The Fourth Conference of Honorary Consuls – summary of events
Foreign Ministry Senior State Secretary Márta Horváth Fekszi opened the conference and noted that Hungary is among the few countries in the world which regularly organises forums affording honorary consuls the opportunity to gather together. The Honorary Consular Corps has already fulfilled an important function in representing Hungarian interests and nurturing ties. Hungary’s accession to the Schengen visa regime has added momentum to the institution of honorary consuls, considering that in many countries - where an official Hungarian diplomatic representation is absent - it has been up to honorary consuls to assist locals in obtaining travel documents to the EU. The senior state secretary emphasised that the Foreign Ministry continues to rely on the staunch activity of Honorary Consuls, and, for its part, will do everything to ensure that co-operation is problem-free. A signal of this commitment is the fact that all key ministers - and the head of government himself - were to give a presentation on the main goals of their policy areas.
Dr. Krisztina Berta, head of Foreign Ministry Consular Services, began her presentation by noting that Hungary has 306 consular representations in 174 states, though a majority of them – 207 - are honorary consular offices. In addition to the traditional role of interest-representation, their tasks notably include managing emergencies, crisis situations or natural disasters. She added that joining the Schengen zone had been a success for Hungary, and the country’s European Union partners are satisfied with the professionalism of Hungarian border control system. The European Union, said the head of department, plans to develop a pact on EU immigration and refugee matters, which is to focus not only on protecting external borders and driving back illegal immigration but also on developing a unified framework for legal immigration. Another new element of consular tasks is that EU member states which have a representation in a third country may receive Schengen visa applications and issue visas on behalf of countries that do not have a representation there. The Hungarian embassy in Chisinau, Moldova has such a role, and, at the same time, Hungary plans to sign an agreement with Germany, France, Finland and Poland to allow them to handle visa applications for Hungary in other countries - mainly in Africa and Latin-America.
The doyen of honorary consuls, Finland’s Urpo Kivikari, opened the series of presentations of each continent. He thanked the hosts for organising the conference and noted with appreciation that the Hungarian government has taken great trouble in maintaining relations with members of the consular corps. Japan’s Osamu Suzuki, who said he had played a pioneering role in attracting investors from Asia to Hungary by setting up a subsidiary of his own factory in Hungary, presented his plans for bringing further investment to the country. Ghana’s Francis Ekow Fynn-Thompson’s presentation dwelled primarily on the unique problems of the African continent, and called the European Union and Hungary’s attention to Spanish support, which helps Ghanaian youth prosper in their home country rather than having to try their luck in Europe. Lorand Ferenczy from Brazil urged the Foreign Ministry to pay more attention to briefing honorary consuls and to provide them with informational material and preliminary briefings to help the success of cultural programmes and guest performances. André Molnar of Vancouver, Canada, told his audience that nearly 20 years ago, when he had accepted the appointment to be an honorary consul, he had no idea what he was taking on, but his own life has become enriched as a result of the work fulfilled as well as the relationships he had developed. Klara Szentirmay from New Zealand talked about the difficulties related to the long distance and asked assistance to overcome this problem.
Conference speakers included Minister of the Prime Minister’s Office Peter Kiss, who addressed the activities and goals of a new Hungarian nation policy. In supporting Hungarians abroad, he noted that the focus had been on development, based on practices which weed out party politics and leave decisions with the legitimate organisations of Hungarian communities. He added that direct contact between people and different organisations, businesses and groups had been viewed as even more valuable than connections between authorities. Those personal ties have been helped by the fact that the European Union has eased its policies towards the Western Balkans and Ukraine. The minister said that a real nation policy calls for solving the problems the nation is facing, which, under present-day circumstances, corresponds to the needs of integration and the creation of conditions for sustainable development. Despite the difficulties in domestic politics of the past few years, Hungary stands a good chance of fulfilling its euro convergence programme and, in keeping with its goals, accelerating economic growth from 2009.
Next in the conference programme, Tamás Korsós, department head at the Foreign Ministry, made a presentation related to communications and public relations activities while deputy department head János Balla discussed Hungarian roles in international development assistance. Katalin E. Koncz, Chief Executive of the Open Society Institute, Budapest, called the audience’s attention to the educational opportunities in Hungary offered by the English-language Central European University linked to the Soros Foundation. Mayor of Pécs Péter Tasnádi and András Mészáros, Managing Director of the “Pécs 2010 Management Centre” a non-profit company presented the preparations for the south-western county seat’s series of programmes under the aegis of the Cultural Capital of Europe in 2010, and asked the honorary consuls present to contribute to the success of the events, at the same time extending to them an invitation to participate in the ceremonies.
On the second day of the conference, Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány addressed the gathering. He thanked honorary consuls for their generous service, intentions and actions in the interests of Hungary. He asked them to continue providing their services in interest representation as well as nurturing economic and cultural relations. Hungary, the prime minister added, can support the work of honorary consuls by following a political line which they can be proud to represent abroad.
