 2016 has raised some doubts about the government’s commitment to fight corruption.
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