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Deep roots in culture

Stefán Skjaldarson
February 20, 2012

The January issue of Diplomacy and Trade featured a Nordic Focus on the relations between the Scandinavian countries and Hungary. Here, you can read the piece that the Icelandic Ambassador, Stefán Skjaldarson contributed to the section.

Hungary and Iceland may seem to have little in common. Hungary is a continental, land-locked Central-European state while Iceland is an island on the fringes of Europe, far away from the coasts of continental Europe, up there in the north-west. In addition, the Hungarian and Icelandic languages are very different.

Heritage

Still, Iceland and Hungary both have deep roots in European cultural tradition and history. Both nations trace their heritage more than a thousand years back. Iceland was populated by seafarers, mostly from Scandinavia, in particular from Norway but also from the British Isles, who established a commonwealth state at a similar time in history as when the Hungarian nation migrated to central Europe and established the Hungarian Kingdom. But, I have to admit that Iceland has never been a major power in Europe the way Hungary has been at times.

Today, relations between Iceland and Hungary are excellent although not extensive. Icelanders in general, have very positive views about Hungary. History matters. The events of 1956 when Soviet troops crushed the Hungarian uprising and hundreds of thousands of Hungarians fled the country, some of them to Iceland, are very much a part of the picture Icelanders have of Hungarians. We look at Hungarians as a freedom loving democratic nation and Budapest as one of the most beautiful capitals of Europe.

Icelandic Embassy in Vienna

Although, Iceland does not have an Embassy in Budapest, we nurture our diplomatic relations through the Icelandic Embassy in Vienna. There are a good many contacts between our countries. These are mostly institutional but also exist on individual levels, and the Embassy tries its utmost to support and nourish them. We are also lucky to have an Honorary Consul General in Budapest, Mr. Ferenc Utassy, who is untiring in his efforts to support contacts between Iceland and Hungary, not least with regard to tourism.

Iceland has been part of the internal market of the EU since 1994 through the European Economic Area (EEA) agreement. Iceland has applied for membership of the European Union and accession talks are ongoing. We hope that our membership negotiations will progress well during the Danish Presidency of the EU.

Long-time partners

Despite being long-time partners in Europe, there is still much room for improvement in our bilateral trade relations. Part of our trade may not be registered as it goes through third countries. In my opinion, there is vast potential to increase the trade between our countries, as both countries have products and services that are of interest to the other.

Recently, Iceland, along with our EEA partners Norway and Liechtenstein, signed cooperation agreements with Hungary on projects financed through the EEA Financial Mechanism. Important parts of these programs relate to promoting energy efficiency and renewable energy. As regards the renewable energy programs, the Icelandic National Energy Authority (OS) will contribute, using its considerable experience in the field of geothermal energy. We know that Hungary has great potential in geothermal energy utilization and energy efficiency. Icelandic and Hungarian companies are already cooperating in geothermal energy development. I am confident that further cooperation between Iceland and Hungary in sustainable geothermal energy utilization holds great potential.

Sustainable natural resources

The ‘Nordic Model’ conference held at the initiative of the Hungarian-Scandinavian Friendship Group of Hungarian National Assembly was, in my opinion, a success. It is important to share ideas and perspectives across national boundaries and regions. I think that Hungary could draw on the experiences of the Nordic countries and I am also confident that we can learn from Hungarian experiences. I think that perhaps the most valuable contribution from Iceland to this exchange of ideas and experiences could be in the field of sustainable natural resources management, in particular as regards sustainable energy and sustainable fisheries management.

Stefán Skjaldarson

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