In his speech, Mr Gyurcsany focused on domestic politics, noting that the country is paying “the price” of the peaceful transition to democracy at the moment, having been slow to face the forces of competition, while at the same time welfare spending between 2000 and 2006 has swollen the public finance deficit to untenable heights. The current dilemma is how to blend the security offered by the one-party regime in the past - which limited civil liberties - with a social market economy. Reforms launched in 2006 in public administration, higher education and health care had been designed with the aim of curtailing excessive spending and restoring the country’s competitiveness. Citizens on many occasions reacted to the government measures with adversity, in a very “European fashion”. In sum, the past two years have been successful, because many conditions of modernisation have been established. And although anti-reform feeling has developed, several measures aimed to reduce spending and increase efficiency have been adopted which are now irreversible.
From 2008, the aim is no longer to bring about balance but to induce growth, said Mr Gyurcsany. A national compromise must be created in which there are resources for increasing competitiveness in addition to spending on social safety. To achieve this aim, new regulations in the taxation system and social contributions, welfare, training and higher education must be passed with the aim of making it “more worthwhile” to work and invest in Hungary. To this end, the European Union’s cohesion funds offer substantial assistance.
Mr Gyurcsány said he trusts that a parliamentary majority supports his government, which has a modernisation agenda. The liberal Free Democrats (SZDSZ) will back the government, he said, and from this point of view it is of secondary importance whether that backing will come in the form of parliamentary co-operation or a new coalition. Based on these considerations, he said he was convinced that Hungary’s development will again pick up to a faster pace and the government will fulfil its mandate.
Foreign Minister Kinga Göncz provided an overview of the priorities of Hungarian foreign representation and relations with individual regions. In her introduction she stated that with its Euro-Atlantic membership, Hungary had returned to where it has always belonged. The European Union “has transcended the boundaries of history” and the continuous opportunity for negotiations has replaced animosity, so that today the union is not only an economic community, but, to the same extent, a community of values. The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, NATO, gives the basis of our security, she noted.
As regards the main priorities of foreign policy, Ms Göncz mentioned that Hungary aims to become competitive and successful in the EU, as it is a faithful supporter of integration. The European Union needs to be open, and membership must be offered to those Western Balkan states which are sufficiently prepared for it. On the subject of neighbourhood policy, Ms Göncz noted that Hungarian governments have always backed neighbouring countries on their EU accession endeavours, as this would facilitate movement across borders, transport, modernisation and the adoption of a culture of collaboration. European Union memberships have also brought about positive change in the position of Hungarian communities abroad. On a broader note, Ms Göncz said that Hungary is ready to participate in the establishment of global security, including taking a role in peace-keeping missions, which it considers its duty. Further, as a donor country, Hungary is now responsible for the fortune of other countries. On this point, Ms Göncz reaffirmed that the Hungarian side is ready to share its experiences of its transition to democracy with any interested partners. She ended the first part of her presentation by outlining the preparation drafts of Hungary’s 2011 EU presidency, noting that this was an area which could bring a consensus in domestic politics.
Looking at the individual regions, the minister noted that despite integration, bilateral relations have not lost any impetus. For Hungary, the most important “channels” are the southern German and northern Italian axis, including Austria and Slovenia. But co-operation is ever expanding with France, Great Britain, Spain, the Netherlands and Scandinavian countries. Besides maintaining traditionally good relationships with Central European countries, they are also each others’ rivals, for example in attracting investment. In respect of Russia, she noted that Hungary plans to expand its market presence in that country, so the relationship is under review. Ukraine is important for Hungary because of its proximity, and the big opportunities it has in store.
The minister emphasised the importance of the American continent by underlining that it has the largest Hungarian community besides Europe, and very often Hungary is represented in the second or third generation. Hungary aims to forge closer ties with Latin-America. In the Middle East, it plans to open towards the Arab World, which has enormous capital investment potential, although several of these states still apply disadvantageous visa regimes for Hungarians. Hungary nurtures partnership ties with Africa, especially in the sub-Saharan region, partly by acting as a donor, and partly through economic relations and former students who have studied in Hungary. Asia is important to Hungary from the point of view that, as the fastest-growing region, it already participates in political solutions to global problems.
Finally, Ms Göncz thanked the honorary consuls for their service, noting that without their work, Hungarian interest-representation around the world would be much more difficult. At the same time she asked them to help promote Hungary’s bid to have a non-permanent seat in the UN Security Council in 2012-2013.
In the last part of the conference programme, senior officials of the ministries gave presentations: Sándor Burány, State Secretary of the Economy and National Development Ministry, Lajos Oláh, State Secretary of the Ministry of Environment and Water, Finance Minister János Veres, deputy chairman of the National Development Agency Vilmos István Kovács, Justice and Law Enforcement Minister Tibor Draskovics, and Education and Culture Minister István Hiller presented plans for the next few years, asking honorary consuls to collaborate.
(May 26-27, 2008)