The intensification of the high-level political dialogue between Switzerland and Hungary, as demonstrated by three recent ministerial visits, reflects the developments which have taken place and still take place in both countries and in Europe. That is according to the old-new Ambassador of the Swiss Confederation in Budapest, Jean-François Paroz. In Diplomacy&Trade's recent Swiss Focus, he also highlights to Diplomacy&Trade the importance of cooperation with all stakeholders in bilateral relations.
Jean-François Paroz served the Swiss Confederation as ambassador in Hungary between 2012 and 2016. After a term as the Swiss Ambassador to Japan, he is back in Budapest again. He presented his credentials to the Hungarian President in December 2020. Now, he tells Diplomacy&Trade that he is “very happy to have obtained a second tenure as Ambassador of Switzerland to Hungary and I am conscious that it is a rare privilege. At the same time, I know that I will not and cannot have the same tenure as the first one another time: since 2016, Switzerland has changed, Hungary has changed and I have changed, too.”
He stresses that the developments in the relations of his country with the European Union, for instance, create a new situation so that the bilateral relations with the individual EU Member States, including Hungary, have become even more important. The Ambassador is of the view that “Hungary is a country which has developed a new self-confidence within the European Union and has developed further its economy, with a substantial economic footprint in the region. It is a country with new ambitions and resources, which create new opportunities for the bilateral relations. With regards to myself, I have changed too, as my experience as Ambassador of Switzerland to Japan has enabled me to develop further as a diplomat and also to set new priorities in my diplomatic action. And last but not least, the Covid-19 pandemic has changed us all, in many ways.”
Determined to dialogue
The Hungarian Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade was received by his Swiss counterpart, the Head of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA) this April and the Federal Councilor reciprocated the visit at the end of August. In June, the two finance ministers met in Budapest. The Ambassador highlights that the intensification of the high-level political dialogue, as demonstrated by these three ministerial visits, reflects the developments which have taken place and still take place in both countries and in Europe. “These high-level dialogues happened in a post-Covid Europe (or at least a post-third wave), when borders have started to reopen after they were closed, sometimes hermetically, and in a post-Brexit Europe, when the sense of community is tested. They have also taken place in a time when my country, Switzerland, and the European Union, are tested in their dialogue about the future of their relations and in a time when Europe and European countries and people face a growing cultural divide in their visions of society and family, and of freedom and liberties. In this special context, both Switzerland and Hungary are determined to dialogue and to explore and use all the opportunities for countries of their size to shape the future of the continent and to contribute to its peaceful and prosperous future without losing their sovereignty and identity.”
Strong business relations
Despite the pandemic circumstances, Swiss-Hungarian economic relations have developed on the corporate level over the past year as well with Stadler, Roche, Nestlé, etc. hitting the news headlines with their activities. Ambassador Paroz points out that bilateral economic relations between Switzerland and Hungary are strong, and Switzerland ranks 5th among all foreign investors. “Even if some companies (especially in sectors without exporting activities) are subject to special taxes and other restrictive measures and if the predictability of legal decisions is not always given, in general, our investors are happy with Hungary as a business location. In the last years, Hungary succeeded in shifting away from being mainly a country with production lines of the manufacturing industry to a country where research and development, innovation and digitalization play a major role. The recent developments in Hungary and in the region offer new opportunities. We have new important investments and an expansion of the presence of our companies. Greenfield investments of Sensirion and Flisom and other large investments like the expansion of Nestlé’s pet food factory in Bük are ongoing. The enlargement of the Roche Service Center in Budapest is another significant example for this trend.”
It is also in view of these developments that Switzerland Global Enterprise has established a new Swiss Business Hub for Central Europe in Warsaw, which also covers Hungary. Establishing this Hub emphasized the importance of strengthening economic relations with the Visegrád four (V4) region. The role of Swisscham in Hungary has been dynamically increased during the past years. Switzerland Global Enterprise recognized these efforts in 2019 and accredited Swisscham as its official partner and as the Hungarian representation of Swiss Business Hub Central Europe. In this context, it is one of the priorities of my mission, to actively support this cooperation, he adds.
