In commemoration of the Czech National Day, Diplomacy&Trade – in cooperation with the Czech Embassy in Budapest – has recently presented a compilation on Czech-Hungarian relations with special emphasis on Czech beers. the section also included an interview with Ambassador Bial.
“Czech-Hungarian relations are complex and intense, on political and various informal levels. When we look at business figures, we see Czechia as the sixth most important partner of Hungary. These statistics not only show trade and business relations but also reflect overall cooperation. You do not usually have business coming out of nothing. There is a complex and dynamic network of links, a result of long-term development, geographic closeness and Visegrád cooperation,” Ambassador Bial tells Diplomacy&Trade.
Of course, COVID-19 crisis has temporarily suspended or limited direct personal contacts. However, the Ambassador says it made his country enhance regional crisis cooperation, especially between officials. Business ties work continues relatively well, and the same goes for twinning between Czech and Hungarian towns and cities. NGOs and direct academic contacts and exchanges, supported by the International Visegrád Fund, are currently less frequent, but that is temporary, he adds. “For example, we had to postpone our projects on the cooperation of historians or environmental technology inventions. On the political level, we have extraordinary quality relations between our prime ministers and close and flexible relations between Visegrád Four (V4) presidents and V4 foreign ministers. These all, as well as sectorial ministers and speakers of national parliaments, are in regular contacts. Since this year, the mayors of V4 capitals have also been cooperating intensively and in concrete, practical terms.”
Coping with the pandemic
“An efficient Embassy is always busy,” Tibor Bial notes with a smile. “The crisis has somewhat changed the character of our work. There are many fewer diplomatic events and many more consular or exceptional business cases that require the Embassy´s assistance. I don´t think we work more or less, but we have to be more flexible and creative in our approaches. Sometimes, people have to quarantine or self-quarantine, but the work must still be done on time. It is sometimes challenging for an Embassy with low staff numbers.” At the same time, he is of the view that bilateral and V4 relations overall have reinforced. “Repeatedly, we officials have dealt with new issues, requiring immediate reactions, reflections out of the box, flexibilities. Solving these issues bilaterally or regionally made us help each other and deepen our mutual knowledge.”
On July 1, this year, the Czech Republic handed over the Presidency of the Visegrád Four cooperation to Poland. “Our motto ‘V4Reasonable Europe’ implied a rational, pragmatic and constructive approach. We emphasized the European agendas and formats and worked on the broadening of the coalition potential of the V4 within the EU, with a particular emphasis on a wider Central Europe (with Germany, Austria, Slovenia) and EU neighborhood (Western Balkans and Eastern Partnership),” the Ambassador highlights.
In the EU agenda, the priorities were the Multiannual Financial Framework (e.g. cohesion and agriculture), energy and climate policy (e.g. nuclear energy), sustainable asylum and migration policy, Brexit negotiations, EU integration of the Western Balkan countries, and the pro-European orientation of the Eastern Partnership countries. In NATO, the Czech Presidency focused on defense cooperation. The Czech V4 presidency also supported the International Visegrád Fund (IVF) in promoting people-to-people and NGOs contacts within the V4, in the Western Balkans and Eastern Partnership countries.
“Among the concrete achievements, I would mention a new V4+Germany reflection group on the Eastern Partnership, V4East Solidarity Program within IVF, or flexible ad hoc enhancement of ministerial cooperation from V4 to Central 5 or other central European formats including Germany, Austria and Slovenia. There have been many other V4 initiatives on sectoral or technical levels. When I look at the list of V4 meetings under our recent Presidency, I see roughly 150 meetings of governmental bodies. Most of these dealt with EU agendas, and many of them were held in V4+ formats. We believe that we managed to explain and promote common V4 positions, and to enlarge V4 coalition potential in the EU,” Tibor Bial says.
The volume of bilateral trade between the Czech Republic and Hungary was continuously growing before the pandemic. In 2019, this figure was over beyond EUR 9.5 billion, which made the Czech Republic the sixth most important business partner for Hungary. “Of course, the COVID-19 pandemic will have a significant impact on our bilateral trade, but having said that, this does not mean that everything has completely stopped. To the contrary, we can see some new and pretty exciting developments on both sides. During the summer, the Czech nanotechnology company FN Nano, which invented and developed a highly efficient TiO2 based photocatalytic nano-coating system, signed an exclusive agreement with a Hungarian business partner MercorDunamenti LC. that now promotes this Czech technology
in Hungary. This innovative technology is quite unique as these coatings do not only protect the interior walls and outdoor facades but at the same time keep them clean for a long time. The high level nano concept related functionality also decomposes the molecules of air pollution and moreover, kill bacteria and viruses. We painted some parts of our Embassy and the Ambassador's residence with this nano-coating and we also personally presented the technology to the Minister of Innovation and Technology László Palkovics," the Ambassador explains.
