The Foreign Ministry’s Concept for the Development of Civil and Public Relations
1. Assisting social organisations in international participation and integration
The Hungarian civil sector’s interest representation and negotiation activities are making an ever greater impact abroad. Foreign policy objectives can be advanced by getting acquainted with, and utilising, international expertise and civil society organisations’ networks. NGOs are assuming a more powerful role in shaping global political trends. Assisting their integration via diplomacy is one of the sector’s chief civil-policy goals. The Foreign Ministry helps civil society organisations build their international reputation in the interest of realising foreign policy goals.
The main field of international integration involves linking up to NGOs’ multilateral networks. The Foreign Ministry (KÜM) enhances dialogue with Hungarian civil society organisations that liaise with prominent international NGOs and works with multilateral forums with a view to enhancing Hungarian lobbying skills.
The foreign representation network contributes to developing civil society organisations’ international contact networks. The ministry department dealing with civil relations fulfils requests from civil society organisations for information about civil society organisations in individual countries, and its missions assist in establishing and maintaining regular contact with them. If necessary, KÜM may use diplomatic tools with certain governments in support of a Hungarian partner’s activities, or in protection of their interests.
Foreign representations, paying attention to local distinctions, are expanding their networks with the host country’s non-governmental organisations with the aim of working out local strategies, exploring the main features of how civil society operates, building up contact lists and nurturing civil relations.
In the interest of helping civil society organisations join international umbrella organisations, the Foreign Ministry disburses funds to bidders—insofar as its budget allows. The fund underwrites fees for membership of international organisations on a competitive basis. Funding is tied to monitoring: supported civil society organisations report annually on their international activities.
2. Maintaining regular contact with social organisations that co-operate with the ministry
The Foreign Ministry’s public relations policy should encourage public thinking about Hungary’s foreign policy, spread awareness of the ministry’s foreign relations activities, differentiate target groups, and generally make the Foreign Ministry’s activities more transparent and service-oriented.
To deepen public thinking on foreign policy, the Foreign Ministry should be able to maintain contacts with civil players nationally. For this, ministry experts should form continually updated presentation groups with training, financial and other requirements provided.
3. Widening public dialogue, developing the network of tools
A vital part of promoting public dialogue involves sharing views on foreign policy priorities and plans with a broad swathe of Hungarian society. Foreign policy branches such as security and neighbourhood policy apply to smaller target groups, and the appropriate mode of communication must be chosen. Alongside traditional methods of communication and interactive contact via a website which offers up-to-date and wide-ranging information, the ministry has other tools at its disposal such as: public forums, public meetings with mission leaders on topical subjects, establishing a formal prize for civil society organisations, partially opening the Foreign Ministry’s annual meetings with mission leaders to the public, inviting prominent civil society organisations to meetings, task co-ordination, supporting targeted civil events, lobbying, collating and promulgating positive examples of government-civil group dialogue, organising an open day with attendance by leaders responsible for individual areas, etc.
4. Support for the activities of civil society organisations and foundations, unifying and developing the system of competition for funding
The Foreign Ministry is simplifying funding application procedures -
insofar as effective regulations and its budget permit
. Regulations can be improved to ensure that public funds are properly used by simplifying application procedures for civil society organisations, rationalising funding to increase effectiveness and equitability, as well as making information on the availability and use of funding more transparent. Parallel to refining the bidding system, the administrative requirements for funding of small sums should be eased.
The Foreign Ministry mainly offers civil society organisations project-based support. Operational funding is limited to civil society organisations whose functions fall within the Foreign Ministry’s priorities and strictly according to need.
In order to make funding more efficient, the Foreign Ministry - within the scope of its current budget - may offer exceptional support to representative civil society organisations able to negotiate their interests effectively, integrate into large international networks and have wide-ranging contacts in the international community. Concurrently, the ministry pays special attention to associations that support civil society organisations and to umbrella organisations. It also considers it an important task to help and support small civil society organisations and new initiatives with the aim of facilitating the growth of civil society in connection with ministry-related activities.
