In its recent country focus on Switzerland, Diplomacy & Trade included a piece on the role, the objectives and achievements of the Swiss Contribution Program in Hungary. The main aim of the Program is to reduce economic and social disparities.
In December 2007, Hungary and Switzerland signed a Bilateral Framework Agreement concerning the implementation of the Swiss-Hungarian Cooperation Program (Swiss Contribution). “The aims are still the same as in 2007. The Program in Hungary forms part of a broader Swiss enlargement contribution in favor of all 13 new EU member states that have joined the EU since 2004. It assists Hungary and the other EU member states in reducing the economic and social disparities within the enlarged EU as well as domestically,” Max Schnellmann, Director of the Swiss Contribution Office in Hungary, explains to Diplomacy & Trade.
Specific objectives and control
He adds that “for this reason, more than 40% of the Swiss Contribution in Hungary is allocated to the structurally weak regions of Northern Hungary and the Northern Great Plain. The 37 projects, programs and funds in the total amount of CHF 130 million help to foster specific objectives like promoting economic growth and improving working conditions; enhancing social security; protecting the environment; enhancing public security and safety; and strengthening civil society.”
As part of project implementation, contracts are put out to public tender in the respective countries. The relevant national legislation on public procurement and the guidelines of the EU and the World Trade Organization apply. The tender documents also include an integrity clause.
The correct use of funds is a prerequisite for the successful implementation and the credibility of the Swiss-Hungarian Cooperation Program. It has a two-tier monitoring and control system as preventing the misuse of funds is a common concern shared by Hungary and Switzerland. Hungary, as the partner country, is responsible for its implementation. Consequently, the Swiss authorities can rely on the Hungarian country system in terms of reporting, monitoring, supervision, control and irregularity procedures of the Hungarian coordination and supervisory bodies, in particular the National Coordination Unit and its Intermediate Body, the Széchenyi Program Office. Switzerland has a number of important additional measures at its disposal to ensure that the funds are used correctly. The Swiss authorities have access to all relevant documents and they review tenders and contracts above a certain size. If irregularities are suspected, Switzerland can halt repayments and claim back any wrongfully attributed contributions.
“The Swiss-Hungarian Cooperation Program is on track to be successfully implemented by 2017 thanks to careful preparation, good cooperation with the Hungarian authorities and hard work of all the implementing partners,” the Director points out. As a result, many of the projects, programs and funds have the potential to become success stories.
Max Schnellmann stresses that informing the general public about the existence of the Swiss-Hungarian Cooperation Program and the dissemination of results is also very important. “We do not only want to do good work, we also wish to speak about it. For this reason, funds are being used to organize information events for the local population and to maintain project-specific websites. We are confident that a successfully implemented Swiss-Hungarian Cooperation Program that produces tangible and sustainable benefits for the intended beneficiaries in various parts of Hungary as well as the established advisory and institutional partnerships between a wide range of Swiss and Hungarian partners will add to our country’s good image in Hungary.”
The Ambassador’s view
According to the Swiss Ambassador, Jean François Paroz, the Swiss Contribution Program, with a total amount of HUF 31 billion (CHF 130 million), supports Hungary and the other EU member states’ efforts to reduce their economic and social disparities domestically and within the enlarged EU. “It is, therefore, a significant pillar of our bilateral relations with Hungary, and an important element of our relations to the EU. The Swiss Contribution Program is a clear message that my country, despite not being an EU member state, is ready to contribute to the reduction of the social and economic disparities in Europe.”
He adds that “all the 37 projects and programs in Hungary were approved by June of 2012. We are now in the implementation phase. As the Swiss people have decided on this financial support in a popular vote back in 2006, it is very important to secure tangible and visible results.”
He explains that the priority region is the north-eastern part of Hungary where social and economic disparities are particularly significant. “We also pay special attention to efforts for the integration of the least favored members of the society, e.g. the Roma population. The Swiss Contribution Office within this Embassy is carefully following the implementation of the projects in close contact with the National Coordination Unit and the Széchenyi Program Office.
“The program contributes significantly to the broadening of our bilateral relations. As Swiss Ambassador to Hungary I am extremely pleased that we have this multi-faceted cooperation in several sectors. The diversity of projects and partners enables our two countries to develop strong relationships and cooperation not only at the official and governmental level, but also between cities, municipalities, universities, nongovernmental organisations, etc. It also enables me to have a broader network of contacts and partners for dialogue in Hungary, he concludes.