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Concealed decision-making processes and opaque lobbying undermine democracy in Estonia

New report shows the necessity of more transparency, integrity and equality of access in lobbying practices

Lobbying in Estonia remains unregulated and has a negative perception in the public due to repeated scandals and intertwined relations between the private and public sectors, said Transparency International Estonia in the country’s first comprehensive report on lobbying.

The report “Lobbying in Estonia: Mapping the Players, Risks and Political Context” shows that lobbying, when left unchecked and unregulated, presents risks and undermines democratic decision-making.

Examining the issue of lobbying through three essential dimensions – transparency, integrity and equality of access – the report highlights areas especially vulnerable to undue influence, including: hidden party financing; non-transparent practices in some stages of consultation and law-making; and weak democratic safeguards within political parties, which can hamper transparent decision-making.

Following a methodology developed by Transparency International, which is being implemented in 19 countries within the EU under the framework of the “Lifting the Lid on Lobbying” project, Estonia scores low overall in terms of lobbying transparency (24%), integrity (27%) and equality of access (35%). The report shows that there are many problems concerning lobbying practices in the country and, therefore, public debate on the topic as well as adequate regulation is necessary.

The main problems around lobbying in Estonia are:

  • Concealed decision-making in the parliament
  • No common understanding on what lobbying or the profession of lobbyist is
  • Inconsistent consultation practices
  • Problems with internal party democracy
  • Different ethical standards for lobbyists
  • Difficulty in tracking legislative procedures and documents

Transparency International Estonia recommends that the risks outlined in the report are addressed by policy-makers in order to increase transparency of legislative procedures.

The main recommendations include:

  • Improve consultation practices by publishing legislative drafts earlier and including information on the input provided by interest groups
  • Introduce a legislative footprint in order to easily follow how drafts become laws
  • Establish codes of conduct and self-regulation mechanisms for lobbyists and add recommendations for dealing with lobbyists in the code of ethics for public sector employees
  • Provide equal, transparent and timely access to decision-making processes by interest groups as well as the media

“The most important task is to clarify what lobbying is and what its function is. From there, it is important that lobbyists and policy-makers understand the necessity of regulating lobbying, and that steps towards self-regulation or other measures in the direction of regulation are taken,” said Jaanus Tehver, Chair of Transparency International Estonia. “Lobbying and transparency in legislative procedures do not exclude one another. On the contrary, when the rules are clear and they are followed in practice, it clarifies how both lobbyists and policy-makers should conduct their work when preparing legislative acts – and thus simplifies their work. As a result, society as whole wins by having more transparent legislative procedures.”

The full study (in English) is available here: http://transparency.ee/cm/files/lisad/lobbying_in_estonia.pdf


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