The Swiss-Hungarian Chamber of Commerce (Swisscham Hungary) has more than a quarter of a century of history. It is described as a cohesive, reliable, quality community. The organization’s President, Dr. István Béres, and its Director, Júlia Lipovecz, tell Diplomacy&Trade how these characteristics are reflected in the chamber's daily activities and the events held.
“Whenever we come up with a new plan, event or series of programs, we can always count on this close-knit, reliable community of members,” the President points out. It is so much so that after the new coronavirus epidemic, “there was a kind of revival and a need for greater collaboration. “We already have a full list if ideas for this year coming from our members,” the Director adds.
István Béres emphasizes that “the cohesive community is a huge advantage, but it also gives us a task to do: our stable membership has got to know each other very well over the years. So, to do something new in networking, we need to push the boundaries. Thus, the aim is to have more popular events. We plan events with other chambers in topics that we know our members are interested in but we have not had recently. On such occasions, we inevitably meet members of German, French, Austrian, Dutch, Swedish chambers. We are killing two birds with one stone: these are varied programs and provide new networking opportunities again and again.”
In 2023, Swisscham held a number of interesting events. The 'Lake Balaton – Lake Geneva Symposium on Sustainability and Harm Reduction', which was co-organized with the Embassy of Switzerland in Hungary on the occasion of the 55th Blue Ribbon Grand Prix yacht race on Lake Balaton was a professional day involving corporate, governmental and academic sectors. The aim was to engage stakeholders in a knowledge-based dialogue on sustainability efforts and the latest scientific and mitigation approaches. The title of the event was inspired by the fact that the global headquarters of the companies invited to the panel discussion are all located in Switzerland, on the shores of Lake Geneva. "The program was a further confirmation of our chamber's commitment to a more sustainable future, as well as an exemplary combination of a professional event and of one of private interest as we could be watching the yacht race up close," the President explains.
Júlia Lipovecz brings up a bit more social event, a backstage tour of the renovated Hungarian Opera House in Budapest. “Most people don't have the opportunity such as we have had there, and that's another direction that we've been emphasizing at the Chamber: engaging in the cultural, artistic world, where we also see that there are already close links with the economy at many points and thus, there should be links built up there too.”
Continuing with the list of important events, István Béres mentions their most traditional one, the General Assembly. "We always try to invite some good speakers. This year, our guest was Mihály Patai, the vice-president of the National Bank. He spoke in a clear and focused way about macroeconomic processes that affect our daily lives. It was not a complicated economic speech but a very concrete one about the impact of price freezes and the causes of inflation. It is rare to find a source more illustrative than that, because in the National Bank, all the data converge, all the financial data are interconnected.”
Working with embassies
Swisscham organizes events together with the Swiss Embassy in Budapest and Ambassador Jean-François Paroz frequently appears at Swisscham events as are people from the Hungarian Embassy in Bern. “We are in daily contact with both embassies. Obviously, with the one in Bern mostly by phone or e-mail, but often, they attend in person. Because of the proximity, of course, we have more effective cooperation with the Swiss Embassy in Budapest. Ambassador Paroz is already on his second mission here, so, he knows Hungarian conditions very well. We know him, we know that he is creative, full of ideas and energy. He has got diplomacy up his sleeve, knows the diplomatic boundaries, but within those, he is very active,” the President highlights.
Switzerland in Your City
One of the Swiss Embassy's aims is to make Switzerland better known outside Budapest to institutions, municipalities, local businesses and even schools. One great way to do this is the ‘Switzerland in Your City’ program, which took place in Debrecen in 2022 and will be held in Pécs this year. Swisscham is linked to this, and in partnership with the embassy, they organize the business programs at these venues around the country.
As István Béres puts it, “it's very good for us, because in Hungary, even if not everything, but a lot of things are concentrated in Budapest. When there is an ambassadorial initiative like that, we can activate the members in the given region and organize a forum for them. The event in Debrecen was a success, and this year, we are working hard on the one to take place in Pécs at the beginning of October, while next year, we are planning an event in Western Hungary. It has been suggested that it could be held in the millennial abbey in Pannonhalma. I think this is something new in the life of a chamber of commerce, but the thousand-year-old tradition, the openness, the culture and the location in the middle of the area between Győr, Sopron, Szombathely, Lake Balaton and Sopron are all favorable features.”
Júlia Lipovecz adds that Swisscham used to organize a Swiss Business Day every year in previous years, but even before the new coronavirus epidemic, the idea was already there to transform this event. “We were able to integrate the economic part into the ‘Switzerland in Your City’ series of events – now not only in Budapest. What was previously in the capital was more of an exhibition, now we are bringing Swiss content to other cities. Of course, we are making sure that there is a focus on Budapest and that there will be a stop here as well.
Focusing on sustainability
Swiss voters have backed a new law that seeks to accelerate the country's shift from fossil fuels to renewable energies and reach zero emissions by 2050. As to how sustainability appears in the activities of Swisscham, itself, the Director’s prompt reply is: “very much so. In addition to the Blue Ribbon race mentioned, sustainability will also be the theme of the Swiss Economic Day in Pécs. Swisscham, as a responsible organization, is specifically working on this at project level, from tree planting to the inauguration of an insect hotel, which took place last year. We try to focus on this theme from all sides. Obviously, also because it is an important issue for our member companies – they have achieved or would like to achieve a lot. So, we are following this, and where we can, we get involved, or we organize a lot of events ourselves.”
István Béres adds that “as it happens in Switzerland: they pass a law and then they start to implement it diligently. It's also obvious that they start with the biggest economic actors. We can help achieve this goal by passing on the very good experience that has already been accumulated in these companies. At the Balatonfüred event we mentioned, for example, we heard some interesting correlations and data on how much it costs in terms of money and emissions to transport something a certain distance by trucks, or the same thing by train or boat. Everyone listened with great interest to this information and data, so that they could use it in their own area of business.”
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