Hungarians expect Brussels to set aside political debates
The financial transparency of NGOs which exert pressure is in the public interest
In recent weeks, there has been a lively debate about the Lobby Registry in Germany. Christian Lindner, the leader of the German Free Democratic Party (FDP), which, after four years, became a federal parliamentary party again in 2017, urged the establishment of a mandatory registration system for lobbyists and interest groups particularly active in the German capital. In his view, the list should include not only the representatives of industries, for example, but also of non-governmental organizations, such as the representatives of the German environmental lobby. The leader of the liberal party and its faction in the Bundestag said: Their influence and funding need to be clear, therefore, such a record is necessary at the federal level.
According to the original function of the lobby registry, also known as the registry of lobbyists or register of lobby transparency, it is a publicly accessible database, in which lobbyists are recorded along with the key data about their activities.
In Germany, for example, the provinces of Rhineland-Palatinate and Brandenburg have had such voluntary lists since 2011 and 2013, respectively, while the Saxony-Anhalt provincial parliament has been keeping its own lobby book since 2015.
For some years, Austria has had an effective mandatory lobby registry which sets out strict disclosure requirements, including budget figures and providing the possibilities of imposing substantive sanctions.
In June 2011, The European Parliament and the European Commission jointly set up a voluntary registration of lobbyists (which has become the “transparency register” in the shabby EU jargon), but the establishment of any mandatory registry would encounter stiff resistance. The voluntary Commission and EP registry requires the provision of financial data as well. The Commission proposed a new convention on the registration of lobby organizations five years later. However, there has been no considerable progress in Brussels, thus the chaotic lobbying around the EU institutions has not yet entered a transparent phase.
In Hungary, a so-called lobbying act (Act XLIX of 2006) was adopted during the left-liberal administration in 2006. It did not prove to be suitable for handling the situation, and even led to an increase in non-transparent lobbying. Although, according to the official registry, no such activity took place in Hungary in 2007 after the adopted law had entered into force, the fact was that the lobbying bodies of the networks exerting pressure illegally approached the potential administrative actors, such as members of parliament and local governments. The scope of the law adopted “in a castrated form” did not cover several social and advocacy organizations, and the chambers under their influence served the interest of their lobbyist, political agents as a shield. The failed legislation finally remained in force until 2011.
A few years ago, the debate on transparency came to life in Hungary again. The ruling right-wing in Hungary claims nothing unique about the actual political weight and potential background of the lobbying forces, the NGOs, but what the relevant literature has already pointed out in recent decades. For example, a 2009 study on lobbying in Hungary prepared by the Professional Association of Public Affairs Consultants, with slightly positive overtones, clearly states that lobbying is “the involvement of powers in decision-making processes and legislation that are not included in the constitution but are involved in shaping policies.” These are referred to in the study as “force total,” but the term networks can also be used boldly.
The new idea of the German Liberal Democrats is a good one, because the majority of the writers are inclined to believe that the social transparency of lobbying is justified as it is and clearly an activity aimed at influencing decision-makers. However, when a government seeks to enforce this right in practice, it immediately faces crossfire. Due to the specific situation of the established and funded lobbying network (even from foreign sources), and to the mere logical fact that the emphasis on the lobbying phenomenon is on the communication aspect, the modern lobbying network is also a network of (political) interest communicators, who protect only their own position of strength and interest in the public arena by using every intermediary tool at their disposal.
This happened when the Act on the transparency of organizations receiving support from abroad was adopted in Hungary in 2017, and this is what happens when the Soros-lobby would like to soften the legislation following the European Court of Justice ruling of June 2020. Certainly, it is a reasonable demand from German or Hungarian citizens to set a firm requirement for the various non-governmental organizations to operate in a transparent manner and in a way that is accessible to the public, as well as to view the source of their funding. Therefore, taking into account the ruling of the judicial forum of the European Union, the Hungarian Government intends to provide the necessary means for this in the future as well. Today, from Germany to Austria to Hungary, there is a clear need to find out exactly what funding background certain (also foreign-funded) lobby organizations have, and whose interests they actually serve.
Recently, evidence has been mounting that non-governmental organizations (NGOs) covering a significant part of their activities from foreign sources intend to gain an ever increasing influence in the domestic political arena, overshadowing their former purely human rights function. Similar entities in the United States are treated as foreign agent organizations, and their activity is closely monitored and subject to registration. Századvég Foundation is committed to national sovereignty, legal certainty and transparency. Therefore, in a monitoring system called NGO-radar, it continuously analyzes the operation of the relevant organizations in Hungary.