The Influence of Europe in the Hungarian Integrated Education Case Study

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1. The political influence of the European Union

In the nineties, Hungary was repeatedly warmed by international organizations such as the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI, 2000/5., Par. 29.) and the UN Committee on the elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD, 2002, Par. 382.) for the educational discrimination of the Roma. Yet the European accession was exploited in communicative terms but did not mean a real pressure factor.

“Hungary joined the EU in 2004. Obviously this was behind the fact that we could get this [policy] across, that we could tell that it is necessary for the entrance. But this was not true. Slovakia joined without this, nothing happened in Slovakia. (…) It was simply the exploitation of a political situation. Western democracy did not trigger this in Hungary, (…)it suited the logic of the Western democracy, but no one demanded this. They wouldn’t stir a finger” (SDS 2).

Next to the symbolic pressure, Europe played a substantial role in forming domestic policies by providing resources from the European Structural and Cohesion Funds. In the negotiation process of planning the programs, certain groups of actors adopted European incentives to enhance their projects. In terms of mainstream education policies, grand-scale competence development projects were launched with reference to European expectations (see Szabó and Tóth, 2010). In the case of equal opportunity policies, European ideas were translated and selected in a constructive translation process, where national and international approaches were selectively mixed. The group primarily shaping SDS policies between 2002 and 2010 primarily focused on the spatial aspects of integrated education and equal access provision for all, while a less influential group of policy specialists argued for the adoption of the concept of equity.

A) Indirect coordination: Indirect influence exerted by Europe is well illustrated by the somewhat ironical reply of the policy analyst author of the report to a question at the meeting (09/09/2004) of the National Public Education Committee that inquired the “value-neutrality” of the OECD national report (Radó, 2007).

“…on the one hand, this is [the] precise [adjective]; this text pretends that in Hungary, a consensus exists just as in most of the countries of the European Union, namely that it is embarrassing to segregate and to discriminate (…). We are not silly, we surely know that this consensus does not exist, but in case we lean on any of the documents that more or less determine the latitude of education policy in Hungary, than the Ministry of Education doesn’t have any other choice than to set its objectives as if such consensus existed, so if you like, we did again a strategy for the Ministry that lies on constitutional bases”.

The document offering policy alternatives for the ministry leaves the political choice of instrumentation to decision-makers. Yet what is at stake in invoking the European authority is precisely that of keeping domestic policy in line with human rights objectives.

B) Shaping national policy through funding - translation in the negotiation. The effective, direct power of Europe showed in the negotiations with “Brussels” about the planning of the distribution of the European Structural Funds. The Hungarian government decided to set up a co-ordinative institution system to manage the distribution and monitoring of funding. Some experts argued that the projects crucially reorganized the Hungarian education policy space and the power relations structuring opportunities (Radaelli, 2010) when tender regulation became the primary driver of policy. Consequently, from the first cycle on, expert lobby coalitions concentrated on shaping the tenders, while political lobby groups only discovered the great potential resources at the time of the planning of the second funding cycle. Policy experts also argue that EU tenders resulted an asymmetric, “half-sided, lame” (MS1) development setting because central development funding drastically reduced.

The content of the tenders were expected to be aligned with the Lisbon criteria, yet according to a developer, EU guidelines were not widely known by decision-makers and bureaucrats at the time. The negotiation and coordination of the first funding circle was closely guided and controlled by EU bureaucrats. What is sure, the European funds nested new regulatory devices that enhanced a restricted, multi-level accountability turn in the country. An institutional learning process was taking place in the design and adoption of instruments; novel instruments and procedures also produce their own “politics”. By obliging state agencies to perform accountability, to accomplish benchmarks and indicators, to monitor and evaluate the project-grant process, the EU governs education policies via instruments and also diffuses this policy culture. Nevertheless experts participating in development design reported that mainstream actors of the educational governance scarcely participated in European meetings and conferences actively, and if so, they regarded it as an opportunity for representation instead of learning. The culture of accounting diffused and gained new meanings on the local level as well. Here, Europe is seen as a bureaucratic monster and the accountability criteria are foremost experienced as a bureaucratic burden.

2. National attempts to shape the European policy agenda

In the specific policy domain under study, Hungarian actors attempted to play a proactive role in agenda-setting and also creatively exploited the symbolic authority provided by Europe in order to substantiate their position. The attempts to shape European policies by the diffusion of nationally accumulated knowledge were carried out in multiple scenes.

A) Peer learning, peer teaching: Hungarian delegates participated in the ‘Access and Social Inclusion in Lifelong Learning’ cluster of the European Commission’s DG Education and Culture workgroup since 2006. In the beginning of the work, the interpretation of social inclusion as a topic and the instrumentation that the concept implies was not consensual among the delegates. The participating countries of the thematic expert network were divided along what issues should be tackled: while Belgium and Ireland proposed to focus on early school leaving, France and Spain concentrated on migrant students and Sweden on pre-school education, Hungarian experts underlined the importance of desegregation and the education of the Roma.

