Appointment, supervision and duties of the Honorary consul
The Honorary (Hon) consul is one of the actors of international relations. In the overwhelming majority of cases consuls serve in the country of which they are a citizen (the receiving or host country) and support the interests of the citizens and legal entities of another country (the sending country or state), as well as serving commercial and economic interests with the official agreement of the sending state. Further, they can play an important role in stimulating cultural, educational, scientific relations or sport and tourism.
The basis of his/her appointment generally takes into consideration the individual’s personal prestige, influence, integrity, stability of assets as well as certain commitment to the sending state. Material allowances are not usually partaken in lieu of the consul’s activities.
International regulations governed by the universal Vienna Convention on Consular Relations passed in Vienna on April 24, 1963 were incorporated into Hungarian law in the 13th statutory decree of 1987. Besides this, the regulations are guaranteed by the 2/1995 Foreign Ministerial Decree and the 4/1995 Foreign Ministerial Mandate. In respect of honorary consuls, Hungarian legal regulations follow international law.
Anyone nominated for the office of Honorary consul must be either a citizen of the receiving country or a Hungarian citizen living in the receiving country with a permanent residence in the given consular district. The candidates must be
- held in high public esteem and of social repute in the receiving country
- able to operate from own resources without remuneration
- appropriately qualified
- knowledgeable in the Hungarian language (Hungarian citizens should have the opportunity of interacting in mother tongue, e.g. with the help of a Hungarian colleague)
- have no criminal record
- unbound by fulfilling functions on behalf of a third state (such persons may only apply in special cases).
A Hungarian head of diplomatic mission or consulate, a minister, a leader of a central authority or national interest-co-ordinating body of the sending country may put forward a nomination to the foreign minister, who has the legal authority to make such an appointment.
In connection with the appointment process in the receiving country, the diplomatic or consular mission’s tasks are:
- Preliminary inquiries (whether the candidate is willing to undertake the position if all legal requirements are fulfilled).
- Personal proposal (must include personal data; citizenship; personal data and citizenship of the candidate’s parents and spouse; school diplomas; linguistic knowledge; occupation; place of work; assets; connections with Hungary and interests; commencement of residency in the receiving country; address of home and/or residence; address of Hungarian property; home or residence; last place of residence in Hungary; reason for leaving Hungary as well as date; any possible previous Hon Consular charges and the designation of the sending country).
The candidacy must be reasoned: did the choice rest on the basis of personal acquaintance/reference/commendation; the candidate’s connection with the Hungarian community living in the receiving country/consular district. A certificate of a clean criminal record must be attached.
- The diplomatic mission requests preliminary consent from the receiving country (the appropriate diplomatic note must include the candidate’s personal data; consular tasks; the name of the consular representation).
- The head of the Hungarian diplomatic mission who has supervisory authority asks the candidate to accept the nomination for Honorary Consul (the request should include the designation of the consular representation; the representation with supervising authority; the honorary consular official’s rank; the conditions of service; tasks).
When the Honorary consular candidate confirms acceptance of the appointment in writing, the Foreign Ministry sets out the legal documentation of appointment which:
confirms the Hon. Consular official’s post
contains the Hon. Consul’s name, rank, his/her representation’s consular district, its headquarters and ambit of responsibilities
declares that the appointment is for an indefinite period.
The deed of appointment is forwarded via Hungarian diplomatic or other appropriate channels to the government of the receiving country.
The receiving country issues authorisation confirming acceptance (patent to guarantee the rights of consular office=exequatur). The head of the diplomatic mission or his/her proxy hands over the deeds of appointment and exequatur and after receiving possession of these, the Honorary Consul may begin his/her duty (in exceptional cases, and with the receiving country’s explicit permission, he/she may do so simultaneously or prior to thereof).
