Capital: Prague
Population: 10.5 million
GNI/capita, PPP: US$24,710

Source: The data above are drawn from The World Bank, World Development Indicators 2014.

2014 Scores

Democracy Score: 2.25
Regime Classification: Consolidated Democracy
National Democratic Governance: 3.00
Electoral Process: 1.25
Civil Society: 1.75
Independent Media: 2.75
Local Democratic Governance: 1.75
Judicial Framework and Independence: 1.75
Corruption: 3.50

NOTE: The ratings reflect the consensus of Freedom House, its academic advisers, and the author(s) of this report. The opinions expressed in this report are those of the author(s). The ratings are based on a scale of 1 to 7, with 1 representing the highest level of democratic progress and 7 the lowest. The Democracy Score is an average of ratings for the categories tracked in a given year.

Executive Summary:

New political will in the fight against high-level corruption contributed to a turbulent year in Czech politics, culminating in the arrest of several senior officials on corruption charges and the subsequent resignation of Prime Minister Petr Nečas. A conflict between the parliament and newly elected president Miloš Zeman, who took office in March, also destabilized governance throughout 2013, preventing progress on key legislation. After Nečas's resignation, President Zeman appointed former minister of finance Jiří Rusnok, whose caretaker government failed to win the confidence of the parliament in August. Early elections in October once again redrew the Czech political scene, challenging established parties and bringing new ones to power. No single party won enough parliamentary seats to form a government, and the parties were in the process of negotiating a coalition agreement at year's end.

National Democratic Governance. A series of negative developments paralyzed governance for most of 2013. The government of Prime Minister Nečas resigned in June after an intricate spying and corruption scandal. Former president Vaclav Klaus passed a broad amnesty ending criminal proceedings in a number of controversial cases before leaving office in January. Klaus's successor was expected to be a unifying figure but instead took steps to promote his own party's interests, which fueled antagonism between the parliament and Prague Castle. Due to a general paralysis caused by the year's scandals and political infighting, the Czech Republic's national democratic governance rating declines from 2.75 to 3.00.

Electoral Process. The Czech Republic's first direct presidential elections were held in January. Early legislative elections in October brought significant changes to the configuration of the parliament, further reducing the strength of traditional parties like the Civic Democratic Party (ODS) and the Social Democrats (ČSSD) and bringing new movements to power. The second electoral "revolution" in three years reflects the Czech electorate's disillusionment with the established political elite and a growing desire for change. The nature and speed of these changes, however, may compromise the stability of the political system in the longer run, strengthening anti-systemic parties. The Czech Republic's rating for electoral process remains unchanged at 1.25.

Civil Society. Czech civil society remains vibrant, and its impact is increasing in many domains. Uncertainties regarding several provisions of the new Civil Code, including the tax status of some nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), led to several rounds of talks with the government in 2013. However, the growing influence of the civil sector is counterweighed by enduring anti-Roma sentiment and growing radicalism within society. The Czech Republic's civil society rating remains unchanged at 1.75.

Independent Media. Czech media are independent and diverse; however, the concentration of major print dailies in the hands of a few magnates in recent years poses a risk to the independence of the industry. Billionaire and political leader Andrej Babiš's acquisition of MAFRA, one of the leading publishing houses, in June prompted fears of "Berlusconization" in the country. In October, worrisome instances of censorship and attempts to curb editorial freedom in public television during the electoral campaign damaged the reputation of one of the most renowned public service outlets of Central Europe, the Czech Television (CT). Due to political and economic pressures, the independent media rating of the Czech Republic declines from 2.50 to 2.75.

Local Democratic Governance. The Communist Party's inclusion in local government coalitions following last year's elections prompted protests in the first half of the year. Though a reasonable framework for local government exists and functions in the Czech Republic, corruption, nepotism, and the mismanagement of public funds at the regional and local levels still represent a serious problem. Prosecutions in a few such high-profile cases that started in previous years continued in 2013. The Czech Republic's local democratic governance rating remains unchanged at 1.75.

Judicial Framework and Independence. The commitment of the Prosecutor General's Office to pursuing politically sensitive cases continued in 2013, leading to several high-profile arrests and prosecutions, including a June raid on the offices of the prime minister and the subsequent arrest of eight people. A new law limited the immunity of politicians and judges in April, but legislation intended to boost the prosecution's independence could not be adopted due to the resignation of the government in June. Former president Klaus's controversial amnesty in January cast a shadow over the otherwise remarkable performance of the prosecution. The Czech Republic's judicial framework and independence rating remains unchanged at 1.75.

Corruption. An extraordinary spying and corruption scandal brought down the government in June, shedding light on the existence of high-level graft in the country despite continuous attempts to eradicate it. The Nečas government – whose parties had campaigned on an anticorruption ticket in 2010 – adopted a bold anticorruption strategy in January and started drafting key anticorruption legislation in the first half of the year, but its initiatives ran aground in all but one case after the June raid. Due to evidence of persistent corruption at high levels of government and the authorities' inability to adopt anticorruption legislation, the Czech Republic's corruption rating declines from 3.25 to 3.50.

Outlook for 2014. The coalition government of ČSSD, ANO 2011, and the Christian and Democratic Union-Czechoslovak People's Party (KDU-ČSL) will begin work in early 2014. Although the government will have a solid majority in the parliament, the presence of a new political movement could complicate its day-to-day functioning. The government's program is likely to focus on economic growth, but passing key legislation drafted by its predecessor, such as the Civil Service Act and legislation geared toward increasing transparency, will also be high on its agenda.

National Democratic Governance:

The institutions of governance in the Czech Republic are stable and democratic. No single party dominates the political scene, and regular rotations of power occur at national and local levels. Political parties generally agree on the nature and direction of democratic change, with one major exception – the largely unreformed Communist Party (KSČM), which has not served in a post-1989 national government. Developments in 2013, including the resignation of the Nečas government following a scandal and controversial decisions taken by both the outgoing and the incumbent president, undermined political stability and shook the institutional underpinnings of the political system.

