Interview of Hungary’s Ambassador to Azerbaijan Viktor Szederkenyi to ONA
–How do you evaluate the current status of the bilateral relations between Azerbaijan and Hungary? What are the main fields of cooperation between the two countries?
–In 2014 during President Aliyev’s visit to Budapest, a Joint Declaration on Strategic Partnership was signed. This partnership covers all spheres of bilateral cooperation, such as political, economic, cultural and human domain. Political relations between the two countries are excellent and supported by high-level political dialogue. These relations are free of problems, moreover, the common historical roots and mutual sympathy between our peoples provide an excellent basis for cooperation and people-to-people contacts. In fact, a new segment of our expanding cooperation that in September 2018, Hungary has joined the Council of the Turkic Speaking Countries as a permanent observer.
The Hungarian economic growth has created great opportunities for business partnership with Azerbaijan. The Hungarian companies are ready to cooperate with Azerbaijani partners in agriculture and food industry, ICT sector, urban planning, energy efficiency, road and infrastructure construction, water supply and management, in the field of environment, and health industries. In these areas, Hungary possesses high-level technical solutions. Hungarian companies have already started to implement a number of joint projects with Azerbaijan. One of these is a greenhouse construction project in Khizi district, which will be finished this year - this project financially supported by the Hungarian Eximbank.
Let me also mention that there is also a vibrant cooperation between our countries in the field of culture and education. The public in Baku can see more and more Hungarian cultural events and we intend to extend these programmes to the regions as well. Relations between our educational institutions are expanding. Currently, hundreds of Azerbaijani students study in Hungary.
–How much is the trade turnover between the countries? How many Hungarian companies operate in Azerbaijan?
–Azerbaijan is the major foreign trade partner of Hungary in the South Caucasus region. But nevertheless, I think the current level of the mutual trade turnover reflects neither the potential of our economic cooperation nor both strategic and friendly nature of our bilateral political relationship. The critical years of 2015-2017, and the devaluation of the Azerbaijani manat naturally had a negative impact on foreign trade, including the trade with Hungary, but from the year of 2017, the trends are positive again. In 2018 the trade turnover was around 60 million USD. The main positions of Hungarian export are the well-known pharmaceuticals, energy drinks, agrarian products and technologies, machines and equipment, food items. Several Hungarian companies operate in Azerbaijan, for example, the Richter Gedeon and EGIS pharmaceutical companies, Hell Energy company. The Hungarian WizzAir has a regular flight between Baku and Budapest.
Apart from the increase in trade turnover, our primary goal is the promotion of mutual investments, to develop project-based, long-term cooperation with our Azerbaijani partners, based on advanced technologies.
–Hungary will serve as the NATO Contact Point Embassy in Baku up to 2020. What kind of work has Hungary done within the past 2 years and what are the plans for the current year?
–Hungary and the Hungarian Embassy in Baku will continue to promote the image of Azerbaijan as a reliable and credible Partner for NATO. We are facilitating the communication between NATO and Azerbaijan as well as the growing number of high-level political exchanges and visits. We support public diplomacy and related exchanges, and from my part, I stand ready to engage with Azerbaijani institutions interested in learning more about NATO. This year is special: we commemorate the 70th anniversary of the foundation of NATO as well as the 20th anniversary of Hungary’s membership in the Alliance. Let me also mention that Hungary supported the Jeyranchel mine clearing project by 100.000 Euros, which was a joint NATO-Azeri project.
–How can you comment on Hungary’s stance over the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict?
–Hungary’s position remains unchanged: we support the peaceful resolution of the conflict based on the sovereignty and full territorial integrity of Azerbaijan.
–The cooperation between Azerbaijan and Hungary is of strategic nature. What is the essence of this cooperation?
Strategic nature of cooperation means that the directions of developing our relations are set out by the joint decisions of our countries’. Strategic, because it covers all fields of life. We have obviously priority areas, like economic cooperation, but we try to develop all sectors. Strategic, because we support each other’s endeavors at the international fora.
–Azerbaijan has strategic cooperation agreements with 10 EU countries and now, the country is holding talks to sign a new agreement with the European Union. How does Hungary see the prospects of such an agreement?
