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New Standards of Consultation between the State and Civil Society – Join the Debate

The Office for Cooperation with NGOs of the Government of the Republic of Croatia, in cooperation with the Council for Civil Society development is launching a public debate on the issue of introduction of new standards for consultation between the state and civil society in the process of enactment of laws and other general regulations.
Preparation of new standards of consultation between the state and civil society is foreseen by the Operational Plan for the Implementation of the National Strategy for the Creation of an Enabling Environment for Civil Society Development from 2006 to 2011, adopted by the Government of the Republic of Croatia at its session on 1 February 2007. In the fourth chapter of the Strategy and the Operational Plan called “Citizens’ Participation in the Creation of Public Policy” the adoption of the “Code of Good Practice for Consultations” and promotion of its implementation is foreseen. The drawing up of such a code was announced already in the Cooperation Program between the Government of the Republic of Croatia and the Non-Governmental, Non-Profit Sector adopted in January 2001.
The first public debate which opened key questions related to the objectives and the contents of the future legal regulation that will deal with consultation between the state and civil society in the process of enactment of laws and other general regulations, was held on Monday, 12 November 2007, from 1 pm to 3 pm in “Novinarski Dom” (Perkovčeva Street 2).
The public debate on the subject of introduction of new standards for consultation between the state and civil society in the process of enactment of laws and other general regulations is structured around eleven questions (see below). You are invited to participate in the discussion by sending your proposals, suggestions and opinions on our email address info@uzuvrh.hr (the deadline is 15 January 2008). We are kindly asking you to refer in your contributions to one or several thematic questions listed below. Only signed contributions from individual NGOs and other interested civil society organizations will be posted on our website.
 
 
1.)    Legal character of the act whereby the process of consultation is regulated
Which form of legal regulation guarantees more quality implementation: law, sublegal act, code?
Law:
  • Legally binding regulation
  • Possibility of obligatory realization of right to consult
  • Possibility of prescription of sanctions
  • Stimulation of hyper-production of regulations
Unnecessary given that the possibility of participation is regulated already by the Rules of Procedure of both the Government of the Republic of Croatia and the Croatian Parliament
Sublegal act:
  • Legally binding regulation
  • It is submitted under the hierarchy of legal regulations of the Republic of Croatia
  • The same legal form is already used for regulation of possibility of participation of civil society in the legislative process on the level of both the Government and the Parliament (it is possible to merely amend the Government’s and the Parliament’s Rules of Proceedure)
Code:
  • It implies political as well as disciplinary responsibility
  • It is suitable for developed democracies which already have a good practice
  • It has a declaratory character
 
2.)    Participants of the process of consultation
 
  • State
  • Government
  • Parliament
  • Administrative structures of the state
  • Civil society
  • Residents (natural persons)
  • Companies (it seems logical that they autonomously advocate participation in the process of consultation)
 
3.)    Acts included in the process of consultation
 
  • Acts proposed by state bodies and NGOs
  • Laws
  • High-value documents – public policies, national strategies, annual reports
  • Sublegal acts – do they have to be included, which of them and to which extent (those which regulate fundamental human rights and freedoms to the extent that participants can give their comments and opinions – there is no need to form working groups or the formation of working groups becomes obligatory on demand of a certain number of participants – which number?)
  • Acts by local and regional self-government units – do they have to be included in the process of consultation (eventually those who have a significant impact on both standard and life of people – space plans – obligation of public debates and consultation)
 
4.)    Does the procedure include local and regional self-governance?
 
It is possible to include a part of decisions taken by local and regional self-government units, which particularly refers to space plans and documents which are practically proved to have an exceptionally strong impact on the quality of life of local people; in this sense it is possible to prescribe an obligation of consultation between executive power, and  people and NGOs on occasion of designing such documents, publishing drafts of documents on skim websites of counties, cities or municipalities, to leave some time for delivery of comments and opinions, and to necessary carry out a quality public debate
 
5.)    Does the obligation of consultation apply for all acts or only for some of them?
 
  • In case of acts of local and regional self-government it is necessary to specify which acts are relevant (only individual acts)
Laws (strategies, policies etc.)
  • It is possible to prescribe compulsory consultations for all legal acts, but not in the same scope
  • Insofar as an obligation is prescribed only for a certain part of acts, a risk of misuses appears which can result in a failure to meet the purpose of a document which regulates the process of participation
  • The possible solution is gradation of the process of consultation (see section 7), whereat laws which regulate rights and obligations of NGOs as well as fundamental human rights and freedoms in the narrow sense have to necessarily undergo all phases of procedure, while the others have to undergo only certain phases.
Sublegal acts
  • Those which are adopted on the basis of the law and regulate rights and obligations of NGOs as well as fundamental human rights and freedoms, enter the system of consultations
  • It is possible to introduce an obligation to form working groups on demand of a certain number of NGOs
 
6.)    In which phase and at which level of power can participants enter the process?
 