The three-party coalition government – composed of the Civic Democratic Party (ODS), TOP 09, and the Public Affairs (VV) – that emerged after the 2010 general election gradually lost its drive for reform and turned into a lame duck by the first half of 2013. Following the split of the smallest coalition party, VV, and the departure of a few rebels from ODS, the government lost its majority in 2012. By January 2013, the coalition faced its fifth confidence vote, initiated by the opposition Social Democrats (ČSSD). The post of the minister of defense remained unoccupied until March 2013, as the coalition could not agree on a suitable candidate to replace Karolína Peake, who had been let go only eight days after her appointment in December 2012. Despite its extremely low public approval ratings, the government managed to push through a few important initiatives in 2013, including an agreement on the restitution of church property in February[1] and restrictions on parliamentarians' and Constitutional Court judges' immunity in March.[2]

An unprecedented police raid on the offices of Prime Minister Nečas forced him to resign on 17 June and started a series of events that led to early elections in October. Police seized about CZK 150 million ($8 million) in cash, gold, and large quantities of documents and arrested and charged eight people, including Nečas's chief of staff Jana Nagyová.[3] The prosecution accused Nagyová of corruption and abuse of the military intelligence service to spy on the prime minister's wife. Prime Minister Nečas – who was elected on an anticorruption ticket in 2010 – initially rejected any involvement and dismissed allegations against his staff members. After a few days, however, he decided to step down and also resigned from his position as the leader of ODS. In a move that some interpreted as an attempt to avoid prosecution, Nečas and Nagyová married in September.[4]

President Václav Klaus, a divisive figure in Czech politics, left his office in March after serving for 10 years. His last decision in January to grant a far-reaching amnesty, halting criminal proceedings in a number of controversial cases involving corruption, created tension and was strongly criticized by politicians as well as legal experts.[5] The amnesty resulted in the first impeachment in modern Czech history, initiated by the Senate in February. The senators voted to charge the president with high treason, accusing him of violating the constitution by granting the amnesty and by refusing to ratify international treaties or nominate Constitutional Court judges. The Constitutional Court, however, cleared him of the accusations in March on the grounds that Klaus was no longer in office.

Klaus was succeeded by Miloš Zeman, the first Czech president to be directly elected. Experts hoped Zeman would be a more unifying figure than his predecessor, but the newly elected president's open hostility to the Nečas government and his support for the Party of Civic Rights (SPOZ, a party he founded in 2009) quickly swept away such hopes.

Continuing with the practice of former president Klaus, Zeman stalled the appointment of new ambassadors, pushing for his protégées instead. Despite opposition from Minister for Foreign Affairs Karel Schwarzenberg, the president proposed in March that Livia Klausová, the wife of Václav Klaus, take the post of Czech ambassador to Slovakia. Critics speculated the move was in exchange for the Klauses' support during the presidential campaign.[6] In May, Zeman also refused to appoint an openly gay university professor, Martin C. Putna, breaking the convention whereby presidents always respected universities' nominations. The rector of Charles University considered the incident an unprecedented encroachment on academic freedom.[7] Zeman refused to provide an explanation, although he did say he found the sign Putna had carried during a Pride Parade "inappropriate."[8] Some commentators, however, speculated that the reason behind his veto was Putna's support for Schwarzenberg in the presidential race.[9] Zeman also refused to invite two rectors to a national celebration in the Prague Castle in October, which resulted in a boycott by a number of other university rectors.[10]

The president's most controversial move took place after the resignation of Prime Minister Nečas in June. While the ODS-led coalition nominated Parliamentary Speaker Miroslava Němcová, President Zeman decided to appoint his own nominee, Jiří Rusnok, the former minister of finance and a onetime adviser to Zeman's SPOZ party. The president claimed that the coalition had no right to form a new government and called for a government of experts.[11] Rusnok's government was nevertheless appointed in July, but it did not have the necessary support in the Chamber of Deputies and included people close to the president.[12] The government received a vote of no confidence in August, after which the parliament dissolved itself and Zeman scheduled early elections for October.[13]

After the October elections, protracted coalition talks involved winning party ČSSD, the new movement ANO 2011, and the Christian Democrats (KDU-ČSL). In December, President Zeman signaled his intention to veto some of the ministers proposed by designated prime minister Bohuslav Sobotka of ČSSD if he considered them incompetent.[14] Several lawyers argued that this would be in breach of the Constitution and could be interpreted as an attempt to tilt the balance of power toward a semipresidential system.[15]

Electoral Process:

The Czech Republic uses a parliamentary system with two houses. Real political power resides in the Chamber of Deputies – the 200-seat lower house – with deputies elected by proportional vote on party ballots. The 81-seat Senate is elected on the basis of single-mandate districts. The Senate can return approved bills to the lower house, but the Chamber of Deputies can override the Senate by an absolute majority.

In 2013, two major elections had the potential to significantly redraw the Czech political landscape. In January, the country held its first ever direct presidential elections, and in October, people voted in early parliamentary elections following the fall of Prime Minister Nečas's government in June.

Between 1993 and 2011, an electoral college composed of both houses of the parliament had elected the president. Following much debate, the parliament passed a constitutional amendment in December 2011 introducing direct presidential elections.[16] The amendment did not change the scope of presidential powers; some, however, argued that direct elections would result in a stronger president, tilting the balance of power away from the government.[17]

Following several disqualifications on procedural or legal grounds, nine candidates ran for president, three of them women. One of the disqualified candidates, Senator Tomio Okamura, submitted a complaint to the Constitutional Court earlier in December. Okamura argued that the requirement to collect 50,000 signatures in case a candidate is not supported by a group of parliamentarians is discriminatory. The Court did not agree and refused to postpone the elections.[18]

A number of media outlets, both public and private, as well as non-governmental organizations (NGOs), organized presidential debates that mobilized the Czech electorate. The turnout reached a solid 61.31 percent in the first round on 11-12 January and 59.1 percent in the second round on 26 January; two candidates, former ČSSD leader Miloš Zeman and Minister for Foreign Affairs Karel Schwarzenberg, advanced to the second round.[19] Former caretaker prime minister Jan Fischer dropped out of the race, coming third in the first round despite his popularity in earlier polls. Following a heated campaign period, where contentious or sensitive issues – including the Beneš decrees and Schwarzenberg's family background – were discussed,[20] Zeman won with 54.8 percent of the vote.[21]

After the fall of the Nečas government in June and the dissolution of the parliament at the end of August, President Zeman called early parliamentary elections for 25-26 October. The Social Democrats won with 20.45 percent, followed closely by Andrej Babis's new movement, ANO 2011 (18.65 percent), and trailed by the KSČM (14.91 percent) and TOP 09 (11.99 percent).[22] The turnout of 59.5 percent – the second lowest in the history of the Czech Republic – underlined a general disillusionment with the functioning of the political system.[23]

Except for KSČM, all established parties experienced a drop in support following the year's events, with the outgoing coalition suffering the biggest losses. ODS registered its lowest support ever at 7.72 percent, TOP 09 received 4 percent less than in 2010, and the third coalition partner, Public Affairs (VV), decided not to run at all. Even the winner, ČSSD, lost 10 percent of its voter base compared to 2010.[24]

Two newcomers – ANO 2011 and Senator Tomio Okamura's Úsvit přímé demokracie (Dawn of Direct Democracy) – fared surprisingly well, capitalizing on the electorate's disillusionment with the political class and winning almost 30 percent of the votes together. Their success, however, triggered concerns about the long-term stability of the Czech political system and the perpetuation of anti-system parties as viable alternatives.

