The Serbian Government has adopted the Bill on Lobbying (the Bill) and submitted it to the Serbian Parliament. The Bill is expected to be in the parliamentary debate in the Parliament’s Fall Session.
The need to enact such legislation stems from Serbia’s EU accession process and the Chapter 23. It has also been recommended by the Council of Europe’s GRECO (Group of States against Corruption) organization.
It is expected that the Bill, once enacted, will make the legislative process more transparent, and that the provisions of the various laws will be more balanced, which will ensure more quality in the legislative texts.
The fact that the lobbying was not regulated, does not mean that there was no lobbying in Serbia, and the Government hopes that this legislation will make the process transparent. Generally speaking, the legislative processes on all levels of government in Serbia, suffered from the lack of transparency. It was a common practice that not all of the stakeholders had a saying when the legislation was drafted. It was the result of the lack of clear and transparent mechanisms to communicate with the officials preparing the legislative texts.
The Bill defines lobbying as influencing the central and local authorities in the process of enacting laws and other general regulations, for the interests of the user of lobbying, either individuals or companies.
The Bill stipulates that the lobbying may be conducted by a:
- registered or an unregistered lobbyist;
- a company registered for lobbying (provided it has employed at least one registered lobbyist).
Only Serbian nationals may be registered as lobbyists in Serbia. However, a foreign national who is registered in his or her native country as a lobbyist may be entered in the Serbian registry of lobbyists.
An unregistered lobbyist is a person representing or a company or an organization that is considered to be the user of lobbying.
The lobbyist has to send a request to an official he wants to lobby, and disclose who is he or she lobbying for and regarding which law or other general regulation he is lobbying.
The official has to inform the Serbian Anticorruption Agency (the SAA) about the lobbying but also has the obligation to “timely” set up an appointment with the lobbyist and give the lobbyist all the information regarding the subject of lobbying. This will obviously give more access to the persons or groups with limited or no connections in the political circles, which will empower the stakeholders, and especially citizens groups.
The lobbyists have to deliver yearly reports on their activities to the Serbian Anticorruption Agency.
… and Possible Impediments
The reactions of the professionals have been a mixed one. There are concerns that too much reporting will clog the SAA and that the Bill will be stillborn. It is pointed out that the same thing happened in a few other countries in the region – Montenegro, Hungary, Macedonia.
The Bill stipulates that, in order, to be entered as a lobbyist, a person will have to undergo a mandatory training organized by the SAA. It is rather questionable why the state should organize training for the persons that will lobby on behalf of the private individuals or companies.
In accordance with the Bill, the new legislation will come into a force nine months after the enactment, and all the supporting regulations should be enacted within the period.
The Bill does not have within its scope lobbying for individual acts – i.e. permits, decisions in individual cases. This is not uncommon in comparative legislation, however, very large part of illegal influence remains in this area, and this will limit the effect of new legislation.
The Role of Legal Community in Lobbying
It is expected that the legal community will have a significant role in the lobbying process – both in exploring the limits and ethical obligations of lobbying laid down by the Bill, but also in helping the lobbyists prepare viable and practical amendments or whole legislative texts to the lobbied officials.
This will be important since the experiences in Serbian legislative practice show that, when the voice of the people practicing laws is not heard in drafting them, the laws tend to be impractical and sometimes difficult to apply to the different situations arising in the real world.
By Milos Velimirovic, Partner, Dusan Dincic, Senior Associate, Samardzic, Oreski & Grbovic (SOG)