“Italy and Hungary have been sharing a deep friendship that even temporary ups and downs cannot jeopardize.” That is according to the Ambassador of the Republic of Italy to Hungary, Massimo Rustico who tells Diplomacy&Trade about his aim of achieving a much better and intense political dialogue between the two countries “after a period of calm,” the future of the EU, the already evident increase in bilateral trade as well as cultural relations that date back many centuries if not a thousand years.
Ambassador Rustico has been in office in Hungary for almost a year now. As to what objectives he set for himself when taking up this post in Budapest, he points out that every ambassador has the mission to do his or her utmost to foster the bilateral relations. “This implies a great deal of efforts to contribute substantially to that aim, in terms of strengthening the general political relations, the business dimension, the cultural message. Overall, Italy and Hungary have been sharing a deep friendship that even temporary ups and downs cannot jeopardize. Ever since I took up this position in Hungary, I have been working relentlessly to achieve a much better and intense political dialogue between our two countries after a period of calm. We are very satisfied with the results achieved so far! Moreover we look at the future with a great deal of optimism!”
There has not been an extensive bilateral discussion between the Hungarian and Italian Prime Ministers for years. “Although, our Prime Ministers see each other on a regular basis on the occasion of the European Council meetings and on several other occasions, it is true that there has been a period without the direct, intense political dialogue that we are used to see between two partners – the differing approach on specific points on the migration issue has been a factor. However, in the past eight months, there have been high level, bilateral political meetings involving our Foreign Ministers in Rome in March 2017 and in Milan this October, besides the most recent official bilateral visit to Budapest by the Italian Deputy Foreign Minister in early October. Besides the bilateral meeting in Milan, the two Foreign Ministers opened together the First Italian-Hungarian Business Forum in the presence of more than 130 entrepreneurs. I am confident that we will have even more interaction between the two countries at the highest political level, once the electoral phase in Italy and Hungary is over next spring,” the Ambassador stresses.
The future of the EU
Both Italy and Hungary are members of the European Union and NATO. Ambassador Rustico says he could talk hours about the main issues/platforms of the two countries’ cooperation within these organizations. “I would therefore venture into recalling only what is an all-inclusive topic, such as the vision, the debate and the concrete steps to be taken for the ‘future of the European Union’. No question that it will have an impact on each of us and especially on the future generations. No matter what, it will require a tremendous effort from each and every side to gain momentum towards a better functioning system which shall be inclusive. We shall never forget the economic dimension if compared to global players such as the US with an economy of no less than USD 15 trillion or China in excess of USD 10 trillion. The EU is a powerful player with its USD 15 trillion. Even the great German economy, if taken alone, would get in the ring with around USD 3.5 trillion. It is clear that if united, we are a very relevant factor in the equation of the global economy. On the other hand, the complex and lengthy process of the European integration and the fostering of its economy are facing today the heavy burdens of dealing with the massive migration and the terror threat. While we have to ensure the security of our external borders, we shall refrain from enforcing any possible action jeopardizing the free flow of people and goods within the common European market. The whole Europe would pay a heavy toll in this respect. Instead, every possible effort has to be made for the implementation of the needed measures in the external dimension of migration and overall security. Italy has been at the forefront in dealing with such dramatic challenges, and the action taken by Rome in the past few months is bearing quite relevant results. The issue, though, is European and not Italian, and has to be dealt with a tremendous common effort, by supporting Libya, the Sahel countries and all the other relevant players,” he highlights.
Increasing bilateral trade and investment
Ambassador Rustico said earlier this year that Italy could become Hungary’s third largest trading partner after Germany and Austria in 2017. “Yes, as I precisely explained at the Italian Business Day in Debrecen, it was a forecast based on data released by the Hungarian Statistical Office for the first two quarters of 2017. In that period, the bilateral trade topped EUR 4.9 billion, turning Italy as the third largest trading partner of Hungary. The Italian exports to Hungary reached EUR 2.2 billion, while the imports from Hungary were about EUR 2.7 billion. That said, Italy ranked eighth as supplier partner and second as customer partner. This development was due to higher imports of agricultural products, in particular cereals (+85.8%), chemical products and plastics (+15.4%), machinery for general purposes (+42.8%), automotive accessories (+12.1%). On the Italian export side, there were higher exports such as organic chemicals and plastics, industrial equipment, car accessories, iron, cast iron and steel. The trade between the two countries is extremely versatile and consolidated in terms of sectors and that appears to be an overall point of strengths for both sides. We will see what the figures of the last two quarters of the year will show.”