The party ANO 2011 was founded by businessman and billionaire Andrej Babiš, who transformed the ANO – Akce nespokojených obcanu (Action of Dissatisfied Citizens), "ano" meaning "yes" in Czech – into a centrist-liberal political party in 2011. During the campaign, ANO 2011 focused on fighting corruption and abolishing politicians' immunity from prosecution. The party lacked a comprehensive political program, however, and allegedly had close links to AGROFERT, an agricultural conglomerate owned by Babiš.[25] Despite these accusations, the party was very successful in gathering protest votes and managed to mobilize disenchanted voters as well as those who feared a potential coalition between ČSSD and KSČM.[26] Although this brought new faces to the political scene, coalition talks following the elections highlighted traditional parties' wariness of entering into agreements with new movements – especially after the instability of VV in the previous coalition government.

The success of Úsvit, which also entered the parliament for the first time, came as a surprise to many. The party campaigned for direct democracy by emphasizing a single issue, the adoption of a general referendum act;[27] however, its campaign had populist, anti-Roma, and xenophobic overtones as well. The party overtly supported by President Miloš Zeman, Party of Citizens' Rights-Zemanovci (SPOZ), did not win any seats in the elections, party because several of its candidates were members of the caretaker government.[28]

Civil Society:

Civil society in the Czech Republic is vibrant, with a large number of different actors, including civic associations, foundations, trust funds, public benefit organizations, and trade unions. The sector has been growing steadily in recent years, with approximately 84,400 civic associations, 500 foundations, 1,323 trust funds, and 2,571 public benefit organizations operating in the country in 2013.[29] Most Czechs see NGOs as influential organizations that help solve social problems and are essential to a functioning democracy. Environmental and humanitarian organizations, in particular, have earned widespread respect among the Czech public.

The regulatory environment is permissive and transparent toward civic organizations, banning only the stipulation of anti-constitutional goals in NGO statutes. Regulations are more stringent for other types of NGOs, resulting in significantly lower numbers. For-profit activities are permitted as long as they do not constitute the principal goal of an organization. Courts offer remedies against administrative overreach.

Currently, the greatest regulatory challenge to NGOs is the new Civil Code, coming into force on 1 January 2014, which requires some adaptation on the part of already existing organizations. The code clarifies the legal status of civil society organizations according to their function, modifying some current categories and creating others.[30] The term "public benefit status" created by the new law proved to be too vague, and NGOs were working with the government and the Ministry of Finance to specify the scope and tax implications of the status at year's end. Also, under the new law, NGOs aiming to keep their current benefits will have to demonstrate their eligibility to receive "public benefit status" before the courts. A bill introduced to resolve the problem failed to secure a majority in the Senate in September.[31] A central registry of civil society organizations is still lacking, despite its potential to improve the sector's transparency and increase its ability to attract donations.

Under President Klaus, who had been a longtime critic of NGO involvement in policymaking, NGO initiatives had often been labeled as lacking legitimacy or motivated by party politics. With his departure, however, civil society organizations started to engage in a more intensified dialogue with the government. According to the government-maintained Database of Consulting Organizations, 315 entities have participated or expressed an interest in participating in regulatory impact assessment dialogues with the government.[32] At the same time, the agenda of these meetings are still set by the government.

Anticorruption NGOs played an important role in 2013 and were instrumental in creating an anticorruption department in the prime minister's office. A number of business leaders and especially politicians standing for parliament were successfully engaged by campaign activists, with many of them pledging to support future anticorruption regulations. Czech NGOs continued to be actively as consultants to the government on a number of other issues as well, including the situation of the Roma and other minorities, people living with disabilities, and sustainable development.

Following its accession to the Open Government Partnership, the government launched its 2012-2020 Action Plan to promote transparency and accountability in public institutions. One of the benchmarks set in the Action Plan is to provide better access to information and improve the availability of data, an aim that many NGOs have been pursuing. Most commitments in the Action Plan, however, remained unfulfilled in 2013 due to the resignation of the Nečas government and the inability of the newly elected parties to agree on a coalition by year's end.

The state remains the largest source of funding for NGOs, providing extensive financial support through grants and coordinating nonprofit activities via the Council for NGOs. This creates an economic vulnerability that was confirmed by the austerity measures introduced by the government in 2011 and 2012, which cut funds for the sector. Corporate grants and individual philanthropy remain underdeveloped resources for civil society except for issues with broad appeal and popular resonance, such as disaster relief or the social rights of children and people with disabilities. A very limited tax incentive structure likely plays a role in the relative stagnation of nongovernmental domestic funding. At the same time, millions of euros available through the European Union Structural Funds have to some extent replaced the resources offered by various foreign foundations and governments in the wake of democratization. While competition for such funds is fierce, NGOs are undergoing a learning process, acquiring skills and capacities to absorb EU grants.

Following an eruption of ethnic unrest in 2011 and the subsequent rise of extremist formations especially in northern areas of the country, anti-Roma sentiment remained an issue in 2013. Anti-Roma marches occurred in several parts of the country, chiefly as a result of the activities of far right groups such as Free Resistance.[33] Some demonstrations ended with violent clashes requiring police intervention to separate the parties.[34] An initiative to show solidarity with the Roma minority, organized by Europe Roma International in several European countries, met with little public support.[35] The rise of extremism, both right and left-wing, was mentioned as an important issue in the annual report of the Czech domestic intelligence service. At the same time, the August Prague Pride, the main annual event of the LGBTI community, saw more participants than in previous years, and the week-long Pride program, including the march itself, took place without major incidents.[36]

Independent Media:

Press freedom has long been secure in the Czech Republic, with a diverse selection of print (around 5000 outlets), online (around 1500 internet sites), and broadcast media (more than 400 radio and TV channels).[37] News outlets present a variety of opinions, with analytical and independent coverage as well as views that clearly favor one side of the political spectrum. Public television and the national print media provide quality coverage of the most important national and international developments, which proved especially important in the politically turbulent year of 2013.

