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Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s speech at the Serbian-Hungarian business forum

Honourable Prime Minister, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I wish to thank the Chamber for its invitation. There is much to talk about, but now we do not have much time, so I will continue where your Prime Minister left off.

Indeed, we can hardly find a period in the history of the two nations when our relations were as balanced, strong and friendly as they are today. I would like you to know that this state of affairs has not come about of its own accord, and neither is it down to sheer luck. Many people have made a great deal of effort, many people have worked hard for Serbs and Hungarians to be able to look upon each other today without suspicion, and as partners. Naturally I cannot list everyone’s name, but above all I would like to mention Serbia’s current government and Prime Minister Vučić, who has personally invested an enormous amount of energy in achieving this state of affairs.  We Hungarians are grateful to him for this. When we speak of economic relations between the two countries, we think of the present, and we think of the near future; but both peoples are Central European peoples, and we are therefore well acquainted with the volatility of history. It is therefore important how these two nations look upon each other, how these two countries look upon each other, in the longer term.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Of course thirty years is a long time, but not too long for a man of my age. I remember that thirty years ago we used to speak about Serbian tradespeople and businesspeople, and the Szabadka/ Subotica market, as being entirely beyond our reach. When my wife and I were planning our honeymoon, we wanted to go to a developed Western country, and so we chose Yugoslavia. If we look at the right historical timeframe, what we see around us now is not misleading. Over the past ten to fifteen years I have not been misled by the Serbian economic figures I have seen. Those figures did not look at all good. Ten or fifteen years ago Serbian economic figures did not generate much hope. But in essence I would say that, at times like this, we should not look at the figures, but should rely on our mutual knowledge of each other as two nations. We should remind ourselves that we can see the talent in each other, because we have experienced it throughout history. As I’ve said, seen from Hungary the Serbs have always seemed like a talented people, who are good businesspeople and good workers. They were allowed to go and work in the West at a time when we could not, as we were not given permission. But the Serbs were allowed to go and work in the West, and held their own over there. More than this, they acquainted themselves with the market economy much sooner than we Hungarians had the opportunity to do. So no matter how hard the times and how poor the Serbian economic figures were, we saw Serbia much more as an opportunity and a source of potential. And here today in Niš I am glad that we can say that political relations between the two countries have never been better. We can see that Serbia is a country with the potential for growth when we look at its economic achievements over the past two to three years, its achievements in economic consolidation, when we see that its finances are in order, and that – though its GDP may be lower than Hungary’s – its finances stand on stable foundations. And, as we heard from figures not long ago, we are talking about a Hungary which started from an abyss in 2010, and has now reached the point at which we are discussing how we could achieve growth above 3 per cent, and closer to 5 per cent. This clearly demonstrates that major economic potential has also accumulated in Hungary. Naturally, once they have paid their taxes, Hungarian entrepreneurs are free to do what they like with their money. But I would like to recommend to them – and you – that you should primarily look around our region, and put Serbia back on the map: not just Vojvodina, and not just Belgrade, but the whole of Serbia. This is because, if anyone reads the in-depth economic analyses, they can see that what Prime Minister Vučić has just said is an accurate description of reality: the Serbian economy is on an upward path. They are not a member of the European Union, and yet they have been able to put themselves on a path of growth, and their economic growth is considerable. Hungary supports Serbia’s accession to the EU. Sooner or later this will come about, and it will open up new opportunities. Therefore, those who gain a foothold in the Serbian market today will have access to a business opportunity which will also be dependable in the longer term, and for this reason I encourage Hungarian businesses to seek investment opportunities here. Furthermore, Minister Szijjártó is sitting on a large pile of money, and he has a range of economic development measures at his disposal. Today we announced that we have opened a credit line worth EUR 61 million, which is available to businesses seeking to become involved in Serbian-Hungarian business cooperation. We’re talking about 61 million euros! And at today’s joint government meeting the minister responsible for foreign trade promised that when this fund is exhausted – when Hungarian and Serbian businesses have used up these funds – we shall be able to greatly increase it. So if you have a serious business plan which stands firmly on its own two feet, I encourage you to contact the Hungarian Investment Promotion Agency, contact the Hungarian Eximbank, contact the Hungarian economy and trade development institutions – and not just the Hungarian ones, but also their Serbian counterparts. This is why we have opened trading houses here in Serbia – and now Eximbank also has a branch in Serbia. You should contact the institutions where Hungarian funds are available, the funds that we have made available for the benefit of Serbs and Hungarians. I am convinced that we no longer live in an era when we could pursue deals at each other’s expense, and so for this reason, too, you should feel free to seek out these contacts. I am convinced that we now live in an era when we are able to find deals which are equally good for Serbs and Hungarians. I feel confident in saying this because this is the lesson we have also learnt from Slovak-Hungarian, Czech-Hungarian and Polish-Hungarian trade relations. Within the V4, we already know that it is indeed possible to pursue trade policies and mutual economic activities in each other’s countries which are beneficial for all parties. Just look at the ground which the V4 have gained. When I say that those who cooperate with Serbia can gain stable positions in the long run, I also mean that if we take a closer look at history books and study the map, we can see that in fact Serbia is the southern part of Central Europe. And I am convinced that the name of the great success story of the next fifteen years is Central Europe: the signs are already there for everyone to see. While this will primarily involve the V4, if we play our cards right Serbia will join, and will link itself to the V4. Austria will also create its own relationship with this new Central European cooperation, and I am convinced that the genuine economic opportunities of the next ten to fifteen – or perhaps twenty – years will be in Central Europe. If you look at the trade figures, the investment figures, the economic growth projections, the sovereign debt figures, they all confirm what I have just said. Therefore, the future, business, profits and economic opportunities are all primarily in Central Europe; and in this we also include Serbia – and not only the northern part of Serbia, with which we are better acquainted, but also the southern part. This is why we are now here in Niš.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I would once again like to thank the Serbian government and the Honourable Prime Minister for inviting us here. I wish to thank the Chamber for having organised this meeting today, and the members of the Hungarian business community for joining us. I also wish to thank members of the Hungarian government who are here with us, and the heads of Hungarian institutions responsible for economic development. I encourage you and seriously invite you to consider that – since the governments and prime ministers have been able to do their jobs and the conditions of successful economic cooperation are in place – it would be a shame for members of the Hungarian and Serbian business communities not to take advantage of this opportunity.