Civil society organisations’ access to competition for European Union and international funding must be facilitated, a co-payment provided and joint bids submitted with other foreign non-governmental organisations.
The Foreign Ministry continues to put a special emphasis on co-operating with civil groups in its democracy-supporting activities. Civil groups should remain the main executors of projects financed through the Democracy-promotion budget. These considerations will influence decisions by Foreign Ministry’s Democracy Working Group - whose members are drawn from the relevant ministry departments - on the main streams of democracy-supporting activity as well as funding approval for specific projects.
5. Operation, maintenance and development of electronic channels for fast mass information flow and interaction
Public relations activities which serve professional goals effectively while meeting public expectations must heed emerging communication trends. In addition to its own website, the Foreign Ministry already operates websites of close to a hundred foreign representations. Examples from leading foreign players reflect that the internet and the opportunities it offers take top priority in foreign-affairs public relations. Developments on the Foreign Ministry website will aid the ministry’s civil-friendly and interactive communications.
6. Inviting civil society organisations to preparations for decision-making
Public relations activities require the reception and management of incoming signals from society. Pursuing dialogue offers opportunities for building up a refined picture: learning about the opinions of social players before decisions are made boosts the chances that decisions will enjoy broad backing, while contributing to a multi-faceted assessment of a decision’s anticipated impact, as well as a better understanding of society’s expectations. The Foreign Ministry holds consultations on a regular basis with prominent civil society organisations from a foreign relations point of view, and ensures that such initiatives take institutionalised form. It assesses the expectations of local councils, small regions, civil society organisations and other public groups in connection with the ministry.
Procedural, organisational and technical conditions should be secured so that civil society organisations closely linked to the ministry can participate in the advance-preparation stages of ministry decision-making. For civil co-operation to play a part in the ministry’s legislative process in a formal framework, a structured system and procedural rules for public dialogue should be established.
7. Civil experience, proposals, liaisons in the design and implementation of public relations strategy
A mid-term goal for developing public relations is the design of a Hungarian foreign policy profile based on a broad public consensus and agreement, which reflects Hungary’s national characteristics and interests and effectively promotes EU and other co-operation efforts. Further, it helps gain acknowledgement for, and advance globally, the values which underpin Hungary’s foreign policy, as well as promoting lobbying.
The Foreign Ministry’s activities are greatly enhanced by connecting public relations endeavours with the ministry’s strategic planning and analysis, as well as the implementation and periodic review of the foreign relations strategy. The first sign of this aim has been the evaluation of a draft foreign-relations strategy by non-governmental organisations (NGOs) representing civil society. The ministry plans to continue inviting civil groups involved in certain topics to debate and implement foreign policy, foreign-relations sub-strategies and action plans.
8. EU Public Communication with the involvement of civil society organisations
The Foreign Ministry wishes to continue co-operation with civil society organisations in the area of EU communication with the general public: nearly all programmes of the reflection period have been created jointly with civil society organisations. Building the “civil bridge” has drawn in citizens to debates on Europe’s future and raised their interest in European Union issues. Experience of EU communications shows that events planned and organised jointly with civil society organisations have adequately fulfilled genuine needs. The co-operation extends to the implementation of communication policies of EU institutions on a member-state level.
9. Involving civil society organisations in preparing the 2011 Hungarian EU presidency
The Hungarian EU presidency poses tasks which require nationwide efforts and a national consensus. During preparations, the government aims to establish the broadest possible dialogue. This includes briefing economic players, local governments, cultural players, civil society organisations as well as co-operating on preparation-related tasks. The Foreign Ministry, in its capacity as central co-ordinator for the presidency’s preparations, will harmonise this co-operation with the general timetable.
10. Upgrading the Foreign Ministry’s civil database
A survey of potential partners in the area of public relations and the upgrade of the existing database containing basic data on these organisations will help target groups to maintain contacts, as well as enhancing the transparency of the network system.
11. The organisational unit responsible for civil relations
A standalone organisational unit at the Foreign Ministry sees to nurturing and developing civil relations. However, public relations are not solely the responsibility of this single unit. The ministry’s organisational units have different profiles and multi-layered tasks, which complement each other in a mosaic pattern. The unit responsible for civil relations implements co-ordination tasks. As the scope of public relations expands, the focus point of civil co-ordination activities may need reinforcing.
