Czechia

   

Executive Accountability

#14
Key Findings
Despite its highly polarized media and political environments, Czechia falls into the upper-middle ranks (rank 14) with regard to executive accountability. Its score on this measure has gained 0.4 points relative to its 2014 level.

The current government is led by the owner of a media group that dominates the print media, but a surge in online and independent media skeptical of the government has created considerable high-quality content, and has rejuvenated public support for media organizations. However, this political polarization has deepened societal divisions.

Parliamentarians have considerable resources and strong formal oversight powers. The independent audit office closely scrutinizes the use of EU and other funds, as well as the operations of state entities. The ombuds office is a critical defender of civil rights. The functions of the relatively small data-protection office have been expanded with the country’s implementation of the GDPR.

Decision-making in the prime minister’s party is highly centralized, but other parties consult members more routinely. Economic interest groups have considerable resources and policy expertise. The broader civil-society sector is vibrant, with groups showing varying degrees of sophistication.

Citizens’ Participatory Competence

#24

To what extent are citizens informed of public policies?

10
 9

Most citizens are well-informed of a broad range of public policies.
 8
 7
 6


Many citizens are well-informed of individual public policies.
 5
 4
 3


Few citizens are well-informed of public policies; most citizens have only a rudimental knowledge of public policies.
 2
 1

Most citizens are not aware of public policies.
Political Knowledge
6
With the increasing accessibility of online information, information on government policies is increasingly available to all Czech citizens. The growing diversity of the media landscape, as well as the Pirate Party’s success in the 2017 elections, has increased pressure for transparency and enhanced citizens’ ability to come to informed decisions. However, media sources are themselves polarized between those presenting simplistic views and/or broad support for Prime Minister Babiš and those providing a more balanced approach or even demonstrating open opposition to Babiš. The political polarization reflected in the media landscape has deepened societal divisions. Furthermore, Babiš’s populist rhetoric tends to obfuscate the motives, effects and implications of policies. According to surveys, about 50% of the Czech population has a general interest in politics, a figure that has remained more or less stable over the last 10 years. However, citizens show distinctly more interest in domestic political affairs (58% of respondents) than in world political affairs (41%) or in the EU (38%).

Does the government publish data and information in a way that strengthens citizens’ capacity to hold the government accountable?

10
 9

The government publishes data and information in a comprehensive, timely and user-friendly way.
 8
 7
 6


The government most of the time publishes data and information in a comprehensive, timely and user-friendly way.
 5
 4
 3


The government publishes data in a limited and not timely or user-friendly way.
 2
 1

The government publishes (almost) no relevant data.
Open Government
7
The 2016 amendment to the Access to Information Act defined the term “open data” and led to the creation of a National Open Data Catalogue (Národní katalog otevřených dat, NKOD) and a central open data portal (https://opendata.gov.cz). Access to government information became a significant issue in the 2017 parliamentary elections and the 2018 municipal elections, largely thanks to the Pirate Party. Due to this effect, coming on top of long-standing pressure by NGOs, information provision has improved. While more information is thus made available to citizens than has been the case in the past, it is not always provided in a user-friendly fashion, and citizens seeking information are often forced to jump through numerous administrative loops.

Legislative Actors’ Resources

#2

Do members of parliament have adequate personnel and structural resources to monitor government activity effectively?

10
 9

The members of parliament as a group can draw on a set of resources suited for monitoring all government activity effectively.
 8
 7
 6


The members of parliament as a group can draw on a set of resources suited for monitoring a government’s major activities.
 5
 4
 3


The members of parliament as a group can draw on a set of resources suited for selectively monitoring some government activities.
 2
 1

The resources provided to the members of parliament are not suited for any effective monitoring of the government.
Parliamentary Resources
9
In Czechia, members of parliament can draw on a set of resources for monitoring government activity. In addition to their basic salary, members of parliament receive additional pay for their membership in parliamentary committees, commissions and other duties. They also have a budget for assistance and expertise. Parliamentary committees have an office staff of two to three persons and a secretary, and both a parliamentary library and a Parliamentary Institute are available to members. The latter serves as a research center providing information and training for members of both chambers. The research is provided on demand (to deputies and senators) and the institute also publishes regular reports on subjects of interest to the body.

Are parliamentary committees able to ask for government documents?

10
 9

Parliamentary committees may ask for most or all government documents; they are normally delivered in full and within an appropriate time frame.
 8
 7
 6


The rights of parliamentary committees to ask for government documents are slightly limited; some important documents are not delivered or are delivered incomplete or arrive too late to enable the committee to react appropriately.
 5
 4
 3


The rights of parliamentary committees to ask for government documents are considerably limited; most important documents are not delivered or delivered incomplete or arrive too late to enable the committee to react appropriately.
 2
 1

Parliamentary committees may not request government documents.
Obtaining Documents
10
As specified in the rules of procedure of the Chamber of Deputies, Czech parliamentary committees may ask for almost all government documents. Governments usually respect committee requests and tend to deliver the documents on time.

