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The Warsaw Voice » National Voice » April 28, 2011
Hungary in Poland
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Traditionally Close
April 28, 2011   
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Robert Kiss, Hungary’s ambassador to Poland, talks to Witold Żygulski.

June 30 marks the end of Hungary’s first turn at the EU presidency. Poland will take over the rotating presidency July 1. What common priorities have the two countries adopted for the presidency?
When speaking about the priorities of the rotating presidency of the EU Council, one has to start with the statement that, under the new regulations of the Lisbon Treaty, the priorities as well as the presidency program are developed in cooperation with the two other members of the so-called trio, in our case with Spain and Belgium. Though Hungary and Poland are in different trios, it seems logical that our two countries, following on from each other at the EU presidency this year, maintain close contacts and form their priorities taking into consideration this fact. Besides the traditional closeness of our interests, it is the nature of the work within the EU at different levels of decision making that also leads us to close cooperation, since all the priorities of the Hungarian presidency need a follow-up during Poland’s presidency. So, it seems extremely difficult to pick some “common priorities.” At the same time, certainly there are some fields of EU policies where our two presidencies work together even closer. One example for this is the Neighborhood Policy and its Eastern Dimension, namely the follow-up of Eastern Partnership. I think this policy area in general, and the planned summit in particular, is a perfect example of a very effective cooperation of Hungary and Poland. We, together with the EU President, made a decision that generally could be difficult to imagine: changing the original plans, the second Eastern Partnership Summit will be held under the Polish presidency in order to ensure better preparation and better political content for this important event.

Apart from cooperation in the EU and NATO, have Hungary and Poland worked together and taken a joint stance in other international organizations?
The cooperation of our two nations, based on long historical traditions and our common interests, is an extremely colorful phenomenon, with different levels and layers, including all possible fields of politics, the economy, and social life. That means we work together in many international organizations, and it would be really difficult to list all of them—from intergovernmental organizations, like the United Nations and its specialized bodies, to the thousands of international NGOs where Polish and Hungarian delegations always work together.

What are the main areas of economic cooperation between Hungary and Poland?
Poland is an important business partner for Hungary, and trade relations between the two countries have been developing dynamically. The financial and economic crisis has had no irreversible impact on bilateral economic relations. In 2010, Polish-Hungarian bilateral trade grew by 18.5 percent, reaching 5.53 billion euros altogether. Hungarian exports grew by 12.2 percent, while imports increased by 23.3 percent.

Although the economic and financial crisis has not had the same adverse impact on our economies, the problems we are facing are very similar. The focus of decision makers is on the process of macroeconomic stabilization and the goal of balancing the national budgets. We are aiming at introducing the common European currency in the future, keeping up the process of convergence with the more developed parts of Europe and trying to make the most of the integration process. In this respect, we are countries of reference for each other.

A new area of cooperation has started with the ongoing Hungarian and the upcoming Polish presidencies. The field of energy policy has been one of the focal points of bilateral discussions. A common goal of our region is to move further towards a common European energy market—a goal to which the February summit has contributed significantly. In the field of energy infrastructure for Poland and Hungary, the North-South energy connection is a priority.

Experts regard both Poland and Hungary as good investment destinations. How much Hungarian capital is there in Poland and how much Polish capital in Hungary? What can be done to improve this?
Bilateral investments have been growing dynamically since EU accession. According to official figures, Hungarian direct investment in Poland reached 600 million euros by 2010. One of the most important Hungarian investors in Poland is the pharmaceutical company Richter Gedeon, which has become a major player in this market segment after the purchase of Polfa Grodzisk. The real estate developer Trigranit has also had major achievements in Poland. Among their most important projects here is Bonarka City Center in Cracow and their latest project is the development of the Poznań railway station, which will be renovated until the kickoff of the European football championships in 2012.

Polish companies also find the Hungarian market interesting. They have invested 250 million euros there so far. Major Polish investors in Hungary include the famous fashion chains Reserved and Tatum, and also the developer Echo Investment.

A new area of investment and a potential field of further development in bilateral and regional economic cooperation is the money market. The Warsaw Stock Exchange has drawn the attention of Hungarian companies. The alternative energy company E-Star had its debut in March this year. Venture capital companies are becoming more active; a good example is Enterprise Investors, which has purchased X-trade Brokers and later also the Hungarian insurer Netrisk.

Can the Visegrad Group, launched 20 years ago, still be considered active?
The 20 years of the Visegrad Group have proved that this framework of regional cooperation is very effective and needed. I think it is not only still alive, but more active than ever. Our joint membership in the EU gave a new impetus and new dimensions to V4 cooperation and led to the development of new forms of it, involving not only the four member states but sometimes inviting several other interested partners in the new, V4+ framework. There are several, probably less visible, forms of cooperation that contribute to strengthening the group—consultations between experts from different public administration agencies have become part of the everyday routine. Besides government-level cooperation we have an important tool to help “public diplomacy” among our citizens: the Visegrad Fund sponsors joint projects by universities, local government, exchange programs and offers scholarships to students.

Relations between Hungary and Poland have been friendly for centuries, even in periods of massive historical turbulence. How do you account for the affinity between the two nations?
Poles and Hungarians are traditionally close. We have a long and peaceful history (as a matter of fact, it is quite unique) of always supporting each other in turbulent times. We are lucky that, while history in our region generally divides nations, our common history joins us. Some say even that we are relatives, and yes, we have a lot in common in our ways of thinking, reacting, etc. Language is the only problem that makes it sometimes difficult—but, my experience of lots of informal meetings and exchanges shows that it can be easily overcome as well. Besides the historical ties and similarities, I think we are also joined by our interests, and if we are able to identify those interests correctly, that makes a solid basis for a modern partnership that will preserve the valuable traditional friendship and develop it further in the 21st century too.
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