12. Active participation in the work of the Civil Co-ordination Intra-ministerial Committee, enforcing unique features derived from the Foreign Ministry’s special tasks
The function of being an EU member state has brought foreign policy into the arena of the everyday. The implementation of the government’s foreign-policy programme requires co-ordinated action by various ministries. The Foreign Ministry must take on a leading role in co-ordinating ministries’ activities which have an international or civil aspect.
13. Communication of normative measures introduced in the consular field, raising the standard of consular services
One of the most important areas where the Foreign Ministry is in direct contact with citizens is consular activities. A need for interest negotiation and protection on behalf of Hungarian citizens, companies, and organisations is growing (the number of EU residents - both temporary and permanent as well as migrant workers - is on the rise, and Hungarian capital is appearing in countries where there have so far been no Hungarian investors; the number of independent travellers, tourists targeting exotic countries, high-risk groups is rising; and Hungarian citizens are becoming targets of terrorist action and human trafficking). The Foreign Ministry aims to continuously upgrade consular services, which deal with about one million clients each year. A very important area of disseminating information to consuls is information in connection with the Schengen system.
14. Operating the Crisis Management Centre
The Crisis Management Centre, operating since February 2005, aims to assist and improve the efficacy of the protection of Hungarian citizens during their stays abroad in case of an international disaster. In the event of a crisis, the Foreign Ministry works closely with expert civil society organisations. The crisis management centre, which is on stand-by around the clock, gets back-up in extraordinary situations.
15. Operating the honorary consular network and working group
The practice of sending and hosting honorary consuls was revived in Hungary in 1989. Perhaps the most important aim of the system is to make the interest-representation and protection of citizens more effective primarily in countries and regions where there is no opportunity to set up and maintain an “official” representation. The consuls play a pivotal role in furthering cultural, economic and tourist relations, as well as bringing the local Hungarian community and their civil society organisations closer together.
16. Operating International Development Assistance’s Social Consultancy Body
International Development Assistance is an area of foreign policy where contact networks with civil society organisations are most apparent. So far, International development and humanitarian projects financed from the Foreign Ministry’s International Development Assistance budget chapter have been mainly implemented by civil society organisations, most often those which are members of international non-governmental organisations and which have partner organisations in the host country, too. This type of co-operation between the ministry and civil society organisations has already been established in practice and has partly taken an institutional form through International Development Assistance’s Social Consultancy Body.
17. Preparing International Development Assistance Legislation
The Foreign Ministry is responsible for preparing bills in connection with International Development Assistance, which aims to provide a framework for the Hungarian state’s international development policy, as well as its implementation and regulation. Preparing the draft law requires continuous close co-operation between ministries and the civil sector. Civil society organisations have an important role in implementing international development policy. This must receive attention when drawing up any legislation regulating International Development Assistance activities.
18. Establishing the Human Rights Inter-ministerial Council
In order to prepare government reports on the national implementation of International human rights treaties, put into practice recommendations formulated by the “treaty bodies”, establish a uniform Hungarian human rights policy, and to fulfil tasks related to dialogue and co-operation with civil society, it is necessary to set up a human rights council. This on the one hand will enable ministry-to-ministry consultations; on the other it will aid continuous contact with civil society active in the area of human rights. The members of the council are to be delegated by the relevant ministries, led by the Foreign Ministry.
The Foreign Ministry’s leading role is underpinned by the fact that in the majority of cases in connection with international human rights treaties, it is the Foreign Ministry which is responsible for the management of both the ratification process and compiling government reports on the national implementation of treaties. The council should from time to time invite to its sessions Hungarian civil society organisations dealing with current human rights issues, NGOs, members of scientific workshops and academics, and brief them on the most recent developments and issues in the field.
19. Examining the legal requirements related to international civil relations
The Foreign Ministry examines the legal requirements pertaining to international civil relations and participates in the work of multilateral forums called together for this purpose.
(March 17, 2008)