One of Hungary’s gravest problems today is the gradual deterioration of the situation of individuals living in poverty, including the Roma population. A consequence of this process are segregation, exclusion from the opportunities offered by life in the fields of education, employment and health care, and deterioration in living conditions in disadvantaged regions as well as on the peripheries of settlements.

Every third person (approximately 3 million individuals) lives below the poverty line in Hungary today, 1.2 million of them in extreme poverty. The risks of poverty particularly afflict children and those living in disadvantaged regions. Most of the Roma, some 500,000 to 600,000 of them (based on estimates, their total number is approximately 750,000) belong to the latter group. Therefore, a policy aimed at the inclusion of the Roma in Hungary cannot be separated from the general fight against poverty and the improvement of social and economic competitiveness. At the same time, we must pay particular attention to the ethnic group of the Roma as experiences show that they are the poorest of the poor and have been least reached by the various inclusion programmes. In accordance with the EU basic principle of explicit but not exclusive targeting, we need special means, methods and approaches for the involvement of the Roma population.

The Act on the Rights of National and Ethnic Minorities passed in 1993 allows us to involve the Roma as genuine partners in affairs concerning their lives, thereby encouraging active participation and a responsible approach on their part. The new national minority legislation currently in the making extends and reinforces these rights (parliamentary representation). It is a result of the system of minority self-governments described later on herein below that the Roma in Hungary, the only country in Europe, have state-guaranteed representation attained in national elections which provides them with cultural autonomy. During the minority elections held in conjunction with the latest local municipality elections, more than 130,000 Roma enrolled for registration on a voluntary basis and acquired the right to vote in the minority elections (58% of the total minority electors). They elected more than 6,000 local representatives who elected the 20 regional (county and Budapest) Roma minority self-governments and the National Roma Government. On behalf of the Government, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán signed a „Framework Agreement” with the President of the National Roma Self-government, Flórián Farkas, in May 2011, which lays down specific undertakings with respect to the most important issues concerning the Roma. This document signed at the highest level indicates, on the one hand, the Government’s commitment vis-à-vis the majority, non-Roma Hungarian society to the inclusion of the Roma and, on the other hand, conveys the message to Hungary’s largest ethnic minority (according to the new Constitution, “national minority”) that the Government is counting on their cooperation as a partner.

We are therefore making conscious efforts to maintain the dual approach which simultaneously struggles against impoverishment that afflicts not only the Roma and keeps track of, if necessary, via special, anti-discrimination programmes, the development of the situation of the Roma. Twenty years after the second birth of parliamentary democracy, this matter is also an issue of authenticity for Hungary. We cannot accept a state of affairs where dictatorship provides more for the citizen in any walk of life than democracy. How can anyone appreciate the freedom of civil society if they are prevented from enjoying the benefits of this freedom by social exclusion?!

The Government laid down in the chapter entitled „Improving the circumstances and promoting the social inclusion of the Roma” of its programme as a primary objective that it wishes to treat the problems of the Roma[1] as a national affair, rather than as a mere poverty policy issue. To this end, in alignment with the EU framework of National Roma Integration Strategies up to 2020, the Government aims to determine the medium-term challenges and targets of the social and labour market integration of those living in poverty, including the Roma, as well as the necessary interventions, over a period of 10 years.

The EU framework, adopted under the Hungarian Presidency of the EU in the first half of 2011, provides a unique opportunity to make a real difference in the lives of Roma people throughout Europe. The most important basis of the framework was the exceptional work had done by Ms Lívia Járóka since 2004 as the Member of the European Parliament and in particular her Report on the EU Strategy on Roma Inclusion adopted by the EP on 9 March 2011.

In the interest of planning and implementing effective social inclusion programmes, it is necessary to methodically review the programmes implemented to date for the improvement of the situation of the Roma in Hungary and to create a plan of action that serves to effectively and genuinely improve the situation of the Roma and simultaneously targets all individuals living in poverty but specifically identifies the methods and measures which ensure the actual involvement of the Roma.

To this end, simultaneously with the National Social Inclusion Strategy (hereinafter referred to as the „Strategy”), the Government also discusses the governmental action plan related to the Strategy with respect to the years 2012 to 2014 which determines specific tasks, identifies the responsible Members of Government and sets deadlines in the areas of child welfare, education, employment, health care, housing, the involvement of the individuals concerned, the awareness raising and the fight against discrimination. On 30 November 2011 following the decision of the Government, The State Secretariat for Social Inclusion (Ministry of Public Administration and Justice) sent the Strategy as first to The European Commission.

The Strategy is complex: it lays down an immediate action plan, and also assigns long term tasks. In addition, it systemizes all those areas and actors which deal with inclusion policies such as state measures, specified programmes, institutions and other actors. (The National Roma Self-Government, churches, civil establishments, municipalities will operate in cooperation more efficiently in the future)

On governmental level coordinated operation is to be realized by the Strategy. The principles of the inclusion policies have to be taken account by each minister during their work.

The basic principles of the Strategy:

· Activation: it is important to activate currently inactive population able to work to get employed and take responsibility for their fate.

· Performance criteria: some performance is expected from the beneficiaries in case of social benefits.

· Coordination: different policies need to be reconciled.

· Complexity: on territories hit by poverty policies on employment, education, healthcare and housing must be handled together in reconciliation with each other.

· Monitoring: establishment and operation of a proper monitoring system by which the efficiency and the targeted nature of the programs can be traced.

The State Secretariat submitted the Strategy to multiply staged public debate. As a result, numerous propositions were turned in regarding its conception. Reflecting on these proposals the Strategy became enlarged by two new parts, a chapter on public security and another chapter on awareness raising and mentality shaping which intends to convince the majority society that the social inclusion of those living in deep poverty and the Roma is a common interest.

It took twenty years after the change of regime to give birth to a proposal which will be able to handle issues related to poverty. It is not by chance that the Strategy could come into existence right now as the Government, which was formed in 2010, has been paying special attention to this issue. This is proved by the fact that this field is coordinated by a whole state secretariat.

The fundamental goal of the State Secretariat for Social Inclusion is to make the growing scale of opportunities accessible to disadvantaged people and social groups. The State Secretariat wishes to introduce an overall change of attitude into the inclusion policies. The substance of the new conception is the complexity that is to say that education, social, employment and health related problems are improved simultaneously. Only this complex and multidisciplinary approach can bring positive and qualitative results on the disadvantaged areas. The Strategy reflects this conception. Its existence can be thanked to our colleagues working in the State Secretariat who took the lion’s share in its elaboration and pursued its perfection by their devotion and proficiency. We owe a debt of gratitude to all of them!

The Strategy defines tasks on medium and long run, however as it can be read in the text, coordinated work with churches, self governments, civil organizations and Roma self governments bear a huge importance. In order to achieve efficient results everybody has to act with one’s means at disposal.

Lifting up the poor will result in our own enrichment.

Zoltán Balog

Minister of State for Social Inclusion

Ministry of Public Administration and Justice

[1] In accordance with common usage, for the purposes of the strategy, we use the terms „Roma” and „Gypsy” as synonyms.