Having arrived to Hungary over two years ago, the Swiss Ambassador to Hungary, Jean-François Paroz says in an interview in the January issue of Diplomacy & Trade - that presented a Swiss Country Focus - that he is satisfied with the achievement of several goals he set to himself at the beginning of his term.
Ambassador Paroz presented his credentials November 5, 2012, to the Hungarian President. “In 2015, we are celebrating multiple success stories: the Swiss Club of Hungary has its 25th anniversary, Swisscham Hungary its 20th and the Swiss Business Club its 10th. With our Hungarian partners, we have decided to celebrate these accomplishments through a program called ‘The Swiss-Hungarian Friendship – Culture and Traditions in the Heart of Europe’,” he tells Diplomacy & Trade.
“When I arrived in Budapest over two years ago, I set three main objectives for myself as the Ambassador of Switzerland in Hungary: (1) to promote and to further develop the excellent relations existing between Switzerland and Hungary; (2) to offer a useful support for the Swiss companies investing and producing in Hungary and; (3) to ensure a close contact with the Swiss citizens living in Hungary. These are still my priorities,” he stresses.
He adds that he is satisfied with the results achieved so far. “As a culmination of ‘The Swiss-Hungarian Friendship – Culture and Traditions in the Heart of Europe’ program, Hungary will be guest of honor, in November and December 2015, at the Montreux Christmas Market and will proudly present its cultural and economic assets to the more than 500,000 visitors of this very popular festive event in my country.”
The Ambassador is of the view that relations between Switzerland and Hungary are deep, rich and strongly anchored in history. The actions of Swiss diplomat Carl Lutz during the Holocaust in Budapest 70 years ago and the links created following the insurrection of 1956, which had a strong impact in Switzerland, are two important milestones. “Relations intensified after the fall of communism 25 years ago. Today, they are characterized by an intensive political dialogue, by rich cultural exchanges, and by significant mutual economic interests, marked in particular by a strong presence of Swiss companies in Hungary,” Ambassador Paroz points out.
The bilateral relations are also enriched by the fact that Hungary is one of the 28 members of the European Union. Switzerland is the EU's 4th trading partner, while the EU is Switzerland’s largest. Over 1.3 million EU citizens live in Switzerland and another 280,000 cross the border to go to work there daily. Some 430,000 Swiss citizens live in the EU. Bilateral relationships between Switzerland and Hungary are further strengthened by the Hungarian-Swiss Cooperation Program (see more on the Program on page 12).
The Ambassador believes “Switzerland and Hungary are also quite often like-minded in global affairs. The presidency of the Visegrád Group by Hungary in 2013-2014 and the presidency of the OSCE by Switzerland in 2014 were important occasions to consult on issues of common interest, such as the search for solutions in the crisis in Ukraine.”
According to Swiss customs statistics, in 2013, the volume of Swiss-Hungarian bilateral trade amounted to CHF 1 billion (cca. EUR 830 mn) in Hungarian exports to Switzerland and CHF 850 million (just over EUR 700 mn) imports to Hungary. It was the first year Hungary realized a trade surplus with Switzerland. In both directions, about 30% are covered by machines, followed by medicine and chemical products from Switzerland and vehicles and agricultural products from Hungary.
Switzerland ranks 7th among the largest foreign investors in Hungary and the trade volume has also increased steadily in recent years. About 300 Swiss companies employ more than 35.000 people in Hungary and have made impressive investments in their Hungarian facilities. “New production lines for the fabrication of the Nestlé pet food plant in Bük, expansions of the Stadler Rail carriage bodies plant in Szolnok, a fully automatized logistic center of Phoenix Mecano in Kecskemét and the world’s state-of-the art flavor factory of Givaudan in Makó are some examples of Swiss investments in the past years. I am convinced that there is still potential for more trade and investment between our two countries,” the Ambassador states.
Swiss Business Day
He is of the opinion that the investments made so far clearly illustrate the important role of innovation in Swiss companies. Many of these companies have joined Swisscham Hungary and took the opportunity to show the latest innovations at the Swiss Business Day, which was organized by the Swiss-Hungarian Chamber of Commerce (Swisscham) for the third time in September 2014. “Innovation is essential for a modern economy and therefore I share the Hungarian government´s view that the investment incentive has to be increased. The Business Day has been a very good opportunity for local companies to get information about possible cooperation with Swiss companies and to foster the ones already existing. The best example is the Hungarian 77 Elektronika which is working with the Swiss pharmaceutical giant Roche,” the Ambassador stresses.
He says he is very satisfied that not only large companies like Nestlé and Stadler have increased their production capacities in Hungary, but also medium sized enterprises like Fraisa (producing industrial cutting tools) and Contrinex (a specialist for high-tech sensors). Producing mainly for export markets, these companies are doing well and continuously increase their investment in Hungary.