Are parliamentary committees able to summon ministers for hearings?

10
 9

Parliamentary committees may summon ministers. Ministers regularly follow invitations and are obliged to answer questions.
 8
 7
 6


The rights of parliamentary committees to summon ministers are slightly limited; ministers occasionally refuse to follow invitations or to answer questions.
 5
 4
 3


The rights of parliamentary committees to summon ministers are considerably limited; ministers frequently refuse to follow invitations or to answer questions.
 2
 1

Parliamentary committees may not summon ministers.
Summoning Ministers
10
Ministers and the top personnel of major state institutions are obliged to attend committee meetings and answer questions when asked. According to the rules, ministers are also required to present draft bills to appropriate committees. If the ministers send officials below the rank of deputy minister, committees may, and often do, refuse to discuss a legislative proposal. If the Chamber of Deputies believes that there has been serious misconduct and a minister’s explanation is regarded as insufficient, it may establish a parliamentary inquiry committee.

Are parliamentary committees able to summon experts for committee meetings?

10
 9

Parliamentary committees may summon experts.
 8
 7
 6


The rights of parliamentary committees to summon experts are slightly limited.
 5
 4
 3


The rights of parliamentary committees to summon experts are considerably limited.
 2
 1

Parliamentary committees may not summon experts.
Summoning Experts
10
In Czechia, parliamentary committees and subcommittees may summon experts, and often do so.

Are the task areas and structures of parliamentary committees suited to monitor ministries effectively?

10
 9

The match between the task areas of parliamentary committees and ministries as well as other relevant committee structures are well-suited to the effective monitoring of ministries.
 8
 7
 6


The match/mismatch between the task areas of parliamentary committees and ministries as well as other relevant committee structures are largely suited to the monitoring ministries.
 5
 4
 3


The match/mismatch between the task areas of parliamentary committees and ministries as well as other relevant committee structures are partially suited to the monitoring of ministries.
 2
 1

The match/mismatch between the task areas of parliamentary committees and ministries as well as other relevant committee structures are not at all suited to the monitoring of ministries.
Task Area Congruence
9
The parliamentary rules of procedure do not prescribe a particular distribution of subject areas among committees. Instead, distribution is based on custom, tradition and ad hoc decisions by the Chamber of Deputies and its organizing committee. In the current term, there are 14 ministries and 18 parliamentary committees. Fourteen of the 18 parliamentary committees “shadow” governmental ministries. Four additional committees fulfill specific parliamentary roles (organization, mandate and immunity, petitions, control and European affairs). However, there is not an exact match between the task areas of parliamentary committees and ministries. The Economic Committee covers the agendas of two ministries, the Ministry of Industry and Trade and the Ministry of Transportation. The Committee for European Affairs is dedicated to EU affairs and to the oversight of EU legislation, part of the agenda of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and of the Legislative Council, and cooperates with the European Parliament and the parliaments of other EU member states. The fact that there is not an exact match between the portfolio of ministries and parliamentary committees has not infringed on parliamentary oversight. If necessary, parliamentary committees (with the exception of the Mandate and Immunity Committee and the Electoral Committee) may establish an unlimited number of subcommittees. In the period under review, there were 60 subcommittees in the Chamber of Deputies. The number of subcommittees per committee varied from one to seven; the average number was 3.75.

Media

#14

To what extent do media in your country analyze the rationale and impact of public policies?

10
 9

A clear majority of mass media brands focus on high-quality information content analyzing the rationale and impact of public policies.
 8
 7
 6


About one-half of the mass media brands focus on high-quality information content analyzing the rationale and impact of public policies. The rest produces a mix of infotainment and quality information content.
 5
 4
 3


A clear minority of mass media brands focuses on high-quality information content analyzing public policies. Several mass media brands produce superficial infotainment content only.
 2
 1

All mass media brands are dominated by superficial infotainment content.
Media Reporting
6
The main TV and radio stations provide daily news programs and some more in-depth discussion and analysis programs on a weekly basis. However, much of the commentary is superficial, and debates are usually structured to represent the views of the main political parties. The quality of information on government decisions has improved with the digitalization process. Czech TV established CT24, a channel dedicated to news, which also broadcasts online and offers a continual analysis of domestic and international events.