The Italian presence in Hungary is quite relevant in the service industry, with players of the size of Generali, the largest by market share in the insurance sector and – with UniCredit and CIB/Intesa-San Paolo Group – in the banking sector. The Ambassador highlights that overall, around 2,500 Italian companies are successfully operating in Hungary. “The Embassy, together with the Italian Trade Agency (ICE) and the Italian Chamber of Commerce in Hungary (CCIU), undertakes a great deal of efforts to foster such a successful economic relationship. The first ever Italian-Hungarian Business Forum that we organized in Milan on October 12th was meant to showcase to the Italian industry the opportunities offered by Hungary as a destination of foreign direct investments. Italy’s manufacturing industry remains the second largest in Europe and among the top ten world exporters. The current year will be a record one in terms of exports for our economy, and may reach the EUR 450 billion value. The Italian industry continues to invest substantially worldwide.”
As to what Italian companies present incorporated and or operating in Hungary say about the current investment environment in this country, the Ambassador voices his view that the overall business climate is considered quite positive and favorable to further investing in existing or new activities. “We are quite confident about the future of the Hungarian economy and in its evolution towards the highest standards. There is, however, a growing concern for the lack of sufficient access to labor capacities. I believe this being a general concern for every operator and a potential problem that not only Hungary is confronted with.”
Civilian and cultural relations
As the Ambassador highlights, NGOs and civilian organizations are important players in both the Italian and Hungarian societies and provide a great deal of services. “They support the establishment of solidarity-based actions, exchange of experiences, dialogue and cooperation on quite relevant issues, they remain a key driver for the social inclusion. An interesting aspect is offered by the large number of twin projects uniting our respective cities such as the one between Florence and Budapest, Parma and Szeged, Sarzana and Eger, Montebelluna and Tata, without mentioning the many others.”
Regarding cultural relations between Hungary and Italy, Ambassador Rustico stresses that they are based primarily on cooperation between cultural and academic institutions of both countries within the framework of a specific Italian-Hungarian Cultural Cooperation Agreement and its Executive Program, signed in 1999 and currently in force. Cooperation covers areas such as university and scholastic education, scholarships, art and culture, cultural heritage protection, archaeology, archives and libraries, publishing, communication, sport and tourism. Private sector cooperation between foundations, associations, festivals, prizes and contests is also encouraged.
Cultural relations between the two countries are, in fact, very ancient, and “we can practically date them back to the time of the birth of the Kingdom of Hungary. They then greatly intensified during the Renaissance when Hungarian scholars travelled and resided repeatedly in Italy. That was the case with Giano Pannonio (poet and humanist, bishop of Pécs) but many other Italians travelled or lived in Hungary, such as Ippolito d'Este (Archbishop of Eger) and great protector of our poet Ludovico Ariosto. At the court of Mattia Corvino (Hungary’s King Matthias), the Italian Renaissance flourished in particular thanks to the wife of the King, Beatrice d'Aragona, Princess of the dynasty that ruled then in Naples. Intelligent, educated, politically aware, patron of the arts, Beatrice contributed greatly to the creation of the Library then known by the name of Corviniana, Europe's largest library of the time to the north of the Alps,” the Ambassador explains.
Another important moment in the political and cultural relations between Hungary and Italy he mentions was the Risorgimento, especially during the revolutions of 1848-49, when in the common attempt to free themselves from the Hapsburg’s rule, Hungarians were flanked by the Italian Legion led by Colonel Alessandro Monti, while the Hungarian Legion of Colonel István Türr fought in support of the Piedmont’s army. Budapest and Venice were the last cities to surrender under the bombardment of the reactionary forces, and fell about the same time in August 1849. “In the past century, literature also created a bridge between our two countries with authors like Luigi Pirandello, well known in Hungary, and Sándor Márai, much loved in Italy. These and other historical-cultural backgrounds partly explain why Italian culture and language are well known and loved also in today Hungary, where Italian as a foreign language has the fourth place by number of students. It is chosen not only for its cultural prestige, but also for the lifestyle and the working sectors to which it is associated, such as gastronomy, tourism, heritage restoration, cinema, fashion and design, and industry more than ever. We can only rejoice in this choice and we are committed to supporting it with our cultural and educational offer in Hungary.”
Massimo Rustico has been in Hungary for about a year now. When asked about his impression of the country, the people, he points out that “Hungary has been a magnificent choice in terms of professional and personal life for me and my family. It has been a very intense a positive period and I rejoice having still a few years ahead as Ambassador in this beautiful country. People are very welcoming and I have the feeling of a great admiration towards Italy in the overall dimension it is perceived. As the cultural interest towards Italy appears very important, the sentiment of friendship between the two peoples blends our relations in all aspects.”