Despite the relatively large distance in a pure geographical sense, Norway and Hungary are close cooperation partners in the political, cultural and economic areas, and the Royal Norwegian Embassy’s main objective is to further strengthen the bilateral ties between our countries.
The main framework of our cooperation is the so-called European Economic Area (EEA) agreement, which undoubtedly is the most important and comprehensive international agreement the Kingdom of Norway has ever entered into. This agreement, together with a number of other bilateral agreements with the European Union, makes Norway a full member of the EU’s internal market, as well as other very important areas of European cooperation, such as the Schengen agreement or the European Higher Education Area. Therefore, we very closely follow developments within the EU, especially in times of severe economic turbulence. Though not part of the EU’s formal decision-making structure, Norway has always striven to make its voice heard through informal channels. For that reason, we sought an active cooperation with the Hungarian government during the country’s first EU Presidency in the first half of 2011.
As regards trade relations and investments, the EEA agreement allows Norwegian companies to compete on an equal footing within the EU’s internal market. Therefore, Hungary and Norway are close cooperation partners within the world’s largest single market. Due to the very different structures of our economies, the figures of direct bilateral trade are relatively modest: export from Hungary to Norway was approximately EUR 275 million in 2010, while imports amounted to some EUR 60 million.
By far the largest Norwegian investor in Hungary is Telenor, which is the second largest mobile operator in the country and employs almost 1,500 people, most of them at their new, ‘green’ headquarters in Törökbálint, just southwest of Budapest. We feel that Telenor’s commitment to environmentally conscious, transparent and socially responsible business practices is an example to follow for other investors. More than 50 other Norwegian companies are also present in the Hungarian market either through local subsidiaries or sales agents, in manufacturing, consultancy and engineering, to name but a few areas. Norwegian companies are constantly looking into new investment possibilities in the region, including Hungary. Apart from an abundant and competent workforce, these potential investors are looking first and foremost for a predictable and transparent business environment and a level playing field.
The EEA and the Norwegian Financial Funds provide a unique instrument to strengthen bilateral ties. Roughly one-third of the implemented 100 projects have involved some form of partnership between Hungarian and Norwegian entities. In the new programming period (2009-2014), we put even more emphasis on the bilateral aspect: partnerships will not only be encouraged at the project, but also at the program level. In other words, Hungarian and Norwegian organisations will enter into a strategic cooperation with a view to devising and operating the 12 programs to be launched in 2012. These programs will cover areas of strategic importance where Norway can provide added value in the form of resources or competence.
We are always very proud to mention our 800 ‘Norwegian ambassadors’ throughout Hungary: it reflects the high quality of the Hungarian higher education, especially in the field of medical sciences, that almost 800 Norwegian students are pursuing their academic degrees at Hungarian universities in Budapest and other important university towns. We believe that research and higher education is one of the areas where bilateral cooperation can and should be further strengthened through projects financed by the Norway Grants.