Hungarian experts advocated for the recognition of the problem of low quality ghetto schools and the fact that migrant and minority students are overrepresented in special schools in many Western countries as well (ppt. presentation of Sz. Nemeth). In the Hungarian study visit, whilst the hosts underlined that the government launched several programmes to enhance desegregation, organized visits to schools that shocked the participants (to a segregated village school and a remedial school loaded with Roma pupils). A foreign reviewer described the visit to the special school as “simply shocking” (Summary Report of the Peer Learning in Hungary, 25-27. April 2007: 12). One of the Hungarian delegates described their thoughts about organizing the “segregation tour” as follows:

“…the three of us organized a trip, Europeans [coming] to Hungary, a peer learning activity on segregation. And this was a very important step, because we planned this whole peer learning [in a way] that not just we learn from them but they also learn from us – and Gabor as a ministerial commissioner agreed to this. They are not better at all, the segregation is the same in Brussels - just within a stone’s throw of the DG Education - as in fact in the ZEPs, so they should come and look around! And then we realized that they were simply not able to admit that they have segregation there. I mean in Western Europe. They were simply not able to do that, and this was a very interesting struggle in this cluster, that so many years had to pass until they realized that that they are not gonna flop if they admit this, and what you have there is exactly what’s called segregation. Because they argued that this is due to the circumstances, namely that migrants are all together here, and the poor ones are in a crappy school, and they drop out, and who knows what else…” (SDS 11).

The representation of Hungary (as a malpractice and a good practice at the same time) towards Europe was strategically used as a facilitator of European collective action. This activity mostly targeting the symbolic discourse aims at the display of the word ‘segregation’ in European policy documents and recommendations.

“…social inclusion was not a consensual matter, we had poor knowledge about it. It was not obvious which instruments should be applied. And it was hard to define; the cluster wrestled a lot until it defined the target group, the instruments, and that where we should start it?” (SDS 11).

The Hungarian delegate recalled that it was difficult to reach a consensual agreement on the proper indicator of social inclusion, until several years of work the delegates finally agreed on the indicator of early school leaving. Just lately the concept of early childhood education and care emerged to the policy agenda:

“Everyone instantly perfectly agreed, and from now on, early childhood education and care will become the flagship of DG education. Everybody instantly agreed that this is the most important” (SDS 11).

B) Instrumentation as best practice. Since 2008, a significant lobbying effort has been carried out to spread the Hungarian equal opportunity criteria and instrumentation design linked to evaluating European Structural Funds development tender applications on a European level. Hungarian decision-makers work on introducing the horizontal equal opportunity planning and the corresponding instrumentation (the Equal Opportunity Planning instrument combines public education and urban development indicators) to the EU and propose to adopt it as general condition for tendering. In turn Europe was discovered as a possible new argument, the Hungarian decision makers hoped that presenting originally Hungarian ideas as a European practice would put symbolic pressure on local authorities.

"We say that we won’t spend money without taking equal opportunities seriously. And this could be a European policy, it would be very good for us, we could break the resistance of local authorities with this, saying that this is a European policy. We are working on this now, and they took it seriously, they were happy about it” (SDS 6).

Contrary to their claims worded in the national public discourse, when talking about their relation to the EU, SDS policy makers argue that Hungary is in fact a leading country in terms of the developing the instrumentation to tackle segregation.

“The EU awfully lagged behind from the member states from the point of view that it basically does not suffer from all that a member state has to” (SDS 6).

“…in the European Union, we are the only one who went down below the level of the region, (…) NUTS2 or whatever” (SDS6).

After the elections of 2010, the newly appointed Catch-up State Secretary of the conservative government criticised earlier policies for its “violence” and “hastiness” and also the policy-makers previous activity in Europe.

“I’m extremely irritated by the approach of those who interrogate integration with the impetus of inquisitors. These people sold an integration policy to Europe in the past 8 years, and they praise us for that abroad, and I really don’t know whether I should be ashamed, or I should be lurking, or I should be proud in Brussels” (unpublished interview in a daily newspaper).

C) Individuals in symbolic positions: The former Ministerial Commissioner (of Roma origin herself) was the member of the European Parliament between 2004 and 2009. Her work almost exclusively focused on advocating and lobbying for the recognition of Roma at a European level and constructing European programmes to remedy social disadvantage and combat discrimination. With her participation, the EURoma network ( convened by DG Education was created in 2008. The network gathers 12 member states and works on enhancing the effectiveness of policies targeting the Roma through the distribution of Structural Funds. The work focuses on sharing strategies, initiatives and approaches and the dissemination and standardization of experience based knowledge. In the last decade, the social problems of the Roma attract rising attention on the side of the EU and emerged on the European policy agenda.

NEUMANN Eszter with BERÉNIY Eszter & BAJOMI Iván (2010), The Politics of Seating Plans, KNOWandPOL report, 100-104.

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