He finds it a paradox that despite all the measures the government is undertaking in order to boost the economy and attract new foreign investments, the interest of potential new investors for Hungary seems to be limited. His suggests that “a crucial element to ensure the long term presence of those foreign economic actors and to promote further investments is to ensure a sufficient level of predictability in the legal environment and to maintain a favorable level of taxes. All the managers I talked to insist on these two conditions. International competition is important and for the allocation of their investments, the economic actors strive to make the most effective decisions. It is a key element for the further development of Swiss investments in Hungary.”
The Agreement for the Avoidance of Double Taxation has taken effect this January. The Ambassador reminds that it replaces the agreement of April 9, 1981, which didn’t meet the needs of today’s economic relations. Therefore, the new DTA contains provisions on the exchange of information in accordance with the international standard applicable at present, which will contribute to the further positive development of bilateral economic relations. Another important element is the decision of the Swiss Government to implement OECD standards on administrative assistance in tax matters, which allows for the exchange of information with Hungary in individual cases where a specific and justified request has been made.”
The Ambassador highlights that cultural relations between Switzerland and Hungary are tight, rich and diverse. They have their roots in an exchange of artists between the two countries. These ties became even stronger throughout the second half of the last century when famous Hungarian artists immigrated to Switzerland. The piano player Géza Anda, for example, migrated to Switzerland during the Second World War; (his heritage, the Geza-Anda-Concours, which takes place in Budapest in the Liszt Academy, has established itself to be one of the most prestigious piano competitions for young musicians from all over the world). Sándor Veress is another brilliant example. The teacher of great music personalities (Vass, Ligeti and Kurtág) moved to Bern in 1949.
“Thanks to this long history of exchange and the buzzing cultural life in Budapest and Hungary in general, a large number of Swiss artists visit the country without the active involvement of our embassy. The Swiss cultural foundation, Pro Helvetia, supports the promotion of contemporary art in particular. Recent examples of Swiss cultural presence are Hans Jörg Glattfelder, in the field of visual arts, Sophie Hunger and Heinz Holliger in modern and classical contemporary music, and the Opera Figaro by the Swiss composer Christian Henking that came to the Armel Opera Festival last year (and, by the way, won the prize for best actress),” he adds.
The priority of the Swiss Embassy in the cultural field, he says, is twofold: (1) “we want to ensure the presence of Swiss culture in Hungary. To be exact, it is the presence of ‘Swiss ‘cultures’, since the three national languages German, French and Italian, all have their cultural particularities; and (2) we want to reach not only the elitist public, but reach out for the broad and young audiences. “
He points out that the established strategy is that of close cooperation with partners in festivals that attract a large number of visitors. “In March, we start off with the Fete de la Francophonie, a month of French language cultural and educational programs; April is the month of literature, Switzerland takes part in the First Novelist Festival (and the German-language stand of the International Budapest book fair); in September Swiss films can be seen in Budapest, Szeged and Pécs during the German-language film festival Sehenswert; October closes with the Settimana della Lingua Italiana, where either a Swiss film, a presentation or even an orchestra, like last year’s Ministrings, a youth orchestra from the conservatorium of Lausanne can be discovered by the Hungarian public. As you can see, film and music are our main instruments for promoting Swiss culture, sometimes with great success: the Film “’Les Grands Ondes (a l’ouest)” won last year’s prix public at the French Film Week (in the Urania Film Theater).
Besides reaching the broad public, the Embassy of Switzerland also tries to link the cultural activities to issues relevant to Hungarian-Swiss bilateral relations. In June 2014, the world premiere of the film ‘Carl Lutz – the forgotten hero’, fitted perfectly into the commemoration of the Holocaust in Budapest 70 years ago. The premiere of the film “Viktória – a tale of grace and greed” in Budapest in September 2014 about Hungarian prostitutes on the streets of Zürich provided an opportunity to illustrate the problem of human trafficking in central Europe and the cooperation between Switzerland and Hungary to prevent and combat it.
Hungary and the Hungarians
Ambassador Paroz makes a point to visit city centers and the most important sights in Hungary when he is invited by Swiss companies to visit their factories or attend cultural activities organized by the Embassy. “On weekends, I like to do one-or-two-day trips, especially to Lake Balaton, where I have a favorite coffee house at the Tihany peninsula. When it comes to Budapest, I think that the city offers a very good quality of life to a diplomat,” he says.
He highlights that the Opera and the newly renovated Liszt Academy are impressive cultural centers; the panorama at the Daube River from the Citadella is picturesque and ‘maybe one of the best in the world. One of my favorite places to go is therefore the restaurant ship ‘Spoon’, but I also like the ‘Central Kávéház’. In my perception it has a very nice atmosphere with the newly restored historical roads and buildings around.”
As a history graduate, he is especially interested in the cultural – especially the Roman and medieval - heritage in Hungary. He points out that “in Aquincum, in northern Buda, the archeologists have found rare remains of a Roman water organ. Such remains have been found in only three places in the world: one is in Jordan and the third one is in the Swiss city of Avenches, or Aventicum, the former capital of the Roman Helvetia province. I have grown up near Avenches and have lived part of my school years in this small city of Switzerland. Aquincum and Aventicum: its shows that common features between Switzerland and Hungary have had a long history…”