The falling revenues of Czech print media have been a concern for years. Most of the major publishing houses (Economia, MAFRA, VLP, Borgis) reported losses in the past few years due to declining profits from advertising, which moved to online and broadcast platforms. Publishers have tried to offset the losses by developing online divisions for their newspapers, but deteriorating economic performance led to personnel cuts and a decline in the quality of reporting, with less insightful and analytical content.[38] A few newspapers openly endorsed a candidate during the presidential elections, which some analysts viewed as an unwelcome development.[39]

Declining profits in print media also paved the way for a boost in acquisitions and mergers on the Czech media market.[40] An increased concentration in the hands of business magnates at the same time has prompted concerns about the independence of outlets and the long-term prospects of the industry. In April, the billionaire owner of the Economia publishing house, Zdeněk Bakala, bought Centrum Holdings – the third biggest online portal on the Czech media market.[41]

Fears about the Czech media's "Berlusconization" became especially strong after AGROFERT – an agricultural, food processing, and chemical giant owned by ANO 2011 leader and billionaire Andrej Babiš – announced the acquisition of MAFRA, one of the biggest publishing houses and the publisher of three important dailies (MF Dnes, Lidove Noviny, and Metro) in June. Previously, the media speculated that Babiš would buy Ringier Axel Springer CZ, the Czech branch of the international giant Ringier AG and the publisher of popular tabloids and the weekly magazine Reflex.[42]

Babiš's critics saw MAFRA's acquisition as an attempt on behalf of ANO's leader to build media support before the next elections, and the billionaire announced in September that he was planning further acquisitions after the early elections in October.[43] While Babiš promised not to interfere with content production in the newspapers, he called the editor of the domestic section of Lidové noviny shortly after the acquisition to enquire about the coverage of an ANO press conference.[44] Subsequently, he apologized for the move and proposed the drafting of an ethical codex, clarifying the relationship between the publisher and editorial board.[45] The departure of a number of respected journalists from the publishing house since its acquisition, however, indicates that changes in editorial policy might not be acceptable for many critically-minded journalists.[46]

Public television and radio stations have contributed to the country's high rankings in press freedom indexes. Czech Television (CT) has set the example for public television channels across Central Europe with its in-depth, highly analytical, and critical reporting and its ruthless scrutiny of politicians and public figures. CT covered the presidential elections without major complaints, except for an investigation by the Council for Radio and TV Broadcasting for presenting one of the presidential candidates in an unfavorable light during the campaign.[47]

Personnel changes during the year, however, prompted fears of politicization at the channel.[48] Daniela Drtinová, a well-known TV show host in the Czech Republic, was abruptly removed from the flagship program Události, komentáře (Events, Commentaries) in August, with the justification that she was offered her own talk show. The trade union of the channel claimed that Drtinová was removed because politicians had complained about her uncompromising interview style, and she was not allowed to interview the presidential candidates during the election campaign. The subsequent firing of Pavlína Kvapilová, editor-in-chief of the new media section of CT who criticized the management and supported Drtinová, pointed to the CT management's inability to accept criticism. Due to restructuring, two other new media editors and vocal supporters of Drtinová, Angelika Bazalová and Gábina Gabrielová, were also fired in November.[49]

Concerns about political pressure on public television reignited after the parliamentary elections in October. A number of employees accused the CT management of censorship in several instances, including the editing of a photo documenting a secret meeting between President Zeman and a group of ČSSD politicians in October. (The meeting caused a serious crisis in the party and resulted in allegations that the president was engineering a coup against ČSSD leader Bohuslav Sobotka). In an open letter published in November, 23 editors criticized the management for interfering with the electoral campaign and cited specific examples of editor-in-chief Petr Mrzena asking them to adjust critical reporting on President Zeman and the SPOZ party. The newsroom's deputy editor-in-chief, Adam Komers, resigned shortly after the scandal erupted, claiming that the management of CT had hired a PR company to denounce the signatories of the letter.[50] At the same time, a separate letter was released dismissing censorship claims, signed by 61 CT employees.

Local Democratic Governance:

The Czech constitution guarantees self-governance, and the country is divided into 14 regions and 625 municipalities.[51] The central government entrusts significant tasks to these subunits, which are subordinate to the Ministry of Interior. The Acts on Local Government and Regional Government regulate local and regional self-governments, while the capital city of Prague, which is both a separate region and a municipality, is regulated by its own legal act (the Act on the Capital City of Prague). Citizens elect local and regional assemblies, which further elect local and regional councils, mayors, and regional governors.

At the 2012 regional elections – which were largely seen as a referendum on the unpopular Nečas government – left-wing parties won by a landslide, with ČSSD winning 9 of the 13 regions (Prague only elects a municipal assembly) and KSČM succeeding in 2 regions. The turnout, which has usually been lower than in national elections, fell to a mere 37 percent.[52] Although the presence of KSČM in any form of government is still viewed as controversial by many Czechs, regional governments are currently composed of a coalition or involve cooperation between ČSSD and KSČM in 10 out of the 13 regions. ČSSD had previously agreed not to engage with KSČM in the central government.