I would like to briefly address the Serbian business community. Nowadays there are various political philosophies in European thinking. We Hungarians tend to believe most in the philosophy of balance: the desirable situation is one in which the benefits are mutual. It is true that currently there is perhaps more capital in Hungary seeking foreign investment opportunities than there is in Serbia, but we would also like Serbian capital to emerge in Hungary. I do not believe that long-term, peaceful and balanced Serbian-Hungarian relations can be sustainable if they are solely powered by investments made in Serbia. I would also like Serbian businesses to catch up and make investments in Hungary. So I encourage members of the Serbian business community to seek out and contact Hungarian investment institutions. If you don’t have sufficient funds, contact the Hungarian Eximbank, the Hungarian trading house, and try to cooperate with these Hungarian institutions to further your investments in Hungary, because we support foreigners – including you Serbs – who want to invest in Hungary. And it would be important for Serbian as well as Hungarian investments to appear on the horizon of business life.

And we have one other thing in common with Prime Minister Vučić. In Serbia, to a greater or lesser extent we can see the three great Hungarian flagships which usually signal the presence of the Hungarian economy abroad. These are OTP, MOL and Richter: the three large Hungarian multinationals which have a significant presence – not only regionally, but also beyond. So we see these companies, but one major flagship project is still missing. This is the Budapest-Belgrade railway line. We have been engaged in talks about this for years, and we have all signed the agreement more times than I can remember – and the Chinese have also signed this agreement several times. If, in the spring of 2017, we can finally succeed in bringing it to the implementation phase – or the phase directly preceding actual implementation – we will finally have a big flagship project, a big joint Serbian-Hungarian project. It will be a project which could give us encouragement, which could be symbolic, which could draw in the rest of the business community, and could attract their attention, projects and entrepreneurial spirit. So I hope that Prime Minister Vučić and I will meet again next spring and sign specific implementation agreements on the Budapest-Belgrade railway line, because this will also have a beneficial effect on the other areas of Serbian-Hungarian business relations.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Honourable President of the Chamber, Prime Minister Vučić, on behalf of the Hungarian delegation, I thank you for inviting us here, and thank you for the opportunity of addressing you. I wish you every success.