CSOs in Lithuania concerned new amendments of the law on lobbying may unnecessary overburden NGOs
The parliament in Lithuania is currently taking steps to amend the Law on Lobbying Activities. The law was first adopted in March 2000 and last amended in 2017. If the amendments are approved by the parliament, all NGOs that participate in the policy-making process or consultations with government, or have contact with politicians or government institutions’ representatives, will have to register as lobbyists and provide monthly reports about these meetings.
Civil society organisations (CSOs) in Lithuania, while expressing support for this initiative aiming at tackling corruption, and to ensure transparency and equal access to decision-making processes, raised concerns over the negative impact the suggested amendment concerning NGOs would have on the sector by creating an extra administrative burden for NGOs.
CSOs were also concerned that any aspirations by NGOs to influence decision-makers when not registered as lobbyists “may end up with administrative sanctions” from the Central Commission on Official Ethics (COEC) that “will seriously undermine the spread of civic initiatives, pluralism and free movement”.
The National NGO Coalition, the NGO umbrella association, sent the parliament and the government a proposal suggesting that the Law on Lobbying should treat NGOs as legal entities different from lobbyists and that different rules should apply to “advocacy” and “lobbying” activities.
The National NGO Coalition further urged legislators:
“[Legislators should] take into account the already fragile nature of non -governmental organisations (civil society that is the foundation of participatory democracy) in Lithuania, without overburdening them administratively when initiating certain public policy decision-making processes; or participating in the legislative process […]” (Translated from Lithuanian)
Furthermore, CSOs raised concerns that the process of amending the law on lobbying is moving in a hurried fashion without adequate consultation with CSOs. The NGO Information and Support Centre Director Martinas Žaltauskas told the CIVICUS Monitor research partner: “Recently the National Security and Defence Committee voted for the amendments, so politicians aren’t hearing the arguments of the NGO representatives.”
The amendments to the law on lobbying were reportedly motivated by the intention to prevent illegal lobbying by big business companies, and some NGOs - among them Transparency International Lithuania Branch - support this initiative. The National NGO Coalition said that although the organisation does not tolerate corruption and illegal lobbying and supports the tightening of the regulations, they believe that a distinction should be made between NGOs that protect the public interest and human rights, and business associations and private lobbyists who are working for profit. The amendments create an unnecessary administrative burden for NGOs, whose administrative capacities cannot be compared with capacities owned by business entities.
This year the LGBT Festival “Baltic Pride” was held in Vilnius from 4 - 9 June 2019. The “Baltic Pride” is the biggest LGBT human rights festival that alternates between the three Baltic capitals every year and is attended by the LGBT community and supporters from Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and other European countries.
According to the organisers, approximately 10,000 people participated in the Baltic Pride in Vilnius, calling for equal rights for the LGBT community. The atmosphere at the event was described as celebratory. The Head of the Communications Department of the Police, Ramūnas Matonis, told the mediathat no complaints were received by the police, and that nobody was detained in relation to the event.
Although the situation of the LGBTI community is steadily improving in Lithuania, it still does not offer any legal recognition to same-sex couples. Lithuania ranked 32nd out of 49 European countries in discrimination against LGBTI persons, according to the ILGA’s 2019 Rainbow Europe Map and Index. Previously the CIVICUS Monitor reported that theLGBTI community continued to be subjected to harmful speech and censorship of content showing same-sex couples.
ILGA-Europe suggested a number of measures to Lithuania to improve the legal and policy situation of LGBTI people in the country, including protecting and promoting freedom of expression for them by repealing Article 4.2.16 of the “Law on the Protection of Minors against the Detrimental Effect of Public Information”.