Czechia

   

Quality of Democracy

#16
Key Findings
With criticism over the current prime minister’s past and present conduct dividing society, Czechia falls into the middle ranks (rank 16) in terms of democracy quality. Its score on this measure has declined by 0.3 points relative to 2014.

Media mogul and Prime Minister Andrej Babiš has been accused of corruption involving an alleged misuse of EU funds to finance part of his media conglomerate. The appointment of a friend of the president as justice minister sparked widespread protests, and was seen as an effort to curtail judicial independence.

Babiš has repeatedly criticized the public media for alleged bias, with further threats to journalists’ independence seen in controversial appointments to the public-media oversight council. Babiš’ own company continues to dominate the daily print-media business, but a vibrant new online and independent investigative-journalism sector has emerged.

Civil and political rights are generally respected, with large-scale protests having emerged under the Babiš government. Discrimination against women and Roma remains problematic. Executive actions are typically predictable, although legal ambiguities sometimes cause controversy.

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 lacking democratically elected organs or that aim to remove the democratic foundations of the state, restrict the freedoms of other parties, or threaten morality and public order. There are occasional calls to ban the Communist party, but no legal steps have been taken, and there is no consensus that such measures are necessary. A total of 39 political groupings took part in the elections to the European Parliament in May 2019, and no conflicts over the registration of candidates occurred.

Since 2012, the president of Czechia has been elected by citizens in a direct election. Any citizen with the right to vote who has reached 40 years of age is eligible to run for election for a maximum of two consecutive five-year terms.

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’ attention. Space is also provided by municipalities for billboards, and political advertisements are carried in newspapers. There is a distinct coverage bias toward the larger parties, due to more significant resources and a perception of importance. Moreover, coverage by private media is less balanced than that of public media.

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. EU citizens who are permanent residents of Czechia can participate in municipal and European elections. As of 2018, EU citizens who are temporary residents of Czechia can also participate in municipal elections. 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 having to meet a special deadline for registration and the fact that there are only a limited number of embassies and consulates.

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 Czechia issued in 2011 and came into force in January 2017. The law introduced financial limits for party financing and electoral campaigns, the mandatory establishment of transparent accounts, and greater revenue regulation of political parties and movements.

When the Office for the Oversight of the Political Parties and Political Movements (Úřad pro dohled nad hospodařením politických stran a politických hnutí, ÚHHPSH), the independent regulatory authority in charge of monitoring party and campaign finance, scrutinized the campaign for the 2019 European Parliament elections, it found that only half of the participating parties and movements had met the deadlines for publishing the required reports regarding their founding. The other half, including one parliamentary group, failed to release this report on the internet. In November 2019, the ÚHHPSH identified repeated misconduct and noncompliance on the part of 39 political parties and movements. It recommended suspending the activity of 35 parties and the dissolution of four parties (whose activities had already been suspended).

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 Czechia, 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. Several local referendums were held at the same time as the 2019 European Parliament elections. The introduction of referendums at the national level was an important issue in the 2017 election campaign and is likely to remain on the political agenda. It is advocated most clearly by Okamura’s radical-right Party of Freedom and Direct Democracy (SPD) and by the Communists, who set it as a condition for their silent support for the Babiš government, with ANO also indicating support. Other parties have some reservations concerning how far results should be binding and whether a referendum should also cover membership in international bodies (EU and NATO). Disputes over details mean that no proposal for the necessary constitutional amendment has as yet been presented.

Access to Information

#12

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
6
Czechia was long characterized by a high degree of media freedom, partially due to the independence of the public media, but also because foreign media owners did not exercise any visible influence over the content and coverage of the private media. However, the replacement of foreign owners by domestic oligarchs and the capture of much of the Czech media market by Andrej Babiš, who has served as prime minister since 2018, have reduced media freedom. Babiš has used his media power to support his political position and to denigrate opponents.