The results prompted a series of protests across the country in January 2013, including demonstrations in Prague, Olomouc, Usti nad Labem, Karlovy Vary, Ceske Budejovice, and Zlin.[53] The protesters were calling on the parties to form new coalitions and prevent the Communists from assuming power in regional councils. In the Southern Bohemian region, students went on a hunger strike to protest the appointment of a KSČM member, Vítězslava Baborová, to the position of counsellor in charge of culture and youth. Baborová resigned at the end of January but was later replaced by another KSČM member. The hunger strike had served as an example, and protests continued through the first half of the year, even involving events commemorating the victims of communism.[54]

In Prague, the TOP 09-ODS coalition ended in May 2013 after TOP 09 unilaterally announced its withdrawal. The city's ODS mayor, Bohuslav Svoboda, was replaced by TOP 09 member Tomáš Hudeček immediately afterward. As ČSSD and TOP 09 were unable to agree on a coalition in the next few months, Prague was led by the minority government of TOP 09 at year's end. The breakup of the coalition ended the 22-year-long ODS reign over the capital.[55]

Regional and local administrations continued to profit from European Union (EU) subsidies in 2013, which helped them improve their infrastructure. Problems related to the mismanagement of EU cohesion funds in the northwestern regions of Karlovy Vary and Usti nad Labem resulted in the freezing of funds and an audit by the European Commission in June 2012. The audit determined that an amount of about 2.6 billion Czech crowns (€100 million) was spent improperly and had to be paid back to the EU. The two regions first refused to bear the financial burden, claiming that the responsibility rested with the central authorities, but finally agreed to a compromise in July 2013. As part of the deal, the Ministry of Finance will cover about 1 billion CZK (€36 million), the two regions about 900 million CZK (€32 million), and the state will provide the remaining amount through an interest-free loan.[56] Following the investigation, charges will be lodged against deputy governor Pavel Kouda and several former directors in charge of the funds.[57]

This mismanagement of EU funds likely represents just the tip of the iceberg of regional financial problems, as corrupt practices as well as close ties between regional politicians and businesses are currently coming to light.[58] The anticorruption momentum that exists in the central government has not trickled down to regional and local levels yet, risking the continuation of such mismanagement practices. If handled thoroughly, the investigation of the Karlovy Sad and Usti nad Labem cases and the charges against former governor of Central Bohemia David Rath, whose trial started in August, may become important breakthroughs in curbing corruption at the local level.[59]

The government proposed to remedy the lack of oversight in such situations by extending the authority of the Supreme Audit Office (NKÚ). However, the proposal was struck down by the Senate in January in a decision that was heavily criticized by anticorruption NGOs and activists.[60] Critics of the bill argued that it would only result in an increased bureaucracy and that local and regional administrations were already overwhelmed.[61] Shortly after the proposal was struck down, deputies introduced two similar bills that the majority of deputies pledged to support. As many senators are active in local politics as mayors, the passage of the original bill in the Senate remains uncertain. Some experts claimed that the extension of NKÚ's authority without the right to impose fines would constitute a useless measure.[62]

Judicial Framework and Independence:

The Czech judicial system is four-tiered, with district, regional, high, and supreme courts (the Supreme Court and the Supreme Administrative Court) as well as the Constitutional Court acting as a powerful guardian of the constitution. These bodies are the protectors of individual rights and freedoms, which are guaranteed in the Charter of Fundamental Rights. Judicial independence is protected by the constitution as well, although allegations of political influence in high-profile cases have been a problem in the past.

The Public Prosecutor's Office has for a long time been considered the weakest link of the Czech judicial system. The government has substantial influence on its composition: the Supreme Public Prosecutor is appointed by the government on the proposal of the minister of justice, who also appoints state attorneys. The office was also criticized for its inability or unwillingness to prosecute sensitive cases in the past.

A wave of high-profile prosecutions continued in 2013, having begun in 2012 after the appointment of Supreme Public Prosecutor Pavel Zeman in 2011 and Chief Prague Prosecutor Lenka Bradácová (renowned for bringing charges against former governor David Rath) in 2012. During the year, eight individuals were charged with corruption in relation to the sale of Czech Railways property; a former Prague police chief was sentenced to six years for bribery in November; and prosecution began against a group (including a judge and a state attorney) that had taken bribes for arranging lower sentences in the second district of Prague. Former ČSSD deputy Vlastimil Aubrecht was also accused of bribery in September, and police charged several members of Prague Council, including Mayor Svoboda, in May with insider trading and corruption in connection to a municipal smart card project.[63]

The case that reached most deeply into the heart of political power was the police raid on the prime minister's offices in June. The orchestrated raid, initiated by Olomuc High State Attorney Ivo Ištvan, took place simultaneously in several different locations across the country, involved about 400 policemen, and resulted in charges against eight people, including the prime minister's chief of staff, Jana Nagyová; three former ODS deputies; and two military intelligence heads. The eight individuals were accused of corruption, manipulation of public tenders, and abuse of military intelligence. The prosecution later halted the investigation against the three deputies, noting that they had parliamentary immunity; no official charges were filed against the others as of year's end.

According to a number of experts, the raid was only possible because prosecutors and investigators had been given more independence under Nečas's premiership and because legal changes prevented the executive from intervening in the investigatory stage.[64] Some commentators, however, argued that the prosecution went too far and likened the raid to a "judicial coup d'etat."[65] They claimed that allegations of Nečas offering positions in state firms to the deputies in exchange for a favorable vote were part of daily politics and that the theatrical raid harmed the country's reputation. A positive aspect of the case was the impressive cooperation of law enforcement agencies (especially the Department for the Revelations of Organized Crime) and the public prosecution, which could help reinstate public trust in the judicial system.

Following radical changes to the law on the Public Prosecutor's Office in 2011, the Nečas government introduced further changes in October 2012, boosting the independence of the office. The amendment aimed to create a simplified structure by abolishing the separate Prague and Olomouc offices; made the Supreme Public Prosecutor removable only by the Supreme Administrative Court; and created a specialized anticorruption department within the prosecution.

However, the bill was withdrawn by the minister of justice of the caretaker government in July despite objections by Supreme Public Prosecutor Zeman, High Attorney Bradáčová, and former ministers of justice Pavel Blažek and Jiří Pospíšil.[66] Prosecutor Zeman later stated he would resubmit it as soon as a new government was established.[67] Since the bill is part of the Reconstruction of the State campaign – an initiative by a group of NGOs campaigning for anticorruption measures – and since 137 out of 200 newly elected deputies promised to support it, its chances of passage in the future are strong.[68]

A constitutional amendment passed in April makes it easier to prosecute politicians and Constitutional Court judges by restricting their immunity. Politicians and justices are still protected and enjoy immunity from criminal prosecution – unless the lower house or the Senate gives consent for prosecution, that is – but this protection will end with the end of their mandates.

