“Strong Europe with strong member states” proclaims Hungary v

 Edition 28 September 2017, by Nanda Jagusiak-Monteiro

On the occasion of Hungary’s Presidency of the Visegrád Group, Nanda Jagusiak-Monteiro interviews the Ambassador of Hungary, H.E. Mr. András Kocsis Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Deputy Head of Mission in Nairobi and in The Hague

1. As from 1 July, Hungary holds the presidency of the Visegrád group. Could you tell us a bit about the Visegrád group?
In 1991, the then Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia officially established the Visegrád Group, also called the V4, on the principles of mutual trust as well as common traditions, values and interests. Later, we carried out the EU accession negotiations in the same group and joined the European Union – the club we call our home today – on the very same day on 1 May 2004. We are a region of countries with shared goals and a willingness to take action; our common aim is to give a Central European touch to the EU. We very often understand each other even without words.

2. What are the focus points of the Hungarian V4 presidency?
The motto of our year-long V4 presidency is “V4 connects”. Besides the European dossiers, we will devote ourselves to further supporting our neighbourhood: countries of the Eastern Partnership and the Westerns Balkans. Budapest has recently organized an Eastern Partnership foreign affairs ministerial meeting where the Estonian EU presidency and Commissioner Hahn were also present. In July the V4 prime ministers met their Israeli counterpart: a historic event for Hungary hosting an Israeli prime minister after 30 years. In September justice ministers of the Benelux and V4 countries discussed the significant topics of victim support and legal aid. We will organize further highlevel meetings throughout the year, involving important economic and political partners to further improve the visibility and possibilities of our region.

3. Why is it so important for Central Europe to cooperate on these issues when you are all members of the European Union?
The V4 is a living framework in which our administrations have joined forces on a broad range of topics from agriculture to digitization. The Hungarian approach vis-à-vis the European dossiers is based on the idea of “strong Europe with strong Member States”. We strive for a competitive European Union that preserves the achievements of the past 60 years, while respecting the traditions and the way of thinking of its Member States. In this spirit and building on what our V4 friends have previously done, Hungary will organize a conference in January to present the V4 countries’ pro-European as well as realistic narrative on the most important subjects on the EU agenda.

4. How will you attract more attention to your V4 Presidency in the Netherlands? We are organizing several programs, including the International Law Seminar on 7 November in the The Hague Institute for Global Justice. One of the benefits of being in The Hague is that we have brilliant legal minds from our four countries working at the international legal institutions. I have therefore invited a Hungarian, a Polish, a Slovak and a Czech judge working at various courts in The Hague to participate in this panel. I look forward to hearing them discuss how their legal experiences in their home countries have helped them in their work in The Hague.

5. The Hague is known for its many international organizations. I have heard that you have a talented candidate running to be the head of such an organization?
That’s correct. Ambassador Tibor Tóth is running to become the Director General of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. The OPCW is the chemical weapons ‘watchdog’ tasked with preventing the use of weapons that contain poisonous chemicals in the world. Throughout history, we have seen that chemical weapons had a disastrous effect. That is why we think it is of utmost importance that the new DG has a wealth of experience. As Ambassador Tóth has worked in this field for thirty years as a tested and trusted leader, we are convinced he is exceptionally qualified.

6. Besides the global issues, I imagine your job is mainly about Dutch-Hungarian relations. Can you tell me a bit more about your efforts in deepening the Dutch-Hungarian cooperation?
Having served several years in The Hague before becoming ambassador to the Netherlands, I have always worked on bringing our countries closer to each other. I am happy that there is a strong twin-city engagement between several Hungarian and Dutch cities. Through the active participation of local institutions and civil society, the cultural, educational and touristic projects contribute to the already strong relations between our countries. Our Embassy is active in facilitating discussions: on 20 November, for example, we will organize a twin-city conference in Amsterdam to exchange views on best practices and potential fields for further cooperation. On a higher level, there is a very vivid relationship between our parliaments. It has become a practice that the president of the Senate and the Hungarian National Assembly meet each other every second year: we are honoured to receive Ms Ankie Broekers-Knol in Budapest in the coming days.

7. What about the trade relations? Is it true that the Netherlands is one of the biggest investors in Hungary?
That is correct. Dutch import and export is rapidly rising and the Netherlands is one of the largest foreign investors in Hungary. For example, FrieslandCampina has just established a shared services centre in Hungary. It is also great that this year Easyjet launched its first flight from Amsterdam Schiphol to Budapest, following Wizzair and Transavia.

8. Are there many tourists coming to your country? And what about the Dutch people?
With more than 21 million foreign tourists, Hungary’s tourism industry had its best year ever in 2016. Hungary is famous for its thermal spas, gastronomy, historical attractions, sport and cultural events, such as the Sziget Festival in Budapest. Sziget (‘island’ in Hungarian) is one of the largest music and cultural festivals in Europe. Around 50 percent of its visitors come from abroad, with the largest group being the Dutch with 17 thousand ‘islanders’.

9. Besides its great cuisine and wines, Hungary is also known for its rich cultural history and high-level cultural institutions. Your Embassy is very active in promoting Hungarian culture in the Netherlands. What are the events we should look out for this winter?
The highlight of this year is our Zoltán Kodály commemoration season. The Hungarian composer and music ethnologist Zoltán Kodály is internationally acknowledged for his outstanding music education method. This year marks his 135th birth anniversary and UNESCO had designated it as his special anniversary year. This is why we decided to dedicate our cultural programs of this fall to him. Together with the Liszt Academy in Budapest, we organize concerts, masterclasses and workshops in the Netherlands, while partnering with the Conservatoire in The Hague, the Nationale Koren and the Peace Palace among others.

Another unique commemoration is “Reformation – 500 years”. In Hungary, as well as in the Netherlands, the reformation of 1517 had a profound impact. And the two countries share a strong reformed history. An example of this is how Admiraal de Ruyter saved 26 Hungarian protestant preachers in 1676. Two events, which we organize this year, go deeper into these historic connections. We organized a seminar at the TU Kampen in June and will host a round table discussion in the Stadsmuseum Harderwijk on 13 November, during which former Prime Minister Balkenende will be one of the speakers. Please find an overview of the Embassy’s upcoming events on the left page

For more information visit haga.mfa.gov.hu and facebook.com/EmbassyHUNL
Ambassador Kocsis may be followed on Twitter @amb_kocsis