Prime Minister Babiš and President Zeman have repeatedly criticized the public media for their alleged bias. Concerns about the independence of the public media have also been raised by controversial nominations and appointments to the council supervising the Czech news agency (ČTK). Since 2016, members of parliament from the right-wing SPD and the Communist Party have sought to block parliamentary debate on the annual reports of Czech Public TV (Česká televize, ČT), with a view to opening the way to dismissal of the ČT Council, the oversight body that has the power to elect and dismiss the ČT director.

Citations:
Jirák, J., B. Köpplová (2020): Advantages and Problems of a Liberal Democratic Media Model: Media and Politics in the Czech Republic, in: A. Lorenz, H. Formánková (eds), Czech Democracy in Crisis. Cham: Palgrave Macmillan, 157-178.

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
8
The private media market in Czechia has changed significantly in recent years. The most critical 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). The rise of Andrej Babiš to power transformed the media landscape. Babiš’s businesses dominate the daily print media, with an estimated 2.4 million readers, as well as the country’s online media, with an estimated 3.4 million daily users.

More recently, however, the readership for a number of independent weekly publications and several new journalistic projects has grown. On 28 October 2018 (centenary of Czechia’s establishment), following the example of Slovakia’s Denik N (Journal N), a new daily was created with Slovakian advice and a combination of investor- and crowd-sourced funding. Key journalists and staff own 23.5% of the shares. Most of the team are experienced journalists who had left media owned by MAFRA, Babiš_s media conglomerate. In November 2019, Denik N was published in print five times a week, had more than 40,000 subscribers, and had become one of the digital-media landscape’s dominant voices.

The tendency for foreign media owners to be crowded out is likely to continue. In October 2019, Central European Media Enterprises (CME), an international media and entertainment company, confirmed that it had entered into a definitive acquisition agreement with PPF Group. The transaction was valued at approximately $2.1 billion, and included television stations in five countries of East-Central Europe (Bulgaria, Czechia, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia). PPF is owned by Czech billionaire Petr Kellner, and the acquisition includes Nova, Czechia’s most influential commercial television group. The acquisition is expected to be completed in mid-2020, but is still subject to regulatory approval.

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. Most ministries and larger public bodies now include a special section with the information provided upon request. The Babiš government has increased the visibility of the eKLEP (Electronic Library of Legislative Process). eKLEP allows the public to follow legal proposals from the point of creation to approval or rejection. All draft legislative documents are available and regularly updated. While central-government bodies are rather transparent, there are still difficulties in accessing government information within many municipalities. However, these bodies too can be taken to court if officials refuse to respond to requests for information. Some smaller municipalities have faced stiff financial penalties following failures to disclose information as requested. As a result, the actions of municipalities are becoming more transparent; for instance, municipal board meetings are being streamed online, and citizens are being allowed to participate in municipal activities in other interactive ways. Larger municipalities tend to be more open than their smaller counterparts.

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 proactive approach of the Public Defender of Rights, the Czech ombudsman, have contributed to an improvement in the quality of online portals for public administration and thus have further improved access to government information. Under the Babiš government, the request for information on the distribution of EU funds and public contracts has increased as a result of the concerted effort by civil society and the opposition, especially the Pirate Party.

Civil Rights and Political Liberties

#19

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 Czechia respect and protect its citizens’ basic civil rights. As indicated by complaints lodged with the European Court of Human Rights and the Public Defender of Rights, Czechia’s ombudsman, 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 financial, cultural and social resources to pursue these rights.

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. The presidential elections and the investiture of the Babiš government have triggered protests on a scale not seen in the country since the financial crisis. Unlike in the past, when protests were mostly concentrated in Prague and other larger cities, primarily attracting young and educated citizens, the protests organized in 2019 by the Million Moments for Democracy initiative attracted more than 260,000 citizens from all around the country to Prague’s Letna Park in June, and more than 300,000 citizens in November 2019, on the eve of the 30th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution.