A controversial amnesty by former president Klaus on 1 January 2013 cast a shadow over the otherwise impressive performance of the judiciary. The amnesty freed more than 6,000 inmates who were serving sentences of up to one year, canceled suspended sentences, and halted proceedings in cases that had dragged on for more than eight years.[69] Since a number of high-profile cases involving corruption (such as the H-System tunneling or the Mercia and Trend funds case) were also stopped,[70] the media speculated that the amnesty had been tailored to end some of the controversial cases of "wild capitalism" in the 1990s, when Klaus was acting as prime minister.[71]

Following Klaus's announcement, a group of senators lodged a complaint before the Constitutional Court in January 2013, hoping to abolish those provisions of the amnesty that dealt with economic criminality; however, the court ruled that it did not have the constitutional competence to make a decision on the case.[72] The senators' motion to impeach Klaus was also stopped by the court, which cleared Klaus of high treason in March.[73] Supreme Public Prosecutor Zeman demanded that the Supreme Court exclude seven cases (including the H-System tunneling case) from the amnesty; the court excluded only two.[74]


Upon coming to power in 2010, the government of Prime Minister Nečas – who had been referred to as "Mr. Clean Hands" during his electoral campaign – made the fight against corruption a top priority. Efforts to curb graft, however, have been hindered by numerous scandals in the past three years. They ran completely aground following the June government crisis and accusations in which members of the government, including the prime minister's closest collaborators, were implicated in a corruption scandal. The resignation of the government in June and the subsequent turmoil suspended key pieces of anticorruption legislation that the government had previously proposed.

In January, the government adopted a bold anticorruption strategy for 2013-14 that listed the top priorities for the next two years, including a new civil service act, legislation on conflict of interest, and measures aimed at improving the ownership structure of companies bidding in public tenders.[75] The government included NGOs in the drafting process and allowed them to draft sections of the strategy. Although the year saw important institutional changes – including the creation of an anticorruption unit in the prime minister's office, which has its own personnel and budget – most of the acts were not adopted due to the resignation of the government in June and the subsequent dissolution of the parliament in August.

NGOs had intensified their efforts in the first half of the year and pushed politicians to pass key legislation. In March, about 20 NGOs announced a new initiative called Reconstruction of the State that engaged parliamentarians, businessmen, and other experts to pass nine anticorruption laws before June 2014, the scheduled date of the next general elections at the time. Because of the dissolution of the parliament in August and the October early elections, only one law was passed in 2013. The majority of the newly elected deputies did agree to support the initiative.[76]

Public procurement is one of the areas most susceptible to corruption in the Czech Republic, and the lack of transparency in the use of public tenders continued to pose a significant problem. In the period 2006-2010, as much as 67 percent of public tenders announced by ministries took place outside the online Information System of Public Tenders, and in 14 percent of the cases, the tender had the same number of bidders and winners.[77] The new public procurement act, passed in 2012 and generally lauded by anticorruption activists, lowered the amount threshold beyond which public contracts must be opened to a bidding process. Previously, this threshold had been among the highest in Europe. The Senate decided to increase it again for 2014.

The existence of anonymous bearer shares also helped to perpetuate nontransparent practices, making it impossible to determine whether the winners of tenders were in any way linked to the political establishment. After previous failed attempts, the government reintroduced a proposal to ban these shares by the end of 2013. According to the law adopted in May, owners of bearer shares would have to register or liquidate them. However, since the law was a somewhat watered-down version of the original draft, experts claimed that offshore companies with anonymous ownership could still be difficult to track down.[78]

Proposed by TOP 09 deputy Jan Farsky in November 2013 and modelled on a similar register in Slovakia, the public register of contracts was another step that would bring more transparency and curb corruption in public procurement. The draft obliged public authorities to publish their contracts online.[79] Some deputies expressed concerns that the law would increase the administrative burden on the smallest municipalities, and the parliament was unable to pass it due to its dissolution in August.

The government did not follow through with recommendations from anticorruption NGOs in its efforts to improve the protection of whistleblowers. No legislation had previously existed to regulate whistleblowing specifically. However, instead of creating a distinct act as suggested by Transparency International (TI), the government proposed to amend the Antidiscrimination Act to include provisions for whistleblowing. TI criticized the approach, stating that the government did not aim to tackle the issue in a complex manner.[80] In the end, the amendment did not pass due to the resignation of the government. TI established a consultation center for whistleblowers.

The Czech Republic is the only EU country without functioning civil service legislation, which makes the country's public administration extremely susceptible to political pressures and corruption.[81] The Law on Civil Service was already approved in 2002, but most of its provisions never came into force as governments constantly delayed its starting date. Although the Ministry of Interior began drafting a new bill in 2013, the process was suspended in May followings criticism by the Legislative Council as well as numerous NGOs.[82] The government finally approved a new draft in June, though its passage also fell victim to the dissolution of the parliament. The law is likely to be among the top priorities of the new government, as it is a condition for the distribution of EU structural funds in the 2014-2020 budgetary period.


David Král


1 The agreement on restitutions was signed with representatives of 16 churches, dividing between them the amount of 59 billion crowns (roughly $3 billion) over the next 30 years in compensation for property confiscated by the communist government between 1948 and 1989 that cannot be restituted.

2 Karel Hrubeš, "Poslance už nechrání doživotní imunita. Senát ji definitivně zrušil" [The deputies are not protected by life-time immunity. It was abolished by the Senate],, 20 March 2013,

3 "Czech PM Petr Necas resigns over aide scandal," BBC News, 13 June 2013,

4 However, the current criminal procedures code allows for the refusal of testimony also in the case of partners. "Expremiér Nečas se oženil s Janou Nagyovou" [Former Prime Minister Nečas married Jana Nagyová], ČT24, 21 September 2013,

5 Markéta Březinová, "Kritika Klausova pardonu sílí. Proti brojí politici, lidé sepisují petice" [Criticism of Klaus' pardon is growing. Declaiming against politicians, people drafted petition],, 4 January 2013,

6 "Klausová to be ambassador to Slovakia?" Radio Praha, 29 March 2013,

7 Kateřina Frouzová, "Zemanův kritik čeká na titul profesora. Prezident s podpisem váhá" [Zeman's critic waits for the title of professor. President hesitates with the signature],, 17 May 2013,

8 "Zeman names 58 professors but seven stay away," Radio Praha, 11 June 2013,

9 Martin Prahar, "Zeman: Putnu profesorem nejmenuji, důvody neřeknu, nechci ho ponižovat" ,, 17 May 2013,; and Jan Wirnitzer and Hana Válková, "Když ne putna, tak ani já. Docenti váhají, zda vzít titul od Zemana" [If not Putna, me neither. Professors hesitate whether to accept the decree from Zeman],, 21 May 2013,

10 "Deset českých zpráv, které by Vás neměly minout" [Ten Czech messages that you should not miss], Respekt, 22 September 2013,

11 Šárka Pálková and Karel Hrubeš, "Zeman proti koalici. Zvolil vládu odborníků v čele s Rusnokem" [Zeman against the coalition. He chose a government of experts headed by Rusnok],, 25 June 2013,

12 Apart from Rusnok, a former minister in Zeman's cabinet, there were a number of ministers in the new government who later ran for SPOZ in the October early elections.

