“I am proud of much of our work here – on the environment; the economy and commerce; transparency; and tolerance. It reflects a number of our foreign policy priorities. We have a great deal to learn from each other in all of these areas and I hope this work can continue.” That is how Greg Dorey who left his position as British Ambassador to Hungary early December summarized to Diplomacy and Trade his four years representing the United Kingdom in this country.
The Ambassador’s goals at his arrival in 2007 included aligning Hungarian and UK positions on EU and NATO policies more closely, and ensuring a successful Hungarian EU Presidency from the British point to view. Other objectives were the “increasing of our trade with Hungary; promoting British views, policy, values and excellence through the traditional and social media; running an effective, efficient and well-motivated Embassy; improving my spoken Hungarian; and learning to play the electric guitar competently,” the Ambassador said. “With the exception of the latter, we have made good progress on all these goals over the past 4 years I have been in office,” he added.
“Diplomacy is no longer just about government to government relations. It's about engaging with civil society, NGOs, companies, religions and other organisations and agencies,” Ambassador Dorey noted, adding that he would like to pay particular tribute to excellent partners such as the British Council, the British Chamber of Commerce and Industry; the Hungarian Association ofBritish Alumni; the Hungarian Business Leaders Forum; and Transparency International. “There are so many valued partners that I can't list them all here. ‘Diplomacy and Trade’ would be among them, of course,” he said.
As for British-Hungarian political relations, Greg Dorey considers them “friendly, with best practicies shared between us, and a healthy flow of bilateral visits. Our governments are dealing with similar economic and organisational problems and, in some respects, we are dealing with them in similar ways.” However, he pointed out that there are also some significant policy differences. “The Hungarian government, with its huge majority, is in a position to alter the face of this country radically and for the foreseeable future. They have made clear that they want to make changes to almost every aspect of political, economic and social life. History will judge their performance, because this is a tremendous responsibility – with considerable risks.”
Regarding economic ties, the trade statistics have been improving dramatically since a low point two years ago, as a result of the economic crisis. But when it comes to investment, the Ambassador noted that “things are less rosy. The business environment for our investors in Hungary could be much better in terms of predictability, transparency, deregulation and dialogue with the government. At the moment, it is difficult to encourage new investment or reinvestment by UK firms as a result of these shortcomings.”
The British Embassy is involved in many activities in Hungary. Much of it is solicited by Hungarian organizations. “We get many requests and we have to be very selective. In the past, we have spent large sums of bilateral assistance in Hungary, e.g. through our ‘Know-How Fund’ from the early 1990s. But since Hungary joined the European Union, the bulk of our financial contribution comes through our share of EU Structural and Cohesion Funds. On top of that, we can help though facilities, expertise, exchange of best practice etc. - if we believe the project in question fits in with our priorities.
One prominent timely issue to promote is the London Olympics next year. Ambassador Dorey said “we had a fantastic ‘500 days to go’ event, which was attended by many Hungarian Olympic champions and at which we started Olympics countdown clocks which can now be seen outside the Embassy.” There were Olympics sticker and poster campaigns in the Metro daily, which have been seen by many people. “My excellent colleagues also participated (and are planning to participate) in major sports events like the cross Lake Velence swim, the bicycle tour round lake Tisza and the Budapest Marathon and Half Marathon, to promote the 2012 London Olympic and Paralympic Games. But I am especially pleased with our agreement with the Hungarian Paralympic Committee to promote their excellent work, because this is much less well known in Hungary,” he added.
Hungary and the Hungarians
This four-year term was not the first stay in Hungary for Greg Dorey. He first arrived here in April 1989 and stayed for 3 and a half years. “I clearly like the place or I would not have come back. I have very long-standing Hungarian friends, a Hungarian goddaughter and many happy memories of the country. Altogether, I will have lived here for 7 and a half years by the time I leave. So you can assume that a large part of my heart will stay here,” he noted. He believes Hungarians and Britons are not so very different. “We share similar hopes and aspirations, and have a certain amount of shared history, like the Magna Carta and the Golden Bull; frequent contacts in mediaeval times; and the tremendous mutual admiration in the 19th century. Maybe Hungarians are more pessimistic – or so they tell me.”
He travelled a lot in Hungary but he believes “not as much as I should have wished, although I have seen a fair amount of the country. Hungary is well endowed with interesting and beautiful places and buildings, all of which I have enjoyed visiting. Perhaps inevitably, I am most familiar with places close to Budapest: the Buda Hills, the Danube Bend, the wonderful Skanzen site at Szentendre and around Lake Velence.” However, he feels sorry that “the attractions of this wonderful country outside Budapest do not get sufficiently marketed abroad, certainly not in the UK.”
Advice for the successor
As for the next British ambassador in Budapest, Greg Dorey has the following advice for him: “Learn as much Hungarian as you can and use it. You are lucky to be able to live in a lovely city like Budapest, but you should get out of the capital city as often as you can to visit the countryside. And get a gym membership if you intend to eat the delicious Hungarian food.”