| Dávid Harangozó

Cherishing the 'Good Vibrations'

In its summer issues, Diplomacy & Trade has published a German country focus whose leading article was an interview with the German Ambassador to Hungary, Dr. Matei I. Hoffmann. Here, you can read the text published in the June issue.

“For a diplomat who has been in this country for less
than a year, this is a period of ‘hunting and gathering’. That is especially
easy for me here as the Hungarians I have met so far have
been very friendly, very open and very helpful.” That is how the Ambassador of
the Federal Republic of Germany to Hungary,
Dr. Matei I. Hoffmann, looks back
on the nine months he has spent in office in Budapest. In an interview with
Diplomacy and Trade, he maintains that “there are very few countries in the
world where the sympathy is so great between two countries as between Hungary
and Germany, between Hungarians and Germans – “good vibrations”, as the Beach Boys
put it.”

He recalls that he was in Hungary on August 13 and 14,
1989. This was when East Germans were seeking refuge at the West German Embassy
and elsewhere in the Hungarian capital. “The talks at that time were about
possible solutions so these people could leave for the Federal Republic of
Germany. I was a member of the delegation led by State Secretary
Dr. Sudhoff. We met Hungarian Foreign Minister Gyula Horn. He was
accompanied by State Secretary László Kovács, who later became European Commissioner.
We returned to Budapest two days later on August 16 to implement the negotiated
solution with the support of the International Red Cross.”

For the Ambassador,
who was born behind the Iron Curtain and left Romania with his family for
Germany at the age of 11, the year 1989 was an especially joyful moment in
European history. He says “the gratitude that the Germans have towards the
Hungarians in this respect is just as alive, just as fresh as it was then.
Older generations don’t forget how brave the Hungarians were back in 1956, when
they rose against Communist oppression. My family followed the 1956 revolution
on the radio, that is when the Western broadcasts did not happen to be jammed
by the communist authorities. We felt the same way and suffered in solidarity
with our Hungarian friends.”

German-Hungarian friendship

On February 20 this year, the twentieth anniversary of
the German-Hungarian Treaty on Friendly Cooperation and Partnership in Europe
was celebrated in the Hungarian Parliament where “I was personally invited by
the Speaker. I really appreciated the warm welcome I received. I was also glad
to witness the unanimous passing of a resolution praising the very close and
very good German-Hungarian relations,” Ambassador Hoffmann adds.

He stresses that members of the German minority in
Hungary very much cherish their traditions and form a pillar of relations
between the two countries and peoples. The aforementioned 1992 German-Hungarian
Treaty on Friendly Cooperation and Partnership in Europe makes special mention
of the importance of the German minority in Hungary. “As I can see, this
minority is very active and we support them as much as we can,” he says.


Hungarian-German relations are very close in the
economic sector as well. “It might seem that the German economic presence is
best known through the car industry, but I must point out that in fact this
only makes up a quarter of our economic presence. Another quarter is the
production and processing industry in the broader sense, while the other half
of German economic activity in Hungary is accounted for by companies of the
service industry: trade, information technology, telecommunications and other
services,” the Ambassador explains.

“I would like to stress that most of the approximately
300,000 jobs provided by German businesses in Hungary have been created by
small and medium-size enterprises. Figures show that in the past two decades
German companies have invested about 17 billion euros in this country, which in
relative terms is actually not much less than the 22 billion euros invested by
German companies in China in the same period. The annual volume of trade
between Germany and Hungary totals almost 40 billion euros. German firms put
great emphasis on long-term and lasting cooperation.

Therefore, they bring with
them not only capital but also know-how and they are very committed
participants in the fields of education and training, including the dual
vocational training system that is so successful in Germany. Of course, the
close and well-functioning cooperation is also present in higher education as
well as in the fields of research and development. All German firms I have
visited so far stressed how important cooperation in these areas is for them,”
he underscores.

