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The Hungarian Equal Treatment Authority in the spotlight

May 1st 2011
This Spring Hungary is under the international spotlight as it takes over the rotating presidency of the EU. It is an opportune moment to give visibility to the work and achievements of the Equal Treatment Authority (ETA), one of the Hungarian member organisations of Equinet.
Dr. Agnes Honecz (pictured left), who was recently appointed President of the ETA is the voice of the Hungarian equality body for this edition of the Member in the Spotlight. In an interview Dr. Honecz highlights the specificities of the mandate of the ETA, stresses the intense work done by the organisation to raise awareness about equality and non-discrimination across the country and last but not least she reveals the ETA’s priorities for the year ahead.


1. Can you tell us a bit about the history and mandate of the Hungarian Equal Treatment Authority?

2. What are the key priorities for the Hungarian Equal Treatment Authority in the year ahead?

3. Do you feel that the current economic downturn has had an impact on equality and your work? What do you think the repercussions could be for the future?

4. What are the main discrimination issues that the Hungarian Equal Treatment Authority is currently dealing with?

5. Approximately how many complaints concerning discrimination do you receive each year?

6. How does the Hungarian Equal Treatment Authority build relationships with its stakeholders?

7. How aware is the general public of the Hungarian Equal Treatment Authority and its work?
- What actions have you undertaken to raise general awareness of the Hungarian Equal Treatment Authority and its work?
- Have you encountered any obstacles in gaining the trust of specific vulnerable groups in Hungary?

8. What do you feel are the main advantages of being a member of Equinet for the Hungarian Equal Treatment Authority?

9. What could Hungary contribute to the European equality and non-discrimination agenda in its position as President of the Council of Europe (January- June 2011)? In what ways can the ETA support this?

10. What key projects and initiatives do you have planned for the second half of 2011?


1. Can you tell us a bit about the history and mandate of the Hungarian Equal Treatment Authority?

The Hungarian Equal Treatment Authority came into being on 1 February 2005 and is under the governance of the Department of Public Administration and Justice. The Authority is independent from the Government, it cannot be instructed with respect to the decisions it makes on complaints and its decision is final and there is no higher body that the case can be taken to. The Hungarian Metropolitan Court holds exclusive jurisdiction to hear appeals against decisions of the Authority.

The Act on equal treatment and the promotion of equal opportunities (Act Nr. CXXV of 2003) which established the Authority is broad in scope. It requires all government entities to adhere to the principle of non-discrimination in every legal relationship (that is relationships regulated by the law). Its coverage extends to specific legal relationships involving government subsidies, employment relations, the sale of goods and services, housing, education and healthcare. The law, however, exempts family relations; relations of ecclesiastical entities directly connected with the activities of the religious life of churches and relationships in associations.

In line with the EU equality directives the law primarily targets direct and indirect discrimination, harassment, unlawful segregation and retribution. The Authority is required to investigate all cases in which the petitioner has established at least one protected trait (listed below) and prejudice regarding himself or the group represented.

The Authority is further assisted by an Advisory Body dealing with unresolved, legal issues such as the division of the burden of proof, equal pay for work of equal value, retribution, harassment, reasonable accommodation, the scope of inquiries at job interviews, etc.

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2. What are the key priorities for the Hungarian Equal Treatment Authority in the year ahead?

As in the rest of Europe, the global economic crisis has led to cuts in resources and a changing public attitude for the Equal Treatment Authority. In order to adapt to this change of circumstances (for example a lack of adequate funding and a lowered tolerance threshold) the ETA has had to rethink its strategy. We have shifted our focus towards increasing the number of settlements rather than imposing fines with a greater emphasis on awareness raising and extending our international relations.

In terms of awareness-raising, the ETA relies heavily on funding from the European Union. This has enabled us to extend the scope of our 51-month TAMOP project “Combating Discrimination, Shaping Societal Attitude and Strengthening the Work of the Authority”, which started in mid 2009. The key outputs of this project include organising awareness-raising training for NGOs, municipalities, trade unions and public servants; setting up advisory services throughout Hungary to pre-screen complaints and provide professional advice; increasing media presence and preparing seven social sciences research subprojects, which aim to uncover discrimination in its various guises.

