New Act on Lobbying

The Lobby Act adopted by the Hungarian Parliament the 23rd of February (by simple majority of MPs present) contains several discriminatory regulations towards civil non-profit organisations. The Parliament ignored the protest of the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union and another twenty-one civil organisations against the draft Lobby Act. The bill of the lobbying activity was accepted without any amendments relating to the participation of non-profit civil organisations in lobbying activity.

This law was initiated by the Government and the bill was presented to the Parliament on the 7th October, 2005. According to the bill, profit-oriented lobby organisations had the exclusive right to conduct lobbying activity on the basis of a public register of lobbyists. The bill provided various rights for these lobby organisations:

  • representatives of these organisations can initiate a hearing at parliamentary committees, at committees of the local governments and at representatives of the Government – the latter two should grant these meetings as far as possible;
  • representatives of these organisations can initiate hearings at MPs, members of local governments and at ministerial officials;
  • they can be issued with a pass admitting them to parliament, government buildings and to organs of the local governments;
  • they can make available the result of their investigations for these organs and they can send their publications as well.

Whereas the for-profit lobbying organisations have the above mentioned means at their disposal, according to the bill, the non-profit organisations need to face serious consequences in the future, if they intend to take part in such lobbying activity: they can be subject to a fine of not more than 10 million HUF (40.000 Euro), depending on the extent and gravity of the violation.

HCLU and thanks to its activity another twenty-one civil organisations were protesting against these regulations. They demanded that the Government amends them, so that also non-profit civil organisations can take part in influencing public affairs and take part in democratic public life without any discrimination. A lobby act that gives further rights exclusively to those lobbyist organisations that are already in power and excludes democratic participation of other organisations is unacceptable. Democracy does not exist without social dialogue, a well-functioning system of interest representation and strong civil society.

On the 11th November 2005 the Civil Office of the Hungarian Parliament in cooperation with the First Hungarian Lobby Association organised a conference in the building of the Parliament ("The bill of the lobbying activity - civil opinions in the Parliament") with the participation of the organisations from the lobby list of the Hungarian Parliament, the members of the First Hungarian Lobby Association and the representatives of departments for Ministries dealing with civil affaires. The aim of the conference was to provide information about the bill of the lobbying activity and to provide an opportunity for the invited organisations to express their views on it. The participants exchanged their views in different sections: the lobbying activity of interest groups and the bill, individual lobbying and the bill, the lobbying activity of NGOs and the bill, lobbying as a business activity. At the end of the conference conclusions were made and discussed. The participants drew the Government’s attention to provide more rights for the non-profit organisations so that they could display lobbying activity and to reduce the sum of the fine.

Unfortunately the efforts of the HCLU and the views expressed during the conference were unsuccessful. 49 amendments were introduced to the bill of the lobbying activity, and only 5 of them made an attempt at providing rights for non-profit organisations, but none of them was adopted.

The Hungarian Lobby Act was adopted on the 23rd of February and it will come into force on the 1st September 2006. The law maintains the existing regrettable situation that only the financially well-founded organisations have the real chance to influence public affaires and deprives non-profit organisations of such possibility. The Lobby Act might force non-profit organisations to pay for professional lobbyist if they want to realize their aims.

 

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