In the second and third quarters of 2019, approximately 46% of the population between the ages of 12 and 79 were readers of at least one of the national-level daily newspapers (two percentage points less than in the same period in 2018). The print media is dominated by Prime Minister Babiš’s MAFRA group, which typically praises ANO ministers and criticizes Social Democrat ministers and the opposition. However, the growing diversity of the online and blended media sphere (i.e., combined online and print media) has increased the availability of investigative journalism and in-depth analysis. Citizens are increasingly concerned and willing to support independent journalism. Online media often engage experts, members of parliament and stakeholders in in-depth debates. Social media play an essential role in increasing the visibility of policy issues.

Parties and Interest Associations

#21

How inclusive and open are the major parties in their internal decision-making processes?

10
 9

The party allows all party members and supporters to participate in its decisions on the most important personnel and issues. Lists of candidates and agendas of issues are open.
 8
 7
 6


The party restricts decision-making to party members. In most cases, all party members have the opportunity to participate in decisions on the most important personnel and issues. Lists of candidates and issue agendas are rather open.
 5
 4
 3


The party restricts decision-making to party members. In most cases, a number of elected delegates participate in decisions on the most important personnel and issues. Lists of candidates and issue agendas are largely controlled by the party leadership.
 2
 1

A number of party leaders participate in decisions on the most important personnel and issues. Lists of candidates and issue agendas are fully controlled and drafted by the party leadership.
Intra-party Decision-Making
4
The 2017 parliamentary elections transformed the Czech political landscape. On both what could broadly be understood as the left and the right, established political parties were challenged by populists and anti-establishment forces. Babiš’s anti-establishment and populist Movement of Dissatisfied Citizens (ANO), emerged as the strongest party (29.6% of the votes), attracting many voters of the Social Democrats (ČSSD) and Communists (KSČ) (7.8%). The Pirate party (10.8%) drew young, educated left-leaning anti-establishment voters. On the right, the field is also fragmented, with the established Civic Democrats (Občanská demokratická strana, ODS, back up to 11.3%) alongside the conservative Christian Democrats (5.8%) and TOP09 (Tradice Odpovědnost Prosperita 09, TOP09, 5.3%) all having suffered losses, while the radical-right Freedom and Direct Democracy (Svoboda a prima demokracie, SPD; new subject formed by Tomio Okamura, after disbanding his scandal-ridden Dawn of Direct Democracy, 10.6%) entered parliament.

The traditional parties had developed formal structures and means of participation in electing their leaders and voting at congresses on policies. In practice, active involvement by members was limited. This internal democracy was extended by the Social Democrats with their first-ever internal ballot of members over whether or not to join a coalition with ANO. The internal organization of the Pirate party is the most systematically inclusive as it enables both members and sympathizers to engage in agenda-setting and other activities, the majority of which take place online. The internal decision-making of the ANO party is the polar-opposite. The party is hierarchically organized, and its founder and leader, Andrej Babiš and a small group of his allies, dominate the decision-making process. The internal organization of SPD is even more restrictive, as the party leader Tomio Okamura controls both the decision-making and party finance in ways that involve intimidation and – according to investigative journalists – even extortion.

Citations:
Kmenta, J. (2017): Boss Babiš. Nymburk: JKM – Jaroslav Kmenta.

To what extent are economic interest associations (e.g., employers, industry, labor) capable of formulating relevant policies?

10
 9

Most interest associations are highly capable of formulating relevant policies.
 8
 7
 6


Many interest associations are highly capable of formulating relevant policies.
 5
 4
 3


Few interest associations are highly capable of formulating relevant policies.
 2
 1

Most interest associations are not capable of formulating relevant policies.
Association Competence (Employers & Unions)
7
The main employers’ unions and trade unions both have considerable resources and expertise with which to develop coherent policies. Trade unions have a significant competence with regard to labor relations and economic policy more generally; they can lobby ministries and parliament and influence government directly through tripartite consultation structures. In the aftermath of the economic crisis, the generational change and new European patterns of conduct by trade unions contributed to their growing public support. Employers also have access to considerable resources, but have a different agenda, favoring a less regulated labor market and lower business taxes. To strengthen their position, the trade unions align their position with European legislation.

To what extent are non-economic interest associations capable of formulating relevant policies?

10
 9

Most interest associations are highly capable of formulating relevant policies.
 8
 7
 6


Many interest associations are highly capable of formulating relevant policies.
 5
 4
 3


Few interest associations are highly capable of formulating relevant policies.
 2
 1

Most interest associations are not capable of formulating relevant policies.
Association Competence (Others)
7
Interest associations have grown considerably in Czechia since 1990. As of 2019, there were over 130,000 autonomous, self-organized groups, associations, foundations and organizations registered in the country, although not all of them were active. Over the last decade, a number of new NGOs have emerged with a focus on areas such as corruption, city planning, LGBT rights, food safety and participatory budgeting on the local level. Many of these have the resources and expertise to formulate relevant policy proposals.