Over the course of the year ahead, the authority will also seek to propose changes in law and for the adoption of governmental measures in light of experiences drawn from its research. Regarding its international relations the ETA is in the process of building an alliance with the Romanian equality body.

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3. Do you feel that the current economic downturn has had an impact on equality and your work? What do you think the repercussions could be for the future?

The current economic downturn has had disproportionate effect on immigrants and ethnic minorities. Such unfavorable changes, illustrated by statistics from both Europe and the USA, can be seen in both increased unemployment rates of people in these groups and the rise in the number of crimes against ethnic minorities.

Tension between the general population and ethnic minorities is highly pronounced in Central-Eastern Europe where the market is shrinking rapidly and unemployment cannot be absorbed by the social welfare system. Against this backdrop, the tolerance threshold of Hungarian society at large has significantly lowered; today our mission is more important than ever.

It is in the context of the decreasing levels of tolerance that the ETA has suggested that the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) should return hate speech to its agenda. In our opinion it is critical to supervise proper and effective implementation of ECRI recommendation Nr.7 especially given the exigent nature of the circumstances which have arisen from the economic crisis.

The economic downturn has also had an effect on the government budget; various austerity measures have resulted in budget cuts across the public administration which has had an effect on our own operation. As a result, the Authority decided to set the new priorities and introduce new approaches as detailed in the previous question.

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(logo) Hungarian Equal Treatment Authority (Click to enlarge picture)

4. What are the main discrimination issues that the Hungarian Equal Treatment Authority is currently dealing with?

The Authority seeks to combat all the grounds of discrimination within its mandate and one of the key ways it does this is to raise awareness of the issues by maintaining a media presence.

Gender (motherhood), age, ethnic origin and disability are the grounds on which the ETA is most frequently petitioned. However, the ETA also actively focuses on reaching vulnerable groups who are at risk of discrimination.

To reach key vulnerable groups the Authority runs a training programme which provides an introduction to the relevant domestic, international statutory background and case law; the means petitioners possess in vindicating their rights and the differences between various forums (court, the equality body and other administrative authorities). The Equal Treatment Authority also cooperates with NGOs to reach specific vulnerable groups with the aim of providing them with tailored information.

Another key way in which the ETA addresses the grounds of discrimination covered in its mandate is through facilitating the settlement of disputes. One of the key areas of success for the ETA in resolving dispute through settlement concerns complaints regarding the physical accessibility of public service facilities.

Many public service providers in Hungary have failed to implement accessibility arrangements despite the passing of the statutory deadline, generally as a result of inadequate funding. In this context imposing a fine would only further compromise their financial situation, a problem that the complainants are generally sympathetic to. In this instance the ETA acts as a mediator between the providers and the petitioners and helps to arrange settlements in which the public service providers undertake to incrementally fulfill their statutory duty.

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5. Approximately how many complaints concerning discrimination do you receive each year?

The Equal Treatment Authority receives around 1000 complaints each year, including from complainants seeking advice on the relevant statutory background in question or the venue where a specific right can be vindicated.

The majority of complaints are related to the field of employment, followed by goods and services. Following the deadline for the introduction of physical accessibility arrangements by public service providers there has been an increase in petitions in this field.

Like many other equality bodies the ETA often struggles with the introduction of petitions outside its competence. We proactively try to increase the number of cases brought to us that are within our mandate, and that we are able to positively assist on by placing a greater emphasis on training and increasing the media presence of the Authority to raise awareness of the body’s role.

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6. How does the Hungarian Equal Treatment Authority build relationships with its stakeholders?

At the Authority we endeavor to build good working relationships with a range of actors related to our work. We closely cooperate with the Ombudsman for National and Ethnic Minorities (including meetings and amicus curiae briefs), trade unions and Non Governmental Organisations (training and conferences). We find that the feedback of various stakeholders is crucial in identifying topical issues and problems and how to respond in the most effective manner.