Government of the Republic of Croatia (executive power)
 
  • Inclusion of participants in the process of making of certain acts’ drafts (stipulated by the Rules of Procedure) – modalities are stipulated by the article 7
  • Possibility of giving comments and opinions concerning existing drafts
  • Possibility of sending amendments in the phase of reading a bill
  • Possibility of enactment of law on the part of NGOs
Croatian Parliament
 
  • Participation in the work of parliamentary committees in the role of either external members (modification of the parliament’s Rules of Procedure) or invited visitors (depending on agenda)
  • Sending written commentaries, opinions and amendments to parliamentary committees and MP’s Clubs)
  • Monitoring of plenary sessions (gallery, audio tracks, streaming)
Local and regional self-government units
Similar mechanism as on the state level
 
7.)    Modalities of Cooperation
 
Government of the Republic of Croatia
  • Timely publishing of annual plan of making a draft of a bill for a year to follow with marked deadlines (at the moment, there is a plan of harmonization with the acquis communautaire) – the Government’s websites
  • Possibility of NGOs to deliver their comments of the annual plan and introduce amendments
  • Obligation to form working groups on the level of the Government, ministries and administrative organizations with regard to laws and other acts that regulate rights and obligations of NGOs as well as fundamental human rights and freedoms (inclusion of participants in accordance with statutory objectives and activities)
  • Posting drafts of bills and other acts on the government’s websites, and providing sufficient period of time for delivery of comments (timely posting of data on the Government’s websites)
  • Opening of public debates in case of conflicts of opinions within working groups and in case of delivery of comments opposing to the Government’s standpoint
  • Possibility of formation of the Government’s register containing information about NGOs and their spheres of interest (more resources and additional bureaucratization)
  • Possibility of delivering drafts of bills and other acts, and call for delivery of comments on websites (more resources and additional bureaucratization)
  • Setting up cooperation with media with regard to a call for participation (that is hardly achievable on the national level, however it could be realized on the local level via local media)
  • Inviting NGOs to send amendments in the phase of reading bills
Croatian Parliament
  • Amendments of the Government’s Rules of Procedure in terms of specifying the way of selecting external members of the parliament’s committees and inviting NGOs in the role of external members (possibility of participation of larger number of NGOs in accordance with their statutory definitions)
  • Inviting NGOs to give comments on the part of committees
  • Delivery of minutes and materials for sessions of committees
  • Simpler access to audio tracks from the debates about individual bills
  • Specifying regulations about thematic debates of committees
 
8.)    Deadlines
 
  • Deadlines for publishing of annual plan of making a draft of bill and enactment of law – at the latest in June of the calendar year prior to the year which an annual plan refers to (possible news about plans and efforts could be published even earlier)
  • Deadlines for comments about an annual plan on the part of NGOs – 3 weeks
  • Deadline for adopting an annual plan on the part of both the Government and the Parliament
  • Deadline for formation of a working group for those laws for which it was foreseen – 4 weeks prior to formal beginning of operation of working group as indicated in annual plan
  • Maximum duration of working group’s operation – 6 months
  • Deadline for giving comments on drafts of bills and other acts posted on websites of the Government – 4 weeks from the day of posting onwards
  • Deadline for sending amendments in the phase of reading – 4 weeks from the Government’s invitation onwards
 
9.)    Mechanisms of evaluation of received comments and proposals (a degree of obligation)
 
  • Obligatory adoption of comments and opinions that are proving harmonization with acquis communautaire and international documents which regulate fundamental human rights and freedoms
  • Obligatory adoption of comments that a majority of experts (which includes NGOs) agreed  on within a formally organized public debate
 
10.) Exception from consultation
 
  • The only exceptions that could be prescribed are related to enactment of laws by urgent procedure as well as on occasion of the state of emergency; however, due to the fact that in Croatia an extremely high number of laws are enacted by urgent procedure, it is not recommended to prescribe exceptions
  • Possible exception could be prescribed only in case of the state of war or any other direct threat to the Republic of Croatia, whereat there are certain constitutional provisions that regulate operation of the state bodies – such regulation would be harmonized with these provisions
 
11.) A responsibility of the participants of the process (sanctions)
 
  • It is necessary to prescribe sanctions which are not exclusively of political character in cases when individuals in the Government and in the Parliament do not respect provisions of the act in question (e.g. in case of untimely publishing of an annual plan, should a certain fine be prescribed for both legal person and responsible natural person?)
  • Acts which do not pass certain procedure during the phases of making and adoption are legally invalid and they do not have any legal effects (eventual possibility of annulations of acts on the part of the Constitutional Court ex officio or on proposal)
 
Further information could be found in the Brochure on Consultation between State and Civil Society, written by Dr. Dragan Golubović (European Center for Not-for-Profit Law) and Ariana Vela (GONG).
 
 
Public administration bodies
National foundation
Croatian companies’ donations
EU Tenders
Other donors