I would like to greet our host, the representative of the Iranian Government, and the ladies and gentlemen here today. We came here, to your country, in order to bring an unnatural state of affairs to an end. The last time a Hungarian prime minister visited Iran was twenty-seven years ago: this was contrary to the rules of common sense. But although it has been such a long time since the last visit, we are now here in numbers: we have here, for instance, five government ministers. I am able to say to the Honourable President that the Hungarian government comprises ten ministers and the prime minister. So having here five ministers and the prime minister, we are able to adopt binding government decisions; and what’s more – should we receive unfavourable news from home and the need arises – we would even be able to form our government in exile here in Tehran! (Laughter) But this is not something we should be too worried about, as Hungary is the only country in Europe where every parliament has run its full term of four years. Since 1990, when the first democratic election was held, we have never had an early parliamentary election. In this respect Hungary is the most politically stable country in the European Union.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is true that we were not here for twenty-seven years, but Iranians have been coming to Hungary. At present 1,116 Iranian students are studying in Hungarian universities, and we know of some four thousand Iranian professionals who have graduated in Hungary in recent years. This is a very serious intellectual force, and it constitutes excellent foundations for our cooperation. I would like to inform members of the business community that we met First Vice President Jahangiri today. Tomorrow I shall meet supreme religious leader Ali Khamenei, Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani, and finally President Hassan Rouhani. Quite clearly, the Islamic Republic of Iran is now receiving Hungary at the highest level, and for this we are grateful and feel deep respect.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Due to time constraints I shall not quote them specifically, but it is perhaps important to mention that the first written records of the existence of the Hungarian people – whose origins, shrouded in the mists of time, are a favourite topic of speculation when speaking of our identity – are from Persian and Arabic sources. This clearly indicates that at some point in the past, hundreds of years ago – or perhaps more than a thousand years ago – there may have been similar meetings here between Hungarians and Iranians. In this sense, we are continuing something which already existed earlier.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
First of all I would like to pay tribute to the Iranian people and the Iranian economy on having survived the very difficult period of sanctions. What is more, you not only survived the sanctions, but clearly generated reserves of dynamism which are now waiting to be released, and which may mark the beginning of a great era in Iran’s economic development. One does not have to be a Nobel Prize-winning economist to recognise the signs of imminent growth. Looking at the gross domestic product data, figures on the size of reserves of natural resources and current financial indicators, it is quite clear that over the next few years Iran will experience enormous development. It is no surprise that western countries which formerly argued vehemently for sanctions are now taking it in turn to send large delegations to Iran, because everyone feels that there is a major opportunity here. In the modern global economy there are not many opportunities like this. We must ask this question: if the Italians were here not so long ago, and the Americans are obviously always here, and everyone else will be coming here – countries which are much bigger than Hungary in terms of size, population and gross national product – what opportunities will be left for the Hungarians? Hungary is a country of ten million; you may already be aware of its geographical dimensions, and the size of its gross domestic product. In terms of size we cannot compete with the Italians, the Germans, the Americans or the French. What, then, can we achieve? In order to answer this question, I think that our Iranian friends must appreciate the difference between the Hungarian and the Iranian economies.
I hear that oil revenues now only account for twenty per cent of total fiscal revenues, but compared with our oil revenues, even this seems a substantial figure. In contrast to Iran, Hungary is a country with no natural resources – or rather no natural resources to speak of, as the little we have is extremely modest. The energy sources and natural reserves which the Hungarians once had were lost a hundred years ago when the territories containing them were taken away from us; and in the current territory of Hungary there are no such resources. Therefore, under the circumstances, it is nothing short of a miracle that Hungary is growing faster than the European Union average (last year our growth rate was above three per cent), that everyone regards the Hungarian economy’s prospects in a positive light, that investments are increasing in Hungary, and that opportunities to set up operations in Hungary are being sought after worldwide. Everything present in Hungary today or existing as a business opportunity there – and all the achievements and results – are due to our mentality, our intellectual performance and our physical labour, rather than to natural resources, of which we have none. It is from this angle that we can appreciate what we can offer to our Iranian friends in terms of economic cooperation. Today, together with the First Vice President, we have identified five areas of cooperation, and have decided to set up a joint economic committee. The Hungarian representation on this committee will be led by Minister Péter Szijjártó. The five areas which we identified are as follows.