The Hon Consul, after accepting the appointment, makes a ceremonial declaration in the presence of the foreign minister or the minister’s proxy, in which he/she agrees to the following:
to fulfil his/her tasks and duties in their entirety
to observe secrecy rules
to personally sign the declaration
The diplomatic or consular mission subsequently advises the receiving country’s foreign ministry of the commencement date of the Hon Consul’s duties and sends them the Hon Consul’s signature, initials and a copy of the stamp.
The foreign minister manages the supervision of the honorary consul’s services via the head of the diplomatic or consular mission. The Hon consul‘s scope of authority in his/her consular district is not exclusive since it is possible that a career diplomatic/consular representation operates in parallel. The Hungarian Foreign Ministry Consular Department arranges and harmonises the relevant tasks between the Hon. Consul and the leading foreign representative.
The rank of the Honorary Consular representation
The rank of the representation headed by the honorary consular officer is determined by the foreign minister with the consent of the receiving country. In this respect, the level of relations between the Republic of Hungary and the receiving country in terms of commercial, economic, cultural, scientific relations and tourism must be taken into consideration, as well as the commitment of relations to the given consular district, the number of Hungarian citizens with residency and the honorary consul official’s prestige.
Ranks available: Hon. Consul General, Hon. Consul, Hon. Vice-Consul or Consular Clerk.
Suspension of work
The honorary consul can suspend his/her work for shorter than three months (e.g. due to illness or another unavoidable reason).
Any suspension period which lasts longer than three months requires prior written permission from the head of the supervising diplomatic mission.
The Hungarian Foreign Ministry may also order the suspension for a period shorter than six months if - on the basis of a proposal by the head of the supervising mission - an investigation of the Hon Consuls working conditions becomes necessary. Subsequently, the foreign ministry will decide on the continuation of functions or withdrawal of the appointment.
The supervising diplomatic mission notifies the receiving country’s foreign ministry of the suspension of work and the expected duration. In such cases, the tasks – temporarily - are carried out by a temporarily designated consul or previously registered Hon consular clerk.
Cancellation of appointment
The honorary consul’s appointment ends upon the his/her death or resignation, or withdrawal of appointment.
The authority to withdraw an appointment lies with the Foreign Minister. The withdrawal of the appointment is carried out on the proposal of the supervising diplomatic mission; the Hon Consul and the Foreign Ministry of the receiving country must receive a subsequent note 30 days in advance. Reasons for the withdrawal can include:
functioning of the Hon Consul no longer serves any interests
the receiving country withdraws the exequatur
the Hon Consul repeatedly ignores the instructions of the head of the supervising mission
suspends work for longer than three months without prior permission
repeatedly or gravely breaks Hungarian law or the receiving country, or if criminal proceedings are brought against him/her
behaviour inconsistent with post
illness or other reasons obstruct his/her work.
The Honorary consul’s duties
- Represents the interests of citizens, legal entities and non-legal entities of the Republic of Hungary in the receiving country within the framework of international law.
- Promotes the development of commercial, economic, cultural, scientific, and tourism relations.
- Gathers information on the receiving country’s current affairs in the above areas and prepares a report for his/her foreign minister as well as responding to inquiries of relevant persons.
- Undertakes interest representation for Hungarian citizens in matters of inheritance.
- Undertakes interest representation for underage and legally non-competent persons, especially if they require the appointment of a legal guardian or trustee.
- Ensures representation of Hungarian citizens in relation to the receiving country’s authorities and courts in keeping with local procedural regulations and secures their civil rights, as well as representing their interests when they are not present or are otherwise incapacitated.
- Provides assistance and support to Hungarian citizens, legal entities and organisations.
- Provides assistance and support to maritime ships under Hungarian flag as well as to Hungarian-registered aircraft and crew.
- May receive passport, visa or residency requests within its consular district and, after following procedures for identification, forward these within 3 days to the diplomatic mission in charge.
The Honorary consul is not under any obligation to prepare political reports. He/she must prepare, however, an annual report on his consular activities, matters of relevance to Hungary and his financial accounts for his supervising mission, which is then forwarded to the Foreign Ministry.