Social media (Facebook) play an important role in enabling the organization of protests. Along with civil society, the mobilizing capacity of extreme right groups has also increased but protests remain small and localized, expressing opposition to an alleged threat of Islamization, against the presence of ethnic minorities, immigration, gender equality and LGBT and reproductive rights. Police have intervened when journalists and members of ethnic minorities have suffered physical attack. Civil society protests, happenings and demonstrations significantly outnumber the events by of uncivil society.

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 remains a relatively serious problems. The gap between the average wages of women and men has decreased slightly, to 21%, but this remains one of the highest rates in the EU. The representation of women in national-level political bodies has not changed significantly; only 22% of the parliament’s members are women. Women’s representation in other decision-making positions has also remained comparatively weak. The World Economic Forum’s 2020 Global Gender Gap Report ranked Czechia 78th out of 153 countries, primarily due to the challenges facing women in the areas of economic participation and political empowerment.

The discrimination against Roma people remains another grave issue. Approximately half of the Roma population (estimated at 240,000 individuals, or 2.2% of the population) lives in poverty and suffers from social exclusion. Most Roma live in the Ústí and Moravian-Silesian regions, which show the highest rates of social exclusion. The majority society continues to hold a negative perception of the Roma minority; public-opinion surveys show Roma as the Czech minority perceived as being the second-most unsympathetic, after Arabs. Roma are hampered within the labor market primarily by societal prejudices and discrimination, along with low average education and skills levels within this population. Poverty, high levels of indebtedness, societal prejudices, a lack of affordable housing and low incomes additionally hinder some Roma individuals’ ability to access housing.

Citations:
Guasti, P., L. Buštíková (2020): In Europe’s Closet: the rights of sexual minorities in the Czech Republic and Slovakia, in: East European Politics 36(2): 226-246.

World Economic Forum (2020): The Global Gender Gap Report 2020. Geneva (hhttp://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_GGGR_2020.pdf).

Rule of Law

#22

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 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 on 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 operate independently of the executive branch of government. The most active control over executive actions is exercised by the Constitutional Court and the Supreme Administrative Court. The Constitutional Court decision that attracted the most public attention during the period under review was the October 2019 invalidation of a controversial law taxing restitution payments to the churches; this had been initiated by the Communist Party (KSČM) as one of its preconditions for its support of the ANO-Social Democrat minority government. The appointment of Marie Benešová as justice minister in May 2019 has raised some concerns about the independence of the judiciary. She has clashed repeatedly with the Prosecutor General, and her proposal to set new term limits for prosecutors has been perceived by the majority of the judiciary and most experts as an attempt at political interference with the courts.

Citations:
Pospíšil, I. (2020): Activist Constitutional Court as Utility Tool for Correcting Politics: Structure, Composition and Case law, in: A. Lorenz, H. Formánková (eds), Czech Democracy in Crisis. Cham: Palgrave Macmillan, 133-155.

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
4
Successive governments have emphasized a commitment to fighting corruption, but in fact have done little of substance to address the issue. Two significant changes were implemented in 2017, with amendments passed to the law on party finances and the law on conflicts of interest. Despite this apparent progress, the merging of business, political, and media power in the hands of Prime Minister Babiš represents an escalation of past corruption to a new level. The main issue concerns the use of EU funds, intended for SME support, to finance a business that was temporarily detached from his conglomerate but returned to his control after the subsidy had been received. It later emerged that nominal ownership had simply been transferred to members of his family, but police investigations reached no definite conclusions.

Despite demands from the opposition for his resignation and public demonstrations in Prague and other cities, Babiš has been emboldened by the sympathetic treatment he has received from the media outlets he controls. In March 2019, he appointed Marie Benešová, a friend of President Zeman, as minister of justice, triggering significant protests across the country. The move was seen as an attempt to curtail the independence of the judiciary. In September 2019, Prague prosecutor Jaroslav Saroch decided to drop the case and thus avoid charging the prime minister and his family on fraud charges, but was overruled by Prosecutor General Pavel Zeman in December 2019.
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