Energy. This is one of those Hungarian things, Honourable President: while we have no major oil or gas fields, the region’s largest oil and gas company is a Hungarian firm, because we have refineries, storage capacity and a hydrocarbon-based chemical industry to the highest global standards, combined with the latest necessary technology. So in the field of energy we have an interest in establishing oil and gas industry cooperation between our countries. We would also like to take part in the Iranian nuclear programme, as there is a nuclear power plant in Hungary, and we are even going to enlarge it; in this field we carry out training to the highest standards, and we would be happy to cooperate on training with Iranian nuclear scientists and nuclear experts.
The second area which we identified today with the Iranian government is water management, water purification and the use of water system operation technologies. We have cutting-edge technologies in these areas. While in terms of size we can hardly compete with the Germans and the French, our technologies are to the same high standards. In fact in many instances our technologies come from these countries, as we have repurchased from them the company operating the largest Hungarian water management system. At the same time, however, we are more efficient, cheaper and faster.
The third area is the knowledge-based economy. Within this field our reputation is high in the application of IT and telecommunication solutions. Also renowned is our pharmaceutical and health industry, which is based on high-level training and education, and in which we have internationally competitive medium-sized and larger companies.
The fourth area is agriculture. I am not talking so much about the sale of agricultural products – although trade in them is also good – as the opportunity of using Hungarian agricultural technologies in joint ventures, or in the form of investments here. This includes agricultural technologies related to veterinary health care.
And finally we agreed on establishing wide-ranging cooperation in education and training, and on extending our existing schemes. We intend to establish Tehran University’s Central European headquarters in Budapest. We have offered one hundred scholarships – university scholarship grants – paid to Iranian students by the Hungarian government; in the near future we shall also develop courses in Persian language and literature, under the auspices of ELTE University in Budapest. In order to make all this workable, we have signed an agreement on the elimination of double taxation, and entered into a government-level economic cooperation agreement.
We have decided on opening a foreign trade representation in Tehran, and we hope that as soon as the regime of sanctions comes to an end Eximbank will be able to provide financing. In Hungary there is no lack of money for Iranian-Hungarian cooperation. If there are good ideas and there are concepts, Hungarian Eximbank will be able to finance such businesses with an almost unlimited supply of funds. The financial background is available, and the Finance Minister is happy to regularly supply funds from the central budget in order to increase Eximbank’s capital. But even before this comes about, we will permit funding in the fields of agriculture, the food industry and pharmaceutical industry through a special state administration arrangement; this means that we are already able to finance our joint ventures.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I believe that today, together with the representatives of your government, we have completed a highly important task. I believe that the dynamism of our initiative to rebuild our relations is worthy of the two countries’ cultural traditions. I would underline that, while business is important (and naturally we all need money to live), we would also like to open up a further dimension in Iranian-Hungarian relations: a cultural and intellectual dimension, which would provide a strong and steady background for our business activities. You might not know much about Hungary here, but, beyond business, it is worth knowing that we are a people who are fundamentally defined by our culture. We look on our language and culture as unique – given that we have no relatives in the world – and take the view that if we did not exist, humanity would likewise lose the treasure that is our language and culture. It is therefore a great task to preserve, introduce, cultivate and make our language and culture accessible to others. I believe that, while in terms of the differences in the size of the Persian and Hungarian civilisation this is obviously a smaller task for Hungary, it is just as large in the context of our duties and legacy for the future.
I sincerely hope that Iranian-Hungarian cultural relations will create sound foundations and a firm supporting structure for business cooperation in the near term.
It is with this hope that I thank the Honourable President for inviting me here, and I wish great success to members of both the Hungarian and Iranian business communities.