Hungary's Ambassador to the U.S., Réka Szemerkényi is convinced the transatlantic alliance is more relevant now than ever. She is committed to further strengthening and deepening of the bilateral friendship.
The United States is Hungary’s most important ally, the bonds linking Hungary and the United States are strong and they are supported by the long history of friendship between our people. This relationship rests on the shared values of freedom, democracy and human rights. We collaborate closely on our common goals of promoting stability and democracy in the Balkans and in the EU’s Eastern Partnership Countries, as well as addressing common global challenges.
Our bilateral ties rest on multiple pillars. Defense cooperation within NATO constitutes the bedrock of our security. Hungarian soldiers have served shoulder to shoulder with their American allies in joint missions from the Balkans to the Middle East and Afghanistan. The latest chapter in our joint efforts to promote global peace was on 14 April this year when the Hungarian Parliament supported the government proposal to send Hungarian combat troops to Iraq to join the international coalition in fighting the terrorist group ISIL.
Friendship among nations has many faces, but probably the most telling one is the commitment and resolve to fight together. As a security policy expert, having worked in the Ministry of Defense since the very first years of our newly free and sovereign Hungary after 1990, I value highly our cooperation in the military field and believe that the Trans-Atlantic cooperation is the strongest anchor of Hungary's and indeed Central Europe's future and stability.
The military and security cooperation may be the most strategic aspect of our cooperation, but it is not the only one. Yet another driving force in our relations is the traditionally strong cultural ties along with academic and scientific cooperation underpinned by a web of personal friendships. I highly appreciate the value of this and will strive to build on this rich and fruitful tradition, and to help identify opportunities to further strengthen these ties.
The successive generations of Hungarians who have been accepted and welcomed in the U.S serve as a vital bridge between our two countries. The commitment, enthusiasm and resourcefulness of these Hungarian-Americans have produced most impressive and admirable projects and organizations across the U.S. Their help and support are invaluable assets in further strengthening our bilateral relations, and offer unique possibilities that I treasure very much and fully intend to rely on. I have been doing and will continue to do my utmost to reach out to the Hungarian diaspora across the United States, to work together with its members and to further strengthen ties between Hungarians and Americans.
Common values and interests
It is in the sphere of political issues where we have to deepen our dialog significantly. I very much believe that in the spirit of friendship and openness, all outstanding issues can be addressed. Even if one accepts differences in approach, experience or opinion, we must acknowledge and be aware that our two countries' guiding political principles and values are the same.
One special field of cooperation is in energy security, the strategic importance of which has been highlighted by Russia’s aggression in Ukraine. Hungary has always promoted regional energy security and cooperation and we continue to work closely with our American partners for our common goals.
The dynamically growing economic ties provide shared prosperity between our two countries. The U.S. is Hungary’s largest export market outside the European Union, having overtaken China thanks to the growth we have seen in bilateral trade in recent years. In the first quarter of 2015, Hungarian exports to the U.S. have increased by close to 20% over a year ago. We appreciate this and shall continue to further strengthen this trend.
Hungary open for business
Hungary has achieved a remarkable economic turnaround in the wake of the global financial crisis. While in 2010, it was seen as one of the most vulnerable counties in the region with government debt levels reaching 85% and a budget deficit at 7% of GDP with no economic growth to speak of, by 2014, the debt level stood at 77%, the budget deficit at 2.6% of GDP and the economic growth rate was one of the highest in the EU at 3.6 %.
All of these numbers suggest that Hungary is open for business. There is probably no better indication to what this means in our bilateral ties than the fact that out of the fifty biggest US companies, forty are present in Hungary. A majority of these companies have increased their presence by reinvesting in Hungary in these past several years – indicating their satisfaction with their Hungarian investments. All together there are over 1,700 American-owned companies operating in Hungary today, employing more than 80,000 people. Their investments in Hungary exceed USD 9 billion, but their contribution is greater than this. They have helped create a sophisticated business culture and they brought much needed know-how to Hungary. As recognition of the vital role these investors play in the Hungarian economy, the Hungarian Government has entered into a strategic alliance with twelve of the largest U.S. based companies in Hungary.
Investments and the flow of know-how have not been in one directional, however. The U.S. is not only an important source of Hungary's imports, but some of the most successful Hungarian companies are also large investors in the U.S. Particularly promising is the new breed of highly competitive globally minded Hungarian startups such as Prezi, or LogMeIn. The strong presence of these companies in places like Silicon Valley or Boston also strengthens the ambition of Budapest to remain among the top European startup and innovation hubs. I am committed to exploring ways to strengthen the presence of innovative Hungarian startup companies in Silicon Valley.
This May, in New York City, I was honored to take part in opening the first Hungarian Trading House in North America with the aim of expanding bilateral economic ties and encouraging U.S. companies to find business opportunities in Hungary. Our economic ties have never been stronger, but my ambition is to keep this strong momentum going and strengthen all aspects of our economic partnership.
The world today is increasingly multipolar and that is why I look forward to working with my American partners to advance our global economic competitiveness and support the creation of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) that serves the interest of all members of our alliance. The main goal of the TTIP agreement is improving the market access of goods, services and public procurement and reducing the regulatory barriers to trade and investments, as well as strengthening the regulatory cooperation of the parties and coherence between the regulations.
Hungary as one of the most open economies in the world is pro-free trade, because our success depends on reducing barriers and bureaucratic burdens to ensure fair competition. Thus, we have an open-minded and supportive attitude towards the negotiations supporting a balanced agreement that serves Hungarian interests. In a favorable scenario, TTIP could trigger 15-20% increase in Hungarian-US exports in the medium term, 0.2-0.3% of GDP growth and 20,000-30,000 new jobs.
I am convinced the transatlantic alliance is more relevant now than ever. As Hungary’s Ambassador to the United States of America, I am committed to further strengthening and deepening our friendship.