Ministery of Foreign Affairs of Hungary
The short history of honorary consular representations
Although it dates back to antiquity, the institution of honorary consuls had been regulated by customary law until codified by the Vienna Convention on consular relations in 1963.
The institution was originally created out of necessity; its traces may be discovered in China, India and in the Middle East from the 8 th century. The principal mission of the consuls was to promote the interests of their sovereign and his subjects in the host country, mainly by fostering social and economic relations. As international relations, trade and shipping between continents developed, the role of honorary consuls has increased and they also enjoyed certain privileges.
The career consular service was only born in the end of the 18 th century. France was the first state to hire career consuls and other countries soon followed suite. (Therefore French was – and still is – the official language of diplomacy.) Although states generally send their diplomatic delegates to the capital or to other major cities of the host country, consuls can successfully perform their official duties in smaller towns, since their work focuses on the representation and protection of the interests of citizens of the sending state, rather than on political dialogue with central authorities of the host country. On the other hand, there was no significant difference between honorary and career consuls in terms of their essential tasks and duties.
During the period of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy (1867-1918), Hungary had no independent diplomatic service. However, after the disintegration of the Monarchy and the restoration of constitutionalism in 1920; Hungary became independent and the Royal Hungarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs could start functioning.
The establishment of diplomatic relations with foreign countries as well as with some international organizations made an impressive start in the 1920’s supported by serious financial investments. The most important task was to build a network of diplomatic missions and to offer diplomatic services. In addition to royal legations, career consulates honorary consulates were created. The number of Hungarian diplomats and legations was only slightly affected by the Great Depression of 1929-1933, which lead to nominal cut-backs. In the era before the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, the honorary consular system was regulated by customary law in Hungary.
Between the two world wars royal Hungarian envoys were accredited to four continents, serving in Europe from 1921, in America from 1922, in Africa from 1928 and in Asia from 1937. In 1921 there were 5 career Hungarian consulates in the world, by 1941 their number increased to 21. In 1921 five honorary consulates operated, whereas in 1941 there were 58 of them.
The number of Hungarian consulates was at its highest in 1937, when 106 consular representations were functioning: 17 of them were career consulates and 89 honorary consulates.
By the end of the 1930’s, consulates were established in every European country, with the exception of the smallest ones. This means that Hungary successfully created a consular system which covered practically all of Europe. The great number of consulates on the American continent is also outstanding, a fact which could be explained by the significant Hungarian expatriate population living there, though in many cases the consuls representing Hungarian interests were not Hungarian citizens.
The high proportion of honorary consuls is South America and Asia is also to be mentioned. The tasks of the consulates were mainly to intensify economic and cultural relations besides representing the interests of Hungarian citizens.
According to available data the number of envoys was constantly on the rise until 1938, and then it fell dramatically when Hungary became involved in the Second World War. During the war in tandem with the diminishing number of tourists, consular incomes of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs coming mostly from the issuance of passports, endorsements and visa administration also decreased. After 1939 the number of legations and consulates decreased significantly.
Another significant turn of events took place in March of 1944 when Hungary lost its sovereignty as a result of German occupation. It was shortly followed by the imposition of the Soviet-type one-party system of communism – during this era the operation of the honorary consular system was prohibited by law.
The Vienna Convention on Consular Relations was incorporated into Hungarian law by Law Decree No. 13 of 1987. The institution of honorary consuls – practically abolished in the 1950’s – was restored by a decree of the Minister of Foreign Affairs in 1988.
This new legal environment created an opportunity to nominate and receive honorary consuls once again from 1989/90. Nowadays the appointment and reception, the activity and the supervision of honorary consuls are regulated by Decree No. 2/1995 of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, as well as by Internal Directive Nr. 4/1995.
It is important to distinguish between the two categories of career consuls and honorary consuls since their tasks and competences are somewhat different. The Vienna Convention of 1963 distinguishes between career consuls and honorary consuls, and defines their legal status differently. Career consuls are civil servants of the sending country, whereas honorary consuls are personalities of high esteem, usually citizens or permanent inhabitants of the host country, who undertake to safeguard the interests of the sending country as well as to further the development of commercial, economic, cultural and scientific relations between the sending state and the host state using their own financial resources and network of acquaintances.
In the 21 st century the institution of honorary consuls is undergoing a new renaissance, as a result of the ongoing large scale development of communication on the one hand, and the reduction of financial resources invested in the diplomatic services on the other. Honorary consuls are in many cases capable to relieve, and sometimes even replace career consuls. There is a tremendous need of their efforts these days, which is reflected by the continuous enlargement of the Hungarian honorary consular service. With this particular civil diplomacy regulated by international and national law, Hungary’s network of international relations is quickly developing to cover an ever growing number of countries.
Since 1982 the World Federation of Consuls (Fédération internationale des corps et associations consulaires, FICAC; www.ficac.com ) has served as a global forum for career and honorary consular associations. The organisation was founded to support the status, legitimacy and efficacy of every consular official in every host country. Its aim is to facilitate mutual understanding and cooperation between career and honorary consuls, and to provide a suitable forum for the exchange of information about rights and duties and also for the establishment of well functioning working relations.
Currently 207 honorary consular officers maintain Hungarian presence in 92 countries of the world. In 40 countries out of these 89 there are no Hungarian career diplomats or consuls at all. There are 35 honorary consuls general, and one vice-consul, while the others hold the title of honorary consul. At the moment there are several approval processes going on.
Almost 50 % of our honorary consuls work in Europe ( 98 ), there are 50 of them working in America, 27 in Asia, 25 in Africa and 7 in Australia and Oceania.
The number of honorary consuls working in Hungary is also increasing; currently 51 honorary consuls represent 42 countries in Hungary.
In several countries highly esteemed personalities of the Hungarian expatriate community were more than willing to undertake this prestigious commission, which means that a large number of our honorary consuls – at the moment 84 out of 207 – are of Hungarian nationality or origin.
Our honorary consuls fulfil a significant role in the economic, scientific, cultural and tourist life of the host country. In accordance with international routine, the maintenance of the honorary consular offices does not charge the budget of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Honorary consuls perform their duties without remuneration, relying on their own financial resources.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs publishes the list every year of honorary consuls decorated with a Certificate of Merit in recognition of their decade-long distinguished service in protection of Hungarian citizens and Hungarian interests.
The Republic of Hungary is one of the few countries to organize regular conferences for its honorary consular corps. The fourth of such world-wide forum will be held in Budapest at the end of May, 2008.