–We believe that Azerbaijan is not only our bilateral strategic partnership but also for the EU. As an EU-member, Hungary is one of staunchest supporters of the development of the relations between Azerbaijan and the EU. Signing the Document on Partnership Priorities between the EU and Azerbaijan in July last year was an important step and we hope that the negotiations on the new agreement will be successfully concluded soon. We believe that strategic cooperation should extend to as many areas as possible: beyond the energy cooperation to trade, transport, the human domain, etc. Hungary would also like to serve as Azerbaijan’s gateway to the EU markets.
–How do you evaluate the activity of the Azerbaijan-Hungary Joint Commission on Economic Cooperation and when and where will the next meeting of the Commission be held?
–The Azerbaijani-Hungarian Intergovernmental Joint Commission on Economic Cooperation is a very important institution and a successful framework for developing our economic relations, and our bilateral relations in general as representatives of all relevant sectors participate in the work of the Commission. It was established in 2010 and has already had six sessions so far. The Hungarian co-chair of this committee is Mr. Peter Szijjártó, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and the Azerbaijani co-chair is Mr. Shahin Mustafayev, the minister of economy. The co-chairs had an official meeting in Baku last June. We are planning to hold the seventh session of the committee in the near future in Budapest. There were several business forums held between the countries, the last one took place in Budapest in October 2017.
–Hungary has expressed interest in taking part in the Southern Gas Corridor project. Which steps has Hungary taken in this regard?
–Last year was a remarkable year in terms of European energy security as the Southern Gas Corridor became reality. Hungary shows substantial interest in the SGC project. A Hungarian delegation attended the 5th SGC Ministerial Meeting in Baku on 20th February this year, for the first time as an observer. The delegation also had talks with the main actors. Diversification of gas supply both in terms of sources and directions is of utmost importance for Europe, including Hungary. We see the SGC as a viable alternative to other gas supply routes coming to Europe.
One of the main tasks is linking Hungary to the Southern Gas Corridor through regional interconnectors, which is underway.
–Moreover, last year, Azerbaijan became a signatory to China’s “One Belt, One Road” transport project. How can Hungary benefit from this and other projects in which Azerbaijan is involved?
–We consider Azerbaijan as a regional transport and trade hub as our gateway to the East. Hungary is intensifying its political and trade relations with the countries of Central and Eastern Asia and therefore we support projects aimed at boosting cooperation between Europe and Asia. We applaud the implementation of the different projects in this regard, like Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway as they will shorten the transportation times.
–Azerbaijan and Hungary also actively cooperate in the field of education. Hungary offers scholarships "Stipendium Hungaricum" to Azerbaijani students. How do you view the future prospects of cooperation in this field? Are Hungarian students also interested in receiving higher education at Azerbaijani universities?
–An Agreement between the Government of Hungary and the Government of the Republic of Azerbaijan on Educational, Scientific and Cultural Cooperation was signed in Budapest on 9 October 2012. During President Aliyev’s visit in Budapest in November 2014, an agreement on launching the Stipendium Hungaricum scholarship programme was concluded. So, the programme has started in 2015 and since then, we could welcome more and more, now hundreds of Azerbaijani students in Hungary. In 2017, the Foreign Ministers of the two countries have signed the new working programme between the Ministry of Human Resources of Hungary and the Ministry of Education of AR on the prolongation of the scholarship programme for another 3 years.
According to the new programme, annually 200 scholarships can be awarded to Azerbaijani students. We attach great importance to this programme, we consider it as an investment to our future bilateral relations, since those students who accomplish their students in Hungary, later on, can serve as sort of goodwill ambassadors, liasoning between our countries. Let me also mention the growing number of direct ties between our different universities, this kind of cooperation will also bring its results in the future. From my part, I would love to see scholarship opportunities for Hungarian students in Azerbaijan as I am certain that there would be interest to study here.
Within the existing exchange programmes between Hungarian and Azerbaijani universities, 2-3 Hungarian students per year study in Azerbaijan for one semester, mainly at the ADA University. I think, in this field, there are more opportunities to enhance the cooperation of the institutions and I hope that every year we can meet more and more Hungarian students or lecturers in Azerbaijan. We are working on this issue.