The memory of Carl Lutz
On June 10, Ambassador Paroz attended – in the presence of other dignitaries – a ceremony at the U.S. Embassy in Budapest as Chargé d’Affaires Marc Dillard dedicated a room in the Chancery building to the memory of Carl Lutz, the Swiss Vice-Consul credited with saving the lives of over 62,000 Jews in the Hungarian capital between 1942 and 1945. Regarding this wider recognition of Lutz’s activities, the Ambassador highlights that Carl Lutz and all the Righteous Among the Nations who helped to save the lives of thousands of Hungarian citizens persecuted as Jews by the Nazi regime as well as by their own government during the Second World War deserve a wide recognition in Hungary and in the entire world. “In the Federal Palace in Bern, which is the building hosting the Swiss Parliament and several ministries, a conference room is named in honor of Carl Lutz and of the other Swiss diplomats who are recognized as Righteous Among the Nations. It reminds me and my colleagues that a diplomatic mandate is also about protecting and sometimes even saving lives. On June 10, with my colleagues of the United States and Israel, and with President András Heisler of the Federation of Hungarian Jewish Communities (Mazsihisz), we shared the same feelings of humility, admiration, but also responsibility.”
The 1956 intake
Speaking of history, this year, is the 65th anniversary of the 1956 uprising in Hungary against Stalinist rule. The events marked deeply the relationship between Switzerland and Hungary: after the failure of the revolt, about 12,000 Hungarians found asylum in Switzerland. Regarding the contribution to the development of the Swiss society made by these people, Ambassador Paroz notes that together with the action of Carl Lutz and of other Swiss diplomats in Budapest during the Second World War, Switzerland’s intake of Hungarian refugees is indeed another significant event shaping the bilateral relations. “The tradition of Switzerland as a host country for refugees was strengthened and the fact that the refugees did not come from the developing world, but from a European country which is almost a neighbor had a special resonance. At the same time, I believe that compared with the presence in Switzerland of hundreds of thousands of Italian and later Portuguese seasonal workers, many of whom durably settled in Switzerland, the impact on the Swiss society was not as significant. But these people and their descendants certainly have contributed in a decisive way to the strength of the interpersonal contacts between the two countries, which remains strong until today.”
Cooperation with all stakeholders
An important aspect of Swiss-Hungarian cooperation is by civilians, NGOs that provide great contribution to relations between the two peoples. “I am deeply convinced that if the relations between two countries are excellent at governmental level, but the people ignore and have no true interest for each other, the bilateral relations remain superficial and cannot be strong. Thus, it is part of the Swiss vision of foreign policy, as described in the document ‘Switzerland's 2028 Foreign Policy Vision’ (which Federal Councilor Cassis introduced during the Hungarian Ambassadors Conference this August), that Swiss embassies must cooperate with all stakeholders of the bilateral relations. We therefore fully recognize the contributions and merits of city partnerships, friendship associations, associations such as the Schweizer Verein Ungarn or the Swiss Business Club, as well as student associations, in the development of the bilateral relations. Furthermore, the social media offers new opportunities for interaction between the various stakeholders of the bilateral relations and the newly set up Facebook page of my embassy (@SwissEmbassyBudapest) sets a special focus on this platform function,” the Ambassador says.
As he points out, cultural relations are an integral part of the bilateral relations and he is very pleased to see that the vaccination campaign in Hungary allows cultural projects to take place again with the presence of the public. “The performance of the Ballet du Grand Théâtre de Genève at the National Dance Theater Budapest on September 18 and 19 is a highlight of the Swiss cultural presence in Hungary this year. The German-speaking film festival Sehenswert/Szemrevaló gives the audience the opportunity to see the most successful films from Austria, Germany and Switzerland. The festival starts in Budapest on October 7 to be followed by smaller film weeks with some selected movies from this year’s program in Debrecen, Pécs and Szeged. I am also happy that our embassy has good cooperation with Art Market Budapest where the fresh and creative A-space Gallery from Switzerland will have a boost again this year.”
Besides the promotion of the cultural presence, Swiss foreign policy also puts a special emphasis on the promotion of a strong bilateral cooperation in science, research and innovation. In the recent years, Hungary and Switzerland both have developed new ambitions in the field of science diplomacy which offers new opportunities for exchanges and cooperation. “With the Andrássy University of Budapest, we have a special relationship, which dates back to the year of establishment in 2001, when we first started financing activities of this common project of the governments of Hungary, Germany, Austria and the federate states of Baden-Württemberg and Bavaria. I was delighted to attend the inauguration ceremony for the new Rector of the University, Professor Dr. Zoltán Tibor Pállinger, who is a Hungarian-Swiss citizen. During my mission in Hungary, I will do my best to promote the cooperation with this university of national excellence,” Ambassador Paroz concludes.