13 "Josef Kopecký: Rusnokovo vláda důvěru nezískala, už v říjnu budou nové volby" [Rusnok's government did not secure a confidence vote, early election expected in October],, 7 August 2013,

14 Marcela Jurková and Eliška Nová, " Zeman: Budu se vměšovat do sestavování vlády. Stropnický ministrem obrany nebude " ,, 8 December 2013,

15 "Deset českých zpráv, které by vás namely minout" [Ten Czech events that you should not miss], Respekt 50/13, 9 - 15 December 2013.

16 The Parliament of the Czech Republic, the Chamber of Deputies, 32nd session, 160th vote, amendment to the Constitution, 14 December 2011,; and The Parliament of the Czech Republic, the Senate, 17th session, 11th vote, amendment to the Constitution, 8 February 2012,

17 "Czech Parliament passes direct presidential elections," Radio Praha, February 9 2012,

18 Hana Válková, Josef Kopecký, and Zuzana Taušová, "Ústavní soud potvrdil prezidentské volby, Okamura s odkladem neuspěl" [The Constitutional Court upheld the presidential election, Okamura failed to defer],, 4 January 2013,

19 "Výsledky prezidentských voleb," [The Results of the Presidential Elections], Czech Statistical Office,

20 The Beneš decrees were a series of legal acts issued by President Edvard Beneš in 1945 that enabled the expulsion of ethnic Germans from the territory of then Czechoslovakia unless they could prove an active anti-Nazi attitude. It is still a highly controversial issue in the Czech Republic and Slovakia. A few politicians (such as Schwarzenberg) claim that the decrees are incompatible with the tenets of modern democracy, such as the presumption of innocence, while others underline problems with potential claims by expropriated Sudeten Germans.

21 Czech Statistical Office,

22 Ibid.

23 Ibid.

24 Ibid.

25 See, for instance, " Zlepší Andrej Babiš českou politiku, potažmo český stát?" [Will Andrej Babiš improve the Czech poltiics, or the Czech state?], Respekt, 2 - 8 September 2013,

26 For more information on the profile of ANO voters, please refer to

27 Currently, referendums have to be approved by the parliament on a case-by-case basis, which makes their use in daily politics difficult.

28 "Kdo, s kým a proč? Politici musí odblokovat své předsudky" [Who, with whom, and why? Politicians must unlock their prejudices], Respekt, 27 October 2013,

29 "Statistika počtu nestátních neziskových organizací v letech 1990 - 2013" [NGO Statistics 1990-2013],,

30 "Změny v legislativě pro NNO" [Changes in NGO legislation], Spiralis Non-profit Assistance Organization, 5 January 2014,

31 "Agenda of the 13th meeting of the Senate in the 9th term," website of the Parliament of the Czech Republic,

32 Office of Government of the Czech Republic, Legislative Helpdesk, Database of consulting organizations - DataKO,ýkladový%20slovn%C3%ADk/Databáze+konzultuj%C3%ADc%C3%ADch+organizac%C3%AD%20-+DataKO.

33 "Policie mobilizuje na sobotní protiromské pochody" [Police mobilizing for Saturday anti-Roma protest marches],, 22 August 2013,

34 "Radikálové se v Ostravě střetli s policií, zadrženo přes 60 osob" [Radicals in Ostrava clashed with police, over 60 people detained], České noviny, 24 August 2013,

35 České noviny, "Podpořit Romy přišla před sídlo vlády desítka lidí" [Ten people came to encourage Roma before the seat of government],, 3 September 2013,

36 "Dvacetitisícový duhový průvod prošel Prahou," [Rainbow parade passed through Prague], Hospodářské noviny, 17 August 2013,

37 Ondřej Tesař, "Krátké zamyšlení nad stavem médií v ČR" [Brief reflection on the state of the media in the Czech Republic], Media pod lupou, 10 January 2013,

38 Tesař, "Krátké zamyšlení nad stavem médií v ČR" [Brief reflection on the state of the media in the Czech Republic].

39 Jiří Závozda, "Mizérie českých tištěných médií" [Misery of the Czech print media], Media pod lupou, 15 February 2013,

40 "Mediální akvizice trhají rekordy, jejich hodnota je nejvyšší od roku 2007" [Media acquisitions break records, their value is the highest since 2007],, 12 August 2013,

41 "Bakala posiluje v médiích. Kupuje portál centrum a server Aktuálně.cz" [Bakala strengthens in the media. He buys centrum portal and server Aktuálně.cz],, 29 April 2013,

42 EuroZprá, "Miliardář Babiš zaskočil Česko! Nekoupil Ringier, ale rovnou obří MAFRU. A zbrojí na volby" [Billionaire Babiš surprised the Czech Republic! He did not buy Ringier, but straight away the Mafra giant. And arms for the elections], Eurozprá, 26 June 2013,

43 Vojtěch Soudný, "Babišova akvizice Mafry znervóznila politiky. Bojí se berlusconizace Česka před volbami" [Babiš's acquisition of Mafra made politicians nervous. They are afraid of berlusconization of the Czech Republic before elections],, 27 June 2013,;and"Babiš: Další akvizice přijdou až po volbách" , Mediaguru, 6 September 2013,

44 Alžběta Havlová and David Bernardy, "Babiš sliboval, že se novinářům z Mafry nebude plést do práce. Vydrželo mu to pár hodin" [Babiš promised that he would not interfere in Mafra journalists' job. It lasted a couple of hours], Český rozhlas, 29 June 2013,–1230075.

