Interest representation and lobbying are an integral part of the democracy. This area has to be reinforced in Latvia with a suitable legal framework that ensures transparent and fair public representation in decision making. All societal groups should have the same opportunity to express their opinions and protect their interests. Thus, we have to create an environment where all people of Latvia have an opportunity to protect their interests and monitor what interests are advocated and how.
‘Sabiedrības par atklātību — Delna’ (Delna), being the main anti-corruption organisation in Latvia who fights for fair and transparent state administration and decision making, as well as encouragement of public participation in political processes has also studied lobbying and interest representation in Latvia for more than five years and has contributed to public awareness of transparency in this area. In 2015, Delna published a comprehensive study about lobbying in Latvia ‘Transparency of lobbying in Latvia’, and in 2016 prepared a lobbying transparency initiative manual ‘Demand Fair Lobbying’. In cooperation with think-tank Providus, Delna monitored lobbying in the Latvian Parliament (Saeima) and analysed signs of state capture in Latvia from 2015 to 2017.
Since 2019, Delna has taken an active part in drafting the lobbying framework, and has supported the 13th Saeima in developing and adopting it.
Lobbying frameworks exist in many European countries (Austria, Ireland, France, UK, Lithuania), and in many countries they have been incorporated into the current laws by way of amendment or are self-regulated in various sectors. In Latvia, attempts to develop a lobbying framework date back many years, and various forms of this framework have been discussed for more than 10 years. However, there have always been obstacles in adopting it. Thus, by establishing the Working Group for Transparent Lobbying Framework of the Defence, Internal Affairs and Corruption Prevention Committee of the Saeima in 2019, development of the framework has resumed with renewed energy.
In its recommendations, the Organisation for Economic Development and Co-operation has indicated that lobbying does not have a single definition and that these definitions should meet the needs of respective societies.
In Latvia, the lobbying framework will be called a law on interest representation. This framework will contribute to greater transparency in the decision-making process, and will help the society in having better awareness of decisions made by various public bodies. This is one of the pillars towards a more transparent, accountable and fairer state administration, and will serve as a channel for various societal groups to communicate with each other and decision makers.
“Legal framework for lobbying is one of the factors that will improve public awareness of various decisions made by the governing bodies.”
Ināra Mūrniece, the Speaker of the Saeima
What is an interest representation?
In the international practice, as well as in Latvia two terms are used: interest representation and lobbying.
According to OECD, lobbying is “any direct or indirect communication with a public official, policy decision makers or their representatives to influence public decision making on behalf or for any organised group.”
Interest representation differs from lobbying in being perceived as advocacy of a certain idea for the benefit of a specific target or idea that affect the society on daily basis. However, lobbying is perceived more like communication with public officials to influence public decision making.
Who is an interest representative?
While the Saeima is drafting the new legal framework, Latvia has chosen to include various societal groups in the definition of the interest representative without making any distinctions between professional, commercial, and economic interest representatives and the public benefit interest representatives, as well as representatives of the civil society and individuals.
By this approach, we underline that each societal group has a legitimate right to have its opinions represented, as well as have its voice heard during adoption of decisions and laws. Decision makers are responsible for finding a balance among the represented interests to contribute to the welfare of the state.
Why interest representation should be regulated?
- A legal framework is essential for continued existence of the democracy, and contributes to public trust in decision makers and state administration in general.
- Interest representation and lobbying are a part of a transparent and fair decision making process that alleviates public suspicion about decisions being made for the benefit of small interest groups.
- Lack of an adequate interest representation framework may result in persons with more money or other means controlling the politics.
- The legal framework establishes what means can be used for advocacy and what are the “red lines” in communication with decision makers.
- It contributes to decision-making based on information and public opinions.
- It also creates an environment where decision makers are adequately informed about ethical conduct in dealing with interest representatives, and the received information.
- Thus, a mechanism is provided for the public to monitor communication of interest representatives with decision makers and see how communication influences decision making.
Delna’s opinion about interest representation in Latvia
“The Road to Lobbying Regulation in Latvia”
For more than 22 years, Delna, the Latvian chapter of Transparency International, has fought against corruption and supported transparency. This is a complicated endeavour, and we have managed to make great progress: contributed to shedding light on party financing in Latvia; limited opportunities for potential conflicts of interest; advocated for adoption of a new whistleblowing system and support to whistleblowers etc. Issues that we have dealt with have been solved by adopting the required legal acts, and we have educated the public about opportunities to influence and monitor political and public processes in Latvia. However, our fight for transparency is far from over.
Streamlining of lobbying processes in Latvia will be one of our future priorities, and will continue to provide insights into lobbying or interest protection and educate the public about the need to streamline this area.
Why is it important? In democratic societies, lobbying ensures political pluralism and gives various societal groups an opportunity to have their voices heard. We explained the role of lobbying and its opportunities during 11 December 2020 conference on regulation of lobbying in Latvia. Delna organised the conference “The Road to Lobbying Regulation in Latvia” in collaboration with the Defence, Internal Affairs and Corruption Prevention Committee of the Saeima and the State Chancery.
Quite often during the conference, we heard that lobbying or representation of interest groups as we like to call it in Latvia is a normal democratic process. Rightly so. At the national and regional level, various societal groups should have a right to express their opinions about political decisions that affect their lives. Politicians also need to be aware of public opinions to ensure that decisions are made for the benefit of the majority and achieve the expected target.
One of the main problems preventing lobbying from being regulated in Latvia was a lack of agreement among various societal groups about the definition of lobbying and the parties to whom the respective legal framework should apply. Thus, creation of a lobbying group at the Saeima in 2019 was a very welcome step forward, and this group has already started developing the scope of the new law and progressed towards its adoption. This gives all of us an opportunity to exchange views and make these good intentions a reality.
This is the right time for those of us who protect specific interests and who will be made subject to the new law to sit down and discuss the principles of the potential new framework for it to hit the target. It is our homework and our duty: we have to participate in drafting the law and express our opinion to facilitate a more responsible decision-making in our country.
Other European countries like Ireland and Lithuania have demonstrated that even in complicated circumstances a proper legal framework for lobbying is not an impossible mission. Furthermore, international organizations such as Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODHIR), and Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) have done an excellent job in identifying the best practices and expanding the basic regulatory principles applicable to lobbying that may be adopted in any country irrespective of the political system. These bodies stand ready to provide their vision about the most appropriate statutory scope to the Latvian public.
We invite all members of the public to read documents and watch videos from conference “The Road to Lobbying Regulation in Latvia”, get an insight in the progress of Latvia in drafting this legal framework, and listen to the opinions and recommendations of conference speakers.
We will use this opportunity and make progress towards greater transparency of political processes in Latvia.
Director, Delna — Transparency International Latvia