As the Ambassador of the United Kingdom, Jonathan Knott explained in a recent interview with Diplomacy & Trade, the primary task he set for himself when he presented his credentials in February, 2012 was to significantly increase the volume of bilateral trade.
“Bilateral trade between the United Kingdom and Hungary is one of the most overlooked, under-exploited trade relationships in Europe. Our two big trading markets have not connected as they should have in the past and we’ve been missing out on HUF billions of business we could do together – in each others’ markets and together in partnership in third markets,” the Ambassador Knott explains to Diplomacy & Trade why business development is a key part of his numerous activities.
“I thought this was a golden opportunity, especially in the time of crisis, to give a boost to these relations. I wanted to make sure that the Embassy – and I personally – made the most of it. What we’ve done so far is to try and better inform British companies back home about business opportunities in Hungary, and inform Hungarian companies about opportunities to collaborate with British companies,” he says.
That fits one of the core objectives of the British Embassy, that is, “working with Hungary to increase growth and prosperity in the UK, within the EU and worldwide.” The Ambassador stresses that “we set up an organization to publicize this part of the world, Central Europe, which we like to call ‘Emerging Europe’, and to engage British companies. The Hungarian market is a big part of that campaign. I regularly go back to the UK to explain this under-appreciated, undiscovered potential.” At the same time, he has travelled around Hungary in the past 18 months to all big centers of business, speaking to chambers of commerce, introducing them the British offer.
The latest worldwide campaign (‘GREAT’) to present and promote British innovation is about modernizing the way people think of the United Kingdom. “Many people have quite antiquated, traditional image about my country. This campaign brings them up to date and explains what modern, innovative Britain is about. There are more start-up companies in London than in any US city, for example. London’s ‘Tech City’, the legacy of last year’s Olympics, is a real hub for high-tech, innovative industries, attracting people from all over the world. Of course, we also retain the traditional values people associate British businesses with: entrepreneurial spirit, reliability and quality. All these help Hungarian businesses to make ‘GREAT’ deals in Britain,” Ambassador Knott explains.
In the EU but not the Euro-zone
As for British-Hungarian political relations in general, the Ambassador stresses that the United Kingdom and Hungary have a continuous discussion of policies within the European Union. “It is a common stance that national government roles should be respected. We are both EU members but not members of the Euro-zone. It is very important that the decisions that are taken within the Euro-zone and issues around the Euro do not negatively impact the non-Euro-zone countries. The UK and Hungary are big trading nations and we have to build on the advantages of the EU single market to improve services. Once we have a really robust and competitive market in the European Union, it will present a great opportunity to enter the world market. This is also something the two countries very much agree on: opening up markets around the world. Right now, we are among the lead supporters of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership agreement with the United States, which the EU is currently negotiating, and which, when concluded, will bring enormous benefits.” He believes there are a lot issues around the EU and elsewhere the UK and Hungary can discuss. “We do not always agree – very few partners do – but we have a relationship in which we can discuss all issues frankly and in which both sides respect the other’s point of view.”
Objectives and partners
The Embassy works with a wide variety of partners to help deliver its policy and commercial aims. As Ambassador Knotts puts it, “we need a range of dialogue partners from different political and economic backgrounds so that we can properly understand what is going on in the country, from every side’s point of view. That is the only way to appreciate the complexity of life in Hungary. Happily, we have a broad range of friends, contacts and sources that help us do that – people who are keen that we see the story behind the headlines.
Nor are these interests purely political or economic. Minority issues, for instance, are a facet of the Embassy’s work. “It is a big part of British foreign policy to encourage respect for the rights of individuals around the world. Here in Hungary, we work with the government and NGOs on projects to support the Roma population, on projects against anti-Semitism, and projects around the equality of treatment for the LGBT community, to mention a few,” the Ambassador notes.
Commercially, the Embassy works closely with the British Chamber of Commerce in Hungary (BCCH). One of the fruits of this cooperation is the creation of the British Business Centre on which the Embassy and the BCCH signed an agreement at the end of October this year. The Centre is going to be a new organization here in Budapest – to open in the first quarter of next year – designed to help small and medium-sized businesses from Britain to find and open up partnerships with Hungarian companies. With the new Centre specializing in SMEs, the Embassy will be able to concentrate even more resources on developing relationships between British and Hungarian medium and large enterprises. UK-Hungary bilateral trade in goods and services was around GBP 1,600 million (appr. EUR 1,900 mn) in 2012. Hungary is the United Kingdom’s fourth largest export market in Central Europe. “The campaigns that we have made already seem to be bearing fruit as those statistics improve. And our job is to make sure this favorable trend continues. My aim is to double the number of British companies working with Hungarian companies (from 5,000 to 10,000) over a four-year period,” he adds.