The consul is obliged to inform the foreign minister, without delay, if he has been asked by a third country to perform honorary consular duties on its behalf.
Material conditions of service
Honorary consuls are expected to provide offices, furniture and equipment at their own expense. The supervising mission provides the official stamp, while the Republic of Hungary provides the state flag, the coat of arms, and the armorial bearings containing the representation’s name in Hungarian and the foreign language. The Honorary Consul receives guidance, directives and Hungarian legal advice in relation to its functions and receives regular updates on the current affairs of Hungary’s economic, commercial, cultural, scientific, and tourism activities.
Financial conditions of service
Honorary consuls are not entitled to remuneration for their services, but, if required, they may sign a contract with the Foreign Ministry on the material and financial conditions of their services in advance. The consul collects fees and taxes for certain services, as prescribed by law, and he/she may use a part of these revenues to cover justified and necessary costs incurred. Honorary consular officials must keep a record of their revenues and spending, which the supervising mission has a right to examine.
Hon Consuls may subsequently submit a request for reimbursement of costs in the following cases:
- an extraordinary change in social circumstances, war, or natural disaster substantially increases the number of Hungarian victims or clients in need
- the total expenses of services undertaken exceed revenues from consular fees.
Costs incurred by the Hon. Consul which are subject to reimbursement include telecommunications, travel and postal costs related to official consular services, a consular loan or the transport costs of returning a Hungarian citizen or his remains to Hungary. It is not possible to reclaim protocol-related costs or fees paid to staff. If a surplus of revenue from consular fees accrues, the consul is required, after a settling of accounts, to transfer the difference to the supervisory mission.
Immunities and the protection of the Hon. Consul’s representation
Due to the fact that the Honorary Consul is, in most cases, a citizen, native or permanent resident of the receiving country, his immunities and privileges are far fewer than those of career consuls and especially diplomats, and they apply only in cases strictly connected to his consular activities.
Honorary consuls are entitled to immunity from jurisdiction - in civil and administrative procedures - and from testimony, in a limited scope, only in tasks undertaken on commission of the sending country. He may refuse to testify about facts related to his official duties. He/she must take part in criminal proceedings. If he/she is a citizen of the sending country or of a third country, the title of honorary consul exempts him from registering as a foreigner and from the requirements related to permanent residency in the receiving country.
Any reimbursement and income connected to honorary consular services are exempt from tax.
In respect of the consular duties, he/she is exempt from personal service, communal work, military duties, requisition of goods and garrison provision. Staff members of the Honorary consul are entitled to immunity from jurisdiction but are not exempt from providing legal testimony. The head of the supervising mission must be informed if a member of staff is charged in criminal proceedings. Personal staff and family members enjoy no immunities of any kind.
The receiving country must protect the consular offices from intrusion and damage. The Hon Consul’s files - even if kept separately - are inviolable at all times.
The Hon Consul’s offices, if owned or rented by the sending state, are exempt from national, regional and local taxes and charges.
The new law on VAT introduced in Hungary effective January 2008 no longer permits the general reclamation of VAT, but an exemption from customs fees continues to apply in relation to equipment, documents and furniture used in connection with the consular service and dispatched to Hungary by the sending country.
Honorary Consuls’ entitlement to issue certificates
Based on the joint Foreign Ministry and Justice Ministry decree no. 1/2002 (I.23.), the Foreign Minister may authorise the Honorary Consul to issue the following consular certificates:
- authentication a signature or initials of a Hungarian citizen or legal entity written on records testifying to legal transactions or affidavits prepared in a foreign country but used in Hungary, if signed in the presence of the honorary consul by the subject personally present, or his legal representative, or if the signature is claimed to be his own
- authenticating a document as the exact copy of the original presented to him
- testifying to the fact that a Hungarian citizen is alive.