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Swisscham: Quarter of a Century in Hungary

Pandemic situation upsets plans for the jubilee year

The Swiss-Hungarian Chamber of Commerce ‘Swisscham Hungary’ was founded in 1995. The leaders of the organization, President Dr. István Béres and Managing Director Júlia Lipovecz had a different jubilee year in mind for 2020. They tell Diplomacy&Trade what they planned, what they could do and what they have postponed due to the pandemic situation.

“We had a lot of plans for this 25th anniversary year. Some of these were traditional ideas but we also wanted to introduce some novelties. We thought that a jubilee definitely deserved a gala event, therefore, we planned a gala dinner – like the very successful one we had at the 20th anniversary. Still, we felt we needed something new that corresponds to these new times we have and we wanted to plant 25 trees here in Budapest to commemorate the 25 years. We had to postpone it in the spring but it is still an option for October, should the epidemic situation allow for it,” Dr. István Béres says.
A jubilee year general assembly meeting was also planned. Eventually, taking advantage of the new regulations, many functions could be carried out through voting in writing and via video conferencing but the ceremonial assembly meeting originally planned, including the invitation of a prominent guest, could not be held.
Júlia Lipovecz adds that since traditional meetings had to be scrapped, “we needed to shift to digital solutions. What we had in mind primarily was how we could assist our member companies. We introduced more frequent newsletters for which we solicited information from our members so that they could propagate information through this means under the changed circumstances. It was especially so with products and services related to the pandemic. We tried to focus on useful things to provide our members with as timely and updated information as possible in a more concentrated way given the limitations of the digital conferencing.”

The original objectives
István says he is confident that the aims set at the start of Swisscham Hungary have been achieved to a substantial degree, have proven the test of time and are still valid. He has personally followed the chamber’s activities over these 25 years as he was a founding member and has been member of the board since the establishment of the organization. “Providing information for our members and assisting them in establishing contact with the authorities and/or other member companies as well as providing networking opportunities have all been on the agenda since the beginning. From the first weeks, it has been a major aim to regularly organize various programs where members have the opportunity to meet each other as well as other important people to exchange information. The format of these meetings has changed over time. In the early years, basically all we had were business lunches. Politicians in those times were much more open to meet businesses. Then, we held more and more programs of a professional nature on subjects like taxation, legal issues, HR matters, etc.,” he points out.

Steady membership
Júlia stresses that a lot of members are still with Swisscham – for more than 20 years. “Over these years, we have seen a continuous increase in our membership and now, we have 102 members. In the 1990s, it was mainly production companies joining. Although, we don’t have many new investors recently, this year already, we have a new Swiss firm starting production in Hungary. We have many non-Swiss members, as well, who have joined because they wish to establish contact with Swiss businesses.”
István adds that at first, it was the big international companies who established businesses in Hungary after the change of the political system here. Then came the SMEs who saw an opportunity to increase their production volume.

Business Day postponed
One of the now traditional Swisscham Hungary events, the Swiss Business Day, was due to be held again in 2020. It is one of the programs that had to be put off to next year as such an event, as István says, is one that “definitely requires personal presence.” Júlia highlights that they are also going to have a new concept that is not based on exhibitions but rather “it is going to be a conference workshop with greater involvement of our member companies and we expressly count on the participation of economic
players.” As István adds, “we plan a colorful Swiss Business Day because we have multifaceted membership. We tried to compose the program so that each member can find something interesting, those interested in topical themes like environmental protection, digitization, etc.”

Cooperation partners
In past years, Swisscham Hungary has had several events co-organized with fellow bilateral chambers in Hungary. Júlia points out that they have always had excellent relations with these partners. “In recent years, cooperation has been stronger with the European bilateral chambers, especially the German-speaking ones. We have had joint programs with the German and Austrian chambers. We also have organized events together with the Dutch – or the Brits beforehand, and we are seeking new partners, as well. These pandemic
times have demonstrated well the necessity of such cooperation.”
Swisscham also maintains excellent ties with the Swiss Embassy in Budapest. “We have an effective and flexible cooperation,” Júlia says. István reminds that “a couple of years ago, our chamber had innovation as a topic of priority. Since Switzerland is one of the top countries in the world regarding the way innovation is handled and the amount of funding for innovation is outstanding, they have ample experience of several decades in this field. The Ambassador said the Swiss would be happy to pass this knowledge on to Hungarians.
Another example is last year’s very successful health issues forum to which the Embassy invited the deputy state secretary from Switzerland. About a decade ago, we invited the head of the Swiss tax authority who delivered a successful lecture in Budapest about the Swiss tax system, including the most important principles, how the major policy lines had been developed and why that systems function so well.”
Júlia mentions the previous Swiss ambassador’s idea from 2016, the 'Grand Tour of Switzerland in Hungary', a program series presenting towns, cities or regions in Hungary with historical, cultural or economic ties to Switzerland.
“In that case, we provided the necessary contacts through our members for the actual stops on this tour,” she says. Also, “from time to time, it happens that one of our member companies have some issues to clear up with the Hungarian government authorities. In such cases, the Embassy is right there to help,” István adds.
Swisscham’s relations are also great with the Hungarian Embassy in Bern. “Should someone contact us for help in Switzerland, we can always count on their assistance,” Dr. István Béres points out. “And there is the Switzerland Global Enterprise, the Swiss organization for export and investment promotion is our important partner in Switzerland.
This January, they launched the new regional V4 HUB in Warsaw, which serves as gateway for the Swiss businesses to the Visegrád Four Group, thus to the Hungarian market, as well. It is a great initiative, which creates an effective group based on shared experiences,” Júlia Lipovecz concludes.

Sándor Laczkó

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