The Prague 2018 municipal elections saw a host of new political issues emerging from NGOs successfully enter the municipal government: radical improvements in transport infrastructure, spending on education, safety, dignity and inclusiveness, effective and transparent governance. The group “Prague for itself” (Praha sobe) was able to draw the support of voters (16.54%) by clearly identifying these problems, proposing concrete policy solutions, and making clear that implementation will consider the benefits and costs of these policies for everyone. They emphasized the need to carry these policies out by experts while including citizens.

Independent Supervisory Bodies

#15

Does there exist an independent and effective audit office?

10
 9

There exists an effective and independent audit office.
 8
 7
 6


There exists an effective and independent audit office, but its role is slightly limited.
 5
 4
 3


There exists an independent audit office, but its role is considerably limited.
 2
 1

There does not exist an independent and effective audit office.
Audit Office
8
The Supreme Audit Office (Nejvyšší kontrolní účřad, SAO) audits the financial management of state entities and of financial resources received from abroad. It expresses an opinion on the state’s final financial accounting statement, and oversees implementation of the state budget. The SAO is not authorized to audit the finances of municipalities, towns or regions, or to audit companies cofinanced by the state or lower-level governments. The functioning of the SAO is regulated by the constitution; the body’s president and vice-president are appointed for terms of nine years by the county’s president, based on proposals made by the Chamber of Deputies. The Chamber of Deputies further elects the members of the SAO upon nomination by the president of the SAO. In 2018, the Chamber of Deputies’ Control Committee discussed 17 SAO audit reports. The government considered 31 audits. In its annual report for 2018, the SAO summarized its findings from inspections and assessed the state’s progress with regard to selected policies and their management. It also drew a comparison between Czechia and foreign countries. In its report, the SAO indicated specific areas in which Czechia’s public sector has not been able to respond adequately to the dynamic transformations and challenges facing society. For instance, it highlighted the areas of digitalization, the simplification of tax obligations, energy savings, social housing and transportation. Although the state invests significant resources in these areas, its return on these investments has not been as substantial as expected.

Does there exist an independent and effective ombuds office?

10
 9

There exists an effective and independent ombuds office.
 8
 7
 6


There exists an effective and independent ombuds office, but its advocacy role is slightly limited.
 5
 4
 3


There exists an independent ombuds office, but its advocacy role is considerably limited.
 2
 1

There does not exist an effective and independent ombuds office.
Ombuds Office
9
The Office of the Public Defender of Rights serves as a vital protector of civil rights. It delivers quarterly reports and annual reports on its activities to the Chamber of Deputies, including recommendations on where laws could be changed and report on not fulfilled recommendations. The office also annually evaluates the extent to which these recommendations were followed. It produces detailed reports on cases it investigates, indicating when laws have been transgressed to the extent that the damaged parties have a solid basis for seeking redress. In the last quarter of 2018 and the first three quarters of 2019, the office received about 7,947 complaints, of which 5,563 (70%) were within the Defender’s mandate. A total of 5,533 complaints were settled. Among its various tasks, the Defender monitors efforts to repatriate asylum-seekers.

Is there an independent authority in place that effectively holds government offices accountable for handling issues of data protection and privacy?

10
 9

An independent and effective data protection authority exists.
 8
 7
 6


An independent and effective data protection authority exists, but its role is slightly limited.
 5
 4
 3


A data protection authority exists, but both its independence and effectiveness are strongly limited.
 2
 1

There is no effective and independent data protection office.
Data Protection Authority
8
Data protection responsibilities rest with the Office for Personal Data Protection (Úřad pro ochranu osobních údajů, ÚOOÚ), an independent body established under a law passed in 2000. It is tasked with supervising the observance of the legal obligations laid down for processing personal data; maintaining the register of notified data processing operations; dealing with initiatives and complaints from citizens concerning any breach of the law; and advising the government on issues relating to personal data protection. The president of the republic appoints the president of the office, with candidates being nominated by the president of the Senate, the upper house of parliament. The office regularly publishes an annual report on its website detailing its activities. Its effectiveness is limited by its relatively small budget and relatively small staff. In 2019, the Personal Data Processing Act 2019, the country’s second data protection act, sought to implement the EU’s GDPR. As a result, the scope of the ÚOOÚ’s activities has widened. In October 2019, the ÚOOÚ proposed the introduction of a General Impact Assessment on Personal Data Protection (DPIA). This proposal was posted on its website for public discussion.
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