Less favorable investment environment

The prosperity economical development survey issued by
the German-Hungarian Chamber of Commerce in April says that in recent months,
German – but not only German – companies have sent clear signals indicating
that the investment environment has worsened in Hungary. Ambassador Hoffmann
points out that most firms would like a more predictable and growth-oriented
economic policy, as well as legal certainty.

“This also means that
policy-makers should not divide economic players into favored and less-favored
groups, similarly treatment should not be different depending on the country of
origin or business objectives. To put it in a nutshell: don’t move the goal
posts during the game! I have heard from a lot of people that they understand
the efforts of the current Hungarian Government to try and settle state
finances in a difficult situation and why it takes special measures to achieve
that goal. I believe however that concerns of foreign investors regarding, for
example, the special taxes levied on the telecommunication and banking sector
ought to be taken into consideration. It is important that the Government start
a dialog with those concerned in good time and in a transparent way.
Transparency is absolutely necessary to convince investors that it is worth
coming to Hungary.”

As for Hungarian investment in Germany, it remains at
a low level. “Of course, we encourage investors who would like to come to
Germany with their products or services. Such entrepreneurs are welcome to
contact Germany Trade & Invest for help and consultancy,” the Ambassador
says. Germany Trade & Invest also offers help with legal and financial
issues should someone want to gain a foothold in Germany. “According to
provisional statistics the number of Hungarian citizens taking up legal
employment in Germany is somewhere between 30,000 and 40,000, probably much
closer to 40,000. In a common European market, there is a free flow of
workforce – those wishing to work within the framework of existing laws are
very welcome. These people get to know the different aspects of our life, our
culture, the German political system and if and when they return to Hungary,
they serve as new multipliers communicating values and links between the two

Cultural relations

As regards cultural ties between the two countries,
the Ambassador says they are also very vivid and multi-faceted. “It always
impresses me to see and hear how many Hungarians have learnt very good German
at school and how many are studying German. One can see that it is not just
some sort of useful foreign language, but it is one of many manifestations of
the Central European cultural region – a region which extends well beyond the
borders of both Hungary and Germany. German schools in Budapest and Baja, for
example, conduct exemplary work. There are, of course, German firms which
strongly support German teaching in their specific Hungarian locations.”

The flagship project of German-Hungarian cultural
cooperation is definitely the German-language Andrássy University Budapest. The
German Embassy maintains very close cooperation with this University. “By way
of example, we and the Hungarian Foreign Ministry have organized several events
with the University as part of the celebration of the twentieth anniversary of
the German-Hungarian Treaty on Friendly Cooperation and Partnership in Europe.
A couple of weeks ago, I asked young colleagues at the Embassy to compile a
list of prominent world-class Hungarian figures in the fields of culture, arts,
science and sports. It turned out to be a very long list of writers, poets,
journalists, musicians, composers, physicists, directors, actors, priests,
architects, footballers and physicians. When German delegations come, I show
them this list and point out that it includes some people who in my country are
considered German, although they are in fact Hungarian. These are the sons and
daughters of a very, very talented nation. It would be worth focusing on these
people even more,” Ambassador Hoffmann points out.

Visiting Hungary

The Ambassador says he has not been able to visit many
places in Hungary in the winter time. Those he did visit outside Budapest are
Györ where AUDI is located and Esztergom. “I went to Esztergom at the
invitation of Cardinal Péter Erdõ to attend a memorial mass for Cardinal
Mindszenty who is revered in my family. In the next few days, I’m heading for
Eger and Miskolc in north-east Hungary. I must admit I haven’t got to know
every corner of Budapest either.” His favorite Hungarian food is lecsó (a thick
vegetable stew).”

The German Foreign Ministry has been holding open days
at different embassies worldwide. This year, Budapest joins in on June 16, just
when Diplomacy and Trade is hot off the press. “I expect a couple of hundred
people will be interested in coming to have a look. We want to show what is
happening behind the walls of this historic building in the Buda Castle, a
world heritage site after all, and, at the same time, try to demystify what
goes on in an embassy.”

Sándor Laczkó

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