Czech Republic

   

Quality of Democracy

#25
Key Findings
Despite fair and transparent electoral procedures, the Czech Republic falls into the lower-middle ranks (rank 25) in terms of democracy quality. Its score on this measure has declined by 0.5 points relative to 2014.

A major new campaign-financing reform was proposed but not yet passed. Vote-buying incidents forced several local elections to be repeated. Media organizations are increasingly domestically owned, but this has produced polarized and politically motivated reporting. Public media and Internet publications balance media concentration somewhat.

While civil rights are generally respected, the country’s detention of migrants and refugees has been strongly criticized on human-rights grounds. Public opinion strongly opposes integration of refugees. Discrimination against women and Roma is problematic.

Executive actions are typically predictable, although legal ambiguities sometimes cause controversy. Corruption has been a focus, but coalition disagreements stalled implementation of the administration’s strategy. The courts are generally independent.

Electoral Processes

#27

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. No political party was banned in the period under review.

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
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, the transfer of ownership from foreign to domestic owners facilitated a polarization of the print media landscape. Media mogul Andrej Babiš, the founder and chairman of the ANO party, current minister of finance and vice-chairman of government and media, has accumulated an unprecedented concentration of political and media power. Reporting by MAFRA-held media, which Babiš owns, reflects a strong positive bias in favor of ANO. These biases have been partially compensated for by the growth of high-quality online media, mostly formed by acclaimed journalists not willing to follow the political line of new media owners.

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
8
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 declining number of embassies and consulates. Following the local elections in October 2014, the police investigated allegations of vote-buying in several municipalities, using recorded evidence from hidden cameras which were provided by an alliance of independent anti-corruption groups. In 2015, most of these elections were deemed invalid by the courts and repeated. The repeated elections were carefully monitored by anti-corruption NGOs. Some attempts at vote-buying in particular among the vulnerable minority Roma population were reported.

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
6
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). By November 2015, however, parliament had not delivered the new legislation.

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 period under review, no nationwide public referendums took place. There is no general law on referendums at a national level, although one has been proposed more than 12 times in parliament. On the municipal level, referendums exist and are being increasingly used – in 2014, together with local elections, referendums took place in approximately 20 municipalities (based on law on referendums, 22/2004 Col.). The most frequent issues for referendums have been mining issues, 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 2014, a group of activists in Brno tried to initiate a referendum on a proposed change to the location of the central train station and collected over 20,000 signatures. For procedural and bureaucratic reasons, however, the referendum did not take place and there are current plans to organize the referendum in 2016. Relaxing the limits on open-cast mining could appear a natural issue for local referendums, but there were not enough signatures collected at the regional level to bring this issue to a public vote. This reflected divided opinions among local politicians regarding the relaxation of limits and the consequences this will have on environmental degradation and local job creation.

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. In September 2015, the last foreign owner sold its network of local dailies, Denik (Daily), to the Czech-Slovak company Penta. 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 for political means. Many journalists and NGOs have criticized the ongoing process, and the Ministry of Culture is preparing new regulations of media ownership.

Citations:
European Journalism Observatory http://en.ejo.ch/media-economics/business-models/last-western-media-owner-sells-up-in-czech-republic (last visited 6.11.2015)

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 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 Swiss interests; the latter by German groups. Other important players include Economia (owned by Zdenĕk Bakala) and from Germany, the Diekmann Verlagsgruppe Passau, the Bauer Media Group and Hubert Burda Media. Concentration of ownership is not as evident in television, however. Here the strongest private owners are U.S.-held Central European Media Enterprises (CME) and Czech-owned FTV Prima. Public media and independent Internet publications to some extent counteract the concentration of private media ownership in the hands of domestic business and financial groups.

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 (such as Otevřete, or Open It) 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 quality of online portals for public administration and thus have further improved access to government information.

Civil Rights and Political Liberties

#28

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
6
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. In October 2015, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights strongly criticized the detention of migrants and refugees by the Czech Republic, drawing special attention to the violation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. It described violations as systematic and designed to deter migrants and refugees from entering or staying in the Czech Republic. The Minister of Interior rejected the critique, which had also been voiced by Public Defender Šabatová, as unfounded, but his view has been challenged in many media outlets. The Minister of Justice has strongly criticized the conditions of the detention facility and handling of migrants.

Citations:
Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights http://www.ohchr.org/en/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=16632&LangID=E (last visited 7.11.2015)

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 and civil liberties are respected and their observance is supervised by the Constitutional Court, the Supreme Administrative Court and the Public Defender of Rights (ombudswoman). In association with its accession to the European Union, the Czech Republic strengthened the protection of all legal entities against (illegal) interference by public administrative bodies, including the passing of new administrative rules to improve citizens’ rights vis-à-vis the state. Delays in judicial proceedings constitute one persistent obstacle for Czech citizens.

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. However, the World Economic Forum’s 2014 Global Gender Gap Report put the Czech Republic 96th on the list, at the very bottom of developed countries. Gender discrimination is especially strong in the labor market. 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. Driven by populist political voices and unbalanced media reporting, Czech public opinion is strongly opposed to the integration of refugees. This is paradoxical, as the country previously integrated two waves of migrants without major problems (in particular 8,500 from Bosnia in 1992 and 12,000 from Ukraine and Moldova in 2001).

Rule of Law

#21

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.

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. Upon entering office in March 2015, Minister of Justice Robert Pelikan introduced a new bill on the Public Prosecutor’s Office, the third within the last five years. Welcomed by most NGOs, the new bill aims at strengthening the independence and accountability of prosecutors by involving experts in the selection and recruitment of prosecutors, by replacing appointment for life with a seven-year tenure and by providing for a higher degree of specialization. As the bill has met with resistance even within the governing coalition, its fate is unclear.

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 Zemans 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
5
The fight against corruption has featured prominently in the program of the Sobotka government, which has criticized activities of previous governments as excessively formalistic and ineffective. In December 2014, the government presented an anti-corruption plan for the period 2015-2017. The new strategy features four key points: strengthening the executive’s integrity through the adoption and implementation of the long-discussed civil service law and the preparation of a new law on the public prosecution office; increasing transparency through the electronic collection of laws and legislative materials and an amendment to the law on the central register; a better use of state property through new rules for public procurement, greater transparency of ownership and an expansion of the powers of the Supreme Audit Office; and fostering civil society by providing whistleblowers better protection. However, the Sobotka government’s present action plan has been the fifth anti-corruption strategy since 1999. With the exception of the civil service law, all bills are still under discussion, as there is a lack of political agreement within the governing coalition. There is still no protection planned against the conflicts of interest inherent to a business and media tycoon holding a high government position.

Citations:
Government Anti-Corruption Action Plan 2015. Available online http://www.korupce.cz/assets/protikorupcni-strategie-vlady/na-leta-2015-2017/Akcni-plan-boje-s-korupci-na-rok-2015.pdf (last visited 7.11.2015)
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