The website for critical discussion about migration in Central and Eastern Europe.
24. 5. 04
Pavel Uhl

COMPARATIVE STUDY OF THE MIGRATION PROGRAM – Political participation, involvement in public life and association in unions

The author of the study’s sixth chapter has gone beyond the methodological frame of the study. The chapter analyzes the legal framework of involvement in public life on the part of foreigners. At the outset, the author defines the terms ‘political participation’ and ‘involvement in public life’ from the perspective of social sciences. What follows is an analysis of the forms of political participation anchored in the Czech legal framework based on the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms. The study concludes with a general consideration of the status of foreigners in a democratic political system.

In a wider sense, political participation means any participation in decision-making, the implementation of decisions and the subsequent review of the decisions in the area of public affairs. From a legal point of view, a number of political rights may be distinguished, including freedom of expression, right of assembly, right of association, voting right, right of collective negotiations, right of judicial protection, etc. Most of these rights are – in accordance with the democratic character of the Czech legal framework – guaranteed to foreigners and citizens alike, but there is a question of the actual capacity on the part of foreigners to exercise these rights. On the other hand, there is a number of significant shortcomings in the legal provisions covering political rights in the Czech Republic.
The most peculiar anachronism is the prevalent legal view of the Ministry of Interior which refuses to register citizens’ associations when their preparatory committees include exclusively foreigners. It is likely that for this reason, the government would not recognize a new workers’ union with only foreign members. The Czech Republic thus breaches not only its own constitution, but also a number of international treaties on human rights.
Association of foreigners in professional bodies and their professional activities are usually not subjected to any legal obstructions, but there are several irrational exceptions, for example as regards licensed architects). A similar lack of a unifying idea is to be found in respect to foreigners’ access to public offices or their membership in bodies that fulfill certain public functions (e.g. nature guard on one hand and gamekeepers’ guard on the other).
Allocation of certain professions or functions only to citizens should in all cases be properly justified and fairly exceptional. The entry of the Czech Republic into the European Union is an opportunity to reconsider all such cases and decide whether it is really necessary to exclude foreigners and whether such exclusion is in line with the needs of today’s society.
Extension of voting rights on the local level or formation of political representation of foreigners permanently or temporarily living in a country as well as involvement of this representation in the political life at the municipal or regional levels are all parts of a trend of democratization across Europe. Our entry into the European Union brought citizens of other EU member states living in the Czech Republic the right to vote in municipal and regional elections. This, however, is not the end of the debate about getting foreigners involved in political life: on the contrary, it is a great impetus for this debate. The most natural solution in today’s situation seems to be linking the right to vote with permanent residency, an institution which is well-founded in the Czech Republic and guarantees a sufficiently strong bond between a foreigner and the Czech Republic.
24. 5. 04

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