Each year we organise a conference for representatives of NGOs and trade unions who may confront discrimination in their work. At the conference the authority provides information on its activities. This event also offers a unique opportunity for these stakeholders to raise questions or level criticism toward the authority. This feedback is reviewed and analysed by the Authority and assists us in improving the quality of our work.

Hungarian Equal Treatment Authority (detailed Equinet profile)
Hungarian Equal Treatment Authority (detailed Equinet profile)

7. How aware is the general public of the Hungarian Equal Treatment Authority and its work?
- What actions have you undertaken to raise general awareness of the Hungarian Equal Treatment Authority and its work?
- Have you encountered any obstacles in gaining the trust of specific vulnerable groups in Hungary?

A common problem that Equality bodies face is that often the people who call for the jurisdiction of their authority are not those who are the most vulnerable in society. In Hungary we have found that whilst Budapest, our capital city, is one of the most significant sources of complaints the prevalence of discrimination is the lowest in the country.

To ensure that vulnerable people and groups were being reached outside the capital, the ETA realised that it was necessary to decentralise its awareness raising activities. With this in mind we launched a TAMOP Project, with funding from the European Union, in 2009. With this project we hope to raise awareness of discrimination across the country.

Our ambitious goals include awareness raising through legal training; the setting up of advisory services across the country and conducting research on discrimination. Through our advisory service system and training programs we seek to tackle the issue of discrimination at its source. Our use of EU funding has enabled us to minimise the adverse effects of budget cutbacks resulting from austerity measures.

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8. What do you feel are the main advantages of being a member of Equinet for the Hungarian Equal Treatment Authority?

Being a member of a network of equality bodies offers a number of advantages to us. Having a representative in each of the 4 Equinet Working Groups provides us with the opportunity to discuss and compare various aspects of discrimination and anti-discrimination measures with our counterparts in other European equality bodies. Best practice training organised by Equinet, in the form of seminars and workshops, also enables us to share our experiences in specific fields with our European colleagues. Such events serve a twofold purpose for the ETA: professional training and networking. Participating in these enjoyable events has so far proven to be useful for the Authority.

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9. What could Hungary contribute to the European equality and non-discrimination agenda in its position as President of the Council of Europe (January- June 2011)? In what ways can the ETA support this?

The Hungarian government is committed to the principle of non-discrimination. The most significant field where this unflagging commitment can be seen is the advancement of the situation of Romani individuals both at European level and in Hungary through specific legislation.

The government seeks thus to improve the legal protection regarding Roma individuals in Hungary in compliance with the Europe 2020 Strategy. In addition, the new Constitution speaks about ethnic minorities as part of the Hungarian nation and a new media law provides for a greater governmental control over media, and seeks to prevent the presence or the proliferation of hate speech and racial slur.

Finally, the amendment to the Penal Code will make it a crime for any person to display anti-social behaviour capable of inciting alarm against other people, because they are members, or are believed to be members of a national, ethnic, racial or religious group or certain groups of the population. This act will be punishable by up to 3 years of imprisonment. The Penal Code will also be supplemented by a section based on the illegal organisation of public safety activities. If a person organises an activity, which is directed at impeding the maintenance of public safety or public order, or gives such impression, and which also alarms other people, such person shall be guilty of committing an offense punishable by up to 2 years of imprisonment.

The Hungarian equality body supports this governmental objective by advising the Hungarian government in issues touching upon the principle of non-discrimination, and continuously reminding it of the importance of this principle even in the aftermath of the recent economic downturn.

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10. What key projects and initiatives do you have planned for the second half of 2011?

For the Equal Treatment Authority the most important activity in the second half of the year will be the continuation of the TAMOP Project we launched in 2009. In the context of this project we will continue to hold training, participate in equality days across the country and approach the most vulnerable groups locally through our equality referee network.

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Thank you Dr. Honecz for your contribution.