45 "Etický kodex novinářů mediální skupiny MAFRA" [Code of Ethics for the Journalists of MAFRA Media Group],

46 Lukáš Henzl, "Novinář Reflexu děsí čtenáře: Jde o Andreje Babiše" [The Journalist from Reflex warns readers: This is about Andrej Babis], Eurozprá, 6 November 2013,

47 The Czech TV was investigated for the program Reportéři ČT, which introduced the presidential candidates. One of them (Jan Fischer) was allegedly ridiculed in in the program because of his political past. The Council also launched an investigation against Prima TV for organizing a debate with only two of the candidates (the frontrunners in the polls). Neither station received fines in the end.

48 Stanislav Dvořák, "Moderátorka Drtinová byla odvolána z politických důvodů, tvrdí odbory ČT" [Presenter Drtinová was withdrawn for political reasons, state CT unions],, 9 August 2013,

49 Pavlina Kvapilova's Twitter page, 7 November 2013,

50 Jiří Zázvorka, "Komers obvinil ČT ze spolupráce s PR agenturami a rezignoval" [Komers accused CT of cooperating with PR agencies and resigned], Tý, 7 November 2013,

51 Czech Statistical Office,$File/130213003.pdf.

52 Czech Statistical Office,

53 "Further protesty proti komunistům. Organizátoři chtějí bránit svobodu a demokracii" [Other protests against the Communists. Organizers want to defend freedom and democracy], Parlamentní, 11 January 2013,

54 Anna Barochová, "Protest, nebo pieta? Už půl roku se drží hladovka proti komunismu" [Protest or piety? Already half a year of the hunger strike against communism],, 11 July 2013,

55 Šárka Formánková and Pavel Švec, "Sociální demokraté budou v Praze tolerovat menšinovou vládu TOP 09" [Social Democrats will tolerate a minority government TOP 09 in Prague],, 18 June 2013,

56 "ROP Severozápad: Pokuty za chybné projekty jsou součástí plošné korekce" [ROP Northwest: Fines for erroneous projects are part of the lumpsum correction],, 27 August 2013,

57 Radek Nohl, "Exnáměstek ústecké hejtmanky míří za podvody k soudu" [Former deputy governor on Usti is heading to trial for fraud], Aktuálně.cz, 16 December 2013,

58 Kateřina Prachařová, Tereza Chlubná, Lenka Jansová, and Veronika Sedláčková, "Propojení podnikatelů a veřejné správy sílí, tvrdí výroční zpráva BIS" [Linking business and public administration is growing, states BIS annual report], Český rozhlas, 7 November 2013,–1278120.

59 "Highly anticipated corruption trial of MP David Rath to begin on Wednesday," Radio Praha, 5 August 2013,

60 Ludvík Hradilek, "Protikorupční organizace: V otázce NKÚ Senát selhal" [Anti-corruption organizations: Senate failed in the SAO issue], Aktuálně.cz, 31 January 2013,

61 Kateřina Menzelová, "Rozšíření pravomocí NKÚ a la Peake a Polčák: v podstatě k ničemu" [Extension of SAO powers à la Peake and Polčák: basically useless], Česká, 15 April 2013,,1.

62 Ibid.

63 "Prague Councillors Charged Over Opencard Contract," Prague Monitor, 27 March 2013,; "Former Prague municipal police chief sentenced to six years for corruption," Radio Praha, 29 November 2013,; and "Exposlanec Aubrecht obviněný z korupce se vzdal všech funkcí v ČSSD," [Aubrecht Accused of Corruption Renounced All Functions at CSSD],, 10 September 2013,

64 Matúš Krčmárik, "Prečo v Česku zatýkajú politikov a na Slovensku sa to nedeje" [Why politicians get arrested in the Czech Republic and in the Slovak Republic it is not happening],, 13 June 2013,

65 "Kriminalizace politiky? Nechme policii a státní zástupce dělat jejich práci" [Criminalization of politics? Let the police and prosecutors do their job], Respekt, 26 June 2013,

66 "Vláda stáhla návrh zákona o státním zastupitelství" [The government withdrew the draft law on prosecution], Česká televize, 24 July 2013,

67 "Zeman předloží novému ministrovi zákon o státním zastupitelství" [Zeman will offer the Prosecution Act to the new minister],, 7 November 2013,

68 For the entire list of deputies and senators who support the adoption of the new act on public prosecutors, please see

69 "Czech President Vaclav Klaus faces treason charge," BBC News, 4 March 2013,

70 H-System was a construction company working on cheap housing developement. The company went bankrupt, embezzling over 1 billion crowns or $50 million. In the case of the Trend and Mercia investment funds, the managers siphoned money off the investors, who suffered damages of about CZK 1,4 billion ($70 million USD).

71 Marek Švehla, "Podraz v převleku amnestie" [Trick in the disguise of amnesty], Respekt, 6 January 2013,

72 "Ústavní soud se odmítl zabývat amnestií pro nedostatek své pravomoci," [The Constitutional Court refused to rule on amnesty for their lack of competence],, 6 March 2013,

73 Rob Cameron, "Constitutional Court throws out treason charges against ex-president Klaus," Radio Praha, 28 March 2013,

74 Jan Velinger, "Court strikes down amnesty for Štepánek," Radio Praha, 9 September 2013,

75 The Government Anti-Corruption Committee, From Corruption to Integrity: Anticorruption Strategy for 2013-2014 (Prague: Office of the Government of the Czech Republic, 2013),

76 Rekonstrukce Statu, [Reconstruction of the State],

77 The Government Anti-Corruption Committee, From Corruption to Integrity: Anticorruption Strategy for 2013-2014, 32.

78 Jaroslava Ignáciková, "Ekonom: Zákaz anonymních akcií boji proti korupci nepomůže" , Deloitte, 31 May 2013,

79 Martina Týblová, "Podpořte registr smluv, vyzval Farský všechny nové poslance" [Support the contracts register, Farský called on all new deputies], TOP 09, 7 November 2013,

80 Transparency International-Czech Republic, Alternativa k mlčení: K lepší ochraně a větší podpoře whistleblowerů v EU. Česká republika [Alternative to silence: For better protection and greater support for whistleblowers in the EU] (Prague: Transparency International, 2013),

81 Security Information Service (BIS), Annual Report of the Security Information Service for 2012 (Prague: BIS, 2013),

82 "Radim Bureš: Nečasův kabinet byl pro boj s korupcí přínosem" [Radim Bures: Necas' cabinet favored fighting corruption],, 25 June 2013,

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