One of the important issues the Embassy promotes in this country is transparency in business. Ambassador Knott points out that “if a country is to achieve its growth potential and deliver prosperity to its people, transparency is absolutely necessary. Any lack of transparency is a brake on that prosperity. I meet regularly with other Ambassadors in Budapest and we’ve established a good dialogue with the Hungarian government on this topic. We want to make sure the Hungarian government is aware of the views of our companies here in Hungary, this includes ways to encourage foreign companies to take part in public procurement tenders.”
Investing in a greener future and energy security
Yet another priority for the British Embassy in Budapest is the global challenge of mitigating climate change and securing sustainable and affordable energy. “We need to invest now in solutions to secure a control on climate change. In the UK, we are very ambitious in our targets to reduce carbon emissions, for instance, and we believe that they need not be expensive. We think there are a lot of first-mover advantages in the so-called ‘green economy’, so we also encourage the Hungarian government to build and invest for a low-carbon future. Of course, a country also has a competitive advantage if it is more energy efficient, needs to burn less fuel, uses less energy. That issue leads us into the energy dossier where we also work closely with the Hungarian government, in particular on nuclear issues as Hungary – just like the UK – believes that its future has a large element of nuclear generated energy in it. The UK believes nuclear energy is necessary to be sustainable in terms of climate change but also in terms of energy security,” the Ambassador explains.
Mentioning some examples of bilateral relations in culture, the Ambassador proudly notes the festival scene. “We have British bands playing at and indeed headlining the Sziget Festival year after year, which is fantastic. Sziget also has good links with the largest music festival in Europe, the one held at Glastonbury, England. In arts, National Gallery treasures from London have been exhibited in Budapest in the Museum of Fine Arts in Budapest and London’s Victoria and Albert Museum staged an exhibition in the Applied Arts Museum. We have also supported the beaming live of the London National Theatre performances to the Uránia cinema in Budapest so that Hungarians can follow in real time what is happening in British theater.”
Personal genre – public diplomacy
Ambassador Knott is known for regularly writing a blog. Explaining his incentive for this, he says “the general perception is that embassies can be very remote from average people. I have no time for excessive formality. So the British Embassy, and I myself, try to make it as easy as possible to communicate with us, talk to us and understand what we’re doing. Doing the blog is a very small part of that effort. We open the Embassy to the public for a day every year so that people can come and see what we do or at least see inside the building, itself. We try to be as open as possible and we’re always looking for new ways to engage people in presenting what we’re trying to do here. And bust the myths that people may have about the Embassy.”
Speaking Hungarian also helps his direct communication with people. ”It is very convenient for native English speakers that so many Hungarians speak English so well. But I do try to resist the temptation to work all the time in English. I try to do as many speeches in Hungarian as I can. And I enjoy chatting with friends in Hungarian. Though, I’ve been lazy about it since the summer, I try to maintain my level of Hungarian by having regular lessons and that seems to work for me. I already have a New Year’s Resolution for 2015: to speak only Hungarian with all my Hungarian colleagues in the Embassy. That should help me improve and keep me on my toes.”
Personal social responsibility
Jonathan Knott is not only an ambassador but also a qualified lifeguard. It began as a summer job when he was a student but he is still involved in this activity as a ‘personal social responsibility’. He is on the board of trustees of the UK Lifesavers’ charity and he is active in this field in Hungary, too. “It was very nice to have the opportunity to engage with the ‘Vízimentõk’ (Hungarian lifeguards). And I was happy to be able to raise some money for them when I did the Balaton swim this summer. The dedication of these volunteers is outstanding, they represent the first line of help that people who get into trouble in Hungarian lakes and rivers can expect,” he says. “We don’t appreciate them or support them as much as we should. And I aim to do all I can to continue to support them during the remainder of my time in Hungary.”
Living with a young family, Ambassador Knott likes to visit family-friendly places. “We particularly like to walk in the beautiful town centers of Eger, Sopron, Gyõr and Veszprém. And I think it’s vital to get out of the capital and know the rest of the country as much as possible – its culture, history and people. You need to get past the surface when you try to get to know both the British and the Hungarian people. We are similarly complex, if very different cultures. But by investing a little time in understanding, both pay big dividends,” he concludes.