Since the realization of the so-called “Hungarian-Serbian historical reconciliation” in 2013, the quality of bilateral relations between two countries is getting better every day. This is true in both the political and economic fields.
Controversial or open issues burden neither bilateral relations between Hungary and Serbia nor their relations with regard to the Serbian accession process. On the contrary, two countries are finding new possibilities for cooperation from the political field to the economic joint projects to tourism, says H.E. dr. Attila Pinter, Ambassador of Hungary. This positive upturn is visible in every aspect starting from the cooperation when it comes to the migrant crisis to the trade exchange and the status of the Hungarian minority in Serbia. Although for historical reasons, most of the Hungarian engagement in business are located in Vojvodina, there is a growing interest of the investors to explore new opportunities in other parts of Serbia.
What is your explanation for such a fast and positive development of bilateral relations between the two countries?
As you are probably well aware, the Hungarian-Serbian bilateral relations have improved greatly since the realization of the so-called “Hungarian-Serbian historical reconciliation” in 2013. This went along with the formation of the first government of now President Aleksandar Vučić, in 2012. We can safely state that the quality of bilateral relations between our two countries has never before been so excellent. This is true in both the political and economic fields. At the same time, of course there is always a space for mutually beneficial development. That is why I consider it highly important, that the leaders and the most influential politicians of Hungary and Serbia maintain a friendly, constructive, mutually supportive and friendly relationship.
In which way did the migrant crisis impact these relations?
Hungary and Serbia developed a successful cooperation in fight of illegal migration and smuggling of human beings. In summer 2015, at the Serbian-Macedonian border and since the October of 2016 at the Serbian-Bulgarian border Hungarian police officers were supporting the work of the Serbian police. Hungary is willing to continue to provide all possible support to Serbia to keep the migration situation stabile, and to protect Serbia’s borders.
Concurrently, the two countries have been developing a closer cooperation within the framework of collaboration with China. Which opportunities, do you think, are being created from the cooperation with China?
When we talk about the cooperation within China’s “One belt, one road” initiative, we must not avoid mentioning infrastructural projects. Not only our large scale joint project the Budapest-Belgrade railway, but also construction of motorways, regional highways and other similar projects in which Hungarian and Serbian construction companies could jointly participate.
The Chinese companies have been showing a growing interest and activity in the areas of environmental protection and renewable energies, as well as in agro-industry, so there are many opportunities to find interesting projects of mutual interest. These could be for example the modernization of old technology (coal) based thermal power plants, construction of modern recycling centers for hazardous waste, also creating new technology based food processing plants.
Last but not least, the geographical proximity of our countries and their similarities, the easy accessibility, as well as our complementary tourist attractions (beautiful cities, spas, wine routes, historical ruins) create the possibility for joint action and presence on third country markets. Serbia provides visa free entry for Chinese citizens for short-term stay (up to 30 days), so we expect that this measure will significantly increase the number of Chinese tourists visiting the region. For this reason, we would like to develop joint tourism offers, special tours across both countries, which could be really interesting and attractive not only for tourists, but also for businesspeople arriving from the Far East.
Why is there no significant progress in construction of the Belgrade-Budapest railway which, according to the initial plans, was supposed to be under construction already?
The realization of the project turned out to be slower than expected, but according to our plans the works will begin in the end of this year. Hungary as the member state of the European Union must find balance between the fulfilment of its obligations defined by EU legislation and the expectations of the Chinese side, which takes time and additional efforts. From that aspect, Serbia is in a little bit easier situation and Minister Mrs. Zorana Mihajlović could already sign the commercial agreement for the reconstruction of the first section of the railway in Serbia.
Parallel with the good bilateral relations, the external trade between Serbia and Hungary has also been growing. In which economy segments is this trade the biggest?
According to the data of the Hungarian Central Statistical Office in the period of January-March 2017 the Hungarian-Serbian trade turnover was already EUR 620.1 million, which represents a 38% increase compared the same period of 2016. The majority of our trade was traditionally made up of processed products and petroleum products (fuels) for our company MOL. In addition, the sector of machinery and transport equipment is showing significant growth, which is caused by the increased number of foreign investments in Serbia, mostly in the production sector. For the same reason, Serbia is not exporting only raw materials and basic food products anymore, but more processed products, parts for the automotive industry, thanks to which the value of our trade turnover shows such a fast growing trend.
Also, the volume of Hungarian investments in Serbia has been growing. In which parts of Serbia and which industries did Hungarian companies invest the most?
The largest Hungarian investments in the last two years were realized in the automotive sector. Traditionally the Hungarian companies mostly invest in Vojvodina because of the similarities in the business environment and of the lack of language barriers. At the same time we try to turn their attention towards other parts of Serbia too and we encourage them to find business partners and investment opportunities in the Southern part of the country. Therefore we were glad that last year in November the Joint session of the Hungarian and Serbian governments was held in Niš. On the margins of the government session, the OTP Bank Serbia opened its Regional Center in Niš. So we hope, that others will follow, and Hungarian companies will start operating also in that part of the country.
Are there any unresolved issues between Hungary and Serbia in terms of the EU integration process?
As a starting point regarding the issue, we have to state, that the bilateral relations between Hungary and Serbia are excellent, and are not burdened by controversial, or open issues. As you know, Hungary is one of the EU Member States that seeks to promote the fastest possible integration of Serbia and the countries of the Western Balkans into the EU. So there is nothing to be solved on the EU level for us. However, during the accession negotiations, should there be a dispute between any of the sides, the given candidate country and the Member State should try to solve the dispute on a bilateral basis. As usual, this principal was ascertained at the beginning of the Serbian EU integration process as well.
Are you satisfied with the treatment of the Hungarian national minority in Serbia?
Due to the “Hungarian-Serbian historical reconciliation” and the very sincere and friendly cooperation between our governments the state of Vojvodina Hungarians has been much better today than during the previous years. The biggest political organization of Hungarians living in Serbia, the Alliance of Vojvodina Hungarians has been the member of the Serbian government coalition for 3 years with 4 MPs and 4 state secretaries. Their activity has contributed to deepening of confidence among Serbs and Hungarians living in Serbia. Serbian governments led by Mr. Vučić did a lot for improving the state of Hungarians living in Vojvodina. Serbian methods of minority protection are worthy of recognition.