He adds that this use of nanotechnology is not the only one helping people during these difficult times. There are many other Czech inventions in this field, like nanofiber facemasks, respirators and antivirus scarfs that protect people against the new coronavirus infection. In general, the Czech nanotechnology industry is something that Czechs are very proud of, mentioning that “Czech is Nano.”
The pandemic situation and the emphasis on the social distancing highlighted the importance of the e-commerce sector that enables customers to buy goods while stay safe. In this regard, the Ambassador happily points out that Czech e-commerce companies like Kifli or Alza are very active in Hungary and provide Hungarian customers with the opportunity to buy necessary goods from the comfort of their homes.
“However, I hope that the next year, the pandemic will be over and we, as the Embassy, will return to organizing public events again, as we have a lot of plans – be it in the area of smart cities or in the area, which I am sure the readers might find very interesting, of the Czech beer industry. So, please stay tuned!”
Tibor Bial is of the view that strengthening the cultural relations between cities and regions is an important tool to reach out to all generations. “We intend to run several cultural events, programs or projects where we connect the Hungarian and Czech people through our common history. Just to mention the 17th century philosopher and
educator Comenius who was born in our country but worked also in Sárospatak, NE Hungary. That is where he wrote one of his most important book ‘Orbis Pictus’ (The Visible World in Pictures). We have been presenting a travel exhibition of his life to Hungarian students, and we start a new program for grown-ups on Comenius´ concept of lifelong learning. Since October, we have had a new director at our cultural institute, the Czech Center. She is a person of strong knowledge of Czech and Hungarian life and culture, and with her team, she will help further
reinforce and deepen our cultural ties. While I urge everybody to stay healthy and take care of each other, I also invite the readers to follow us on our website or facebook page. They will find there lot of interesting pieces of information,” the Ambassador concludes.
At the end of last year, the Regional Councilor of Central Bohemia and the Mayor of Prague both visited Hungary. As Tibor Bial explains, the Embassy of the Czech Republic in Budapest has been actively contributing for several years to the cooperation of Czech and Hungarian cities and municipalities. “We consider twinning a wonderfully flexible instrument. A quality twinning partnership can bring many benefits to the community and the municipality. People from various parts of Czechia and Hungary have an opportunity to share problems and experiences, exchange views and understand different viewpoints on any issue of a common interest or concern.”
In 2018 and 2019, two whole day meetings took place at the Czech Embassy where the invitees included both current partner municipalities and those looking for a twinning cooperation. Both meetings were a great success, attended by over 50 municipalities from both countries.
“In our efforts for strengthening relations between Czech and Hungarian regions, we were pleasantly surprised by the positive reaction of the Central Bohemian Region, which showed interest in cooperating with the Budapest Region. Our Embassy was among coordinators of the meeting between the leaders of both regions, which took place at the end of 2019. During the discussion, the opportunities for cooperation were identified in culture, smart technologies, tourism, education and sport, e.g. student exchange programs, sport events and tournaments. The Czechs also invited their partners to engage in the activities of the Central Bohemian Innovation Center. One of the outcomes of the meeting was the statement of intention to provide for a closer cooperation between the regions of the Visegrád countries. In this regard, we express great appreciation to the leadership of the Central Bohemian Region, which, despite all the difficulties related to the pandemic, hosted the ‘First forum of regional governors of the V4 countries' in Prague in September 2020,” Ambassador Bial stresses.
This forum provided an opportunity for V4 regional governors to discuss issues of security, cyber security and digitalization. They also talked about regional development, tourism and protection of cultural monuments, as well as the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. Other topics included institutional cooperation, innovation and smart technologies, environmental protection and regional cooperation in the V4, EU and European Committee of the Regions.
Prague Mayor Zdeněk Hřib arrived in the Hungarian capital at the invitation of Budapest Mayor Gergely Karácsony together with Matús Vallo, the Mayor of Bratislava and Rafal Trzakowski, the Mayor of Warsaw. The Mayors of V4 Capitals exchanged experience in the management of their cities and agreed, e.g. to coordinate positions on EU funds. “The Prague Mayor and his delegation on this occasion visited our Embassy. We discussed the ongoing
partnerships among Czech and Hungarian municipalities, opportunities for the City of Prague to participate in the Czech-Hungarian cultural or technological projects e.g. smart city, artificial intelligence or nanotechnology. I consider both visits very important for the further deepening of Czech-Hungarian cooperation especially through people-to-people contacts. The visits also perfectly fit into the broader picture of political and economic cooperation of our two countries. I strongly believe that this positive trend will continue in the years to come,” Ambassador Bial points out.