homepage_name! > Editions > Number 144 > Ambassador - Hungary

H.E. Mr. Attila Pinter, Ambassador of Hungary to Serbia


Hungary is a country in Central Europe. It borders Slovakia to the north, Ukraine to the northeast, Romania to the east and southeast, Serbia to the south, Croatia and Slovenia to the southwest, and Austria to the west. Hungary covers an area of 93,030 square kilometers in the Carpathian Basin, with a population of 10 million. Hungarian, the official language, is the world’s most widely spoken Uralic language, and among the few non-Indo-European languages widely spoken in Europe. Budapest is the country’s capital and largest city; other major urban areas include Debrecen, Szeged, Miskolc, Pécs, and Győr.

1. Your Excellency, how do you feel about being in Belgrade? Can you tell us about your impressions of Serbia?

Serbia is a wonderful country with very friendly, open, and helpful people. Serbs are usually in a good mood and I like this attitude. I have always felt very good [1] here. Your country is very rich in natural beauty and the cultural heritage of Serbia has been an authentic part of the European culture for centuries. The Miloseva, Ravanica, and Manasija monasteries are perfect examples of orthodox religious heritage.

I have always admired Serbia because of its very good results in basketball and water polo. You have enormous capacities and many talented players to be the best in basketball and I hope that your national team will win the next European and World Championships.

Let me confess that I am a hostage of Serbian cuisine: every so often I just have to eat cevapi or pljeskavica with pecena ljuta paprika otherwise I miss them too much. Serbia is a world champion in making rakija, but I have to tell you that during the past couple of years your country has had better and better results in wine production. Serbian red wines and white wines really deserve more attention.

2. How long have you held the position of Ambassador in Serbia, and what was the course of your career in diplomacy before you came to Serbia?

I started my mandate in Belgrade mid-October 2014, so I have been the Ambassador of Hungary for more than 6 and a half years. Previously I worked in Istanbul, where I was responsible for consular affairs, later in Belgrade from 2003 to 2007 and, before my second mandate in Belgrade , I spent 5 years in Macedonia from 2008 to 2013. So I have spent more than 16 years in the region.

3. What is the current diplomatic and economic cooperation of our two countries like, and what was it like in the past? What should be changed in order to improve that cooperation?

With regard to political relations, it has never been better to be the Ambassador of Hungary in Serbia. In the past, we usually took different sides on the European political scene and in major events of the 20th century. Regrettably, this led to many tragedies in our joint history that we needed to understand and discuss. I can proudly say that we have come a long way since then and managed to leave behind centuries of mistrust and animosity, which has transformed into fruitful, neighborly relations. The reconciliation that took place between Budapest and Belgrade is exemplary and proves that Southeast Europe is becoming an important region in Europe. The political ties we have today show that you can achieve a lot if you place your trust in your neighbors and start to build a future together. Nowadays, Hungarian ministers are regular guests in Belgrade and our cooperation extends to the political field, economy, infrastructure, trade, education, and culture. Our foreign policy puts a special focus on Serbia, a country we consider a strategic partner.

With regard to trade and economy, Hungary and Serbia have a long tradition in fostering business cooperation covering a wide range of fields. However, recent years brought substantial improvement to our bilateral relations. Our political alliance created a strong foundation for building a favorable business climate that resulted in a dynamic increase in trade volume and flow of investments. To put it in other words: forging a steady partnership between our governments paved the way for strong business relations. The fact that, in 2020, when COVID-19 plunged the global economy into an unprecedented recession, our bilateral trade remained on an upward trajectory, this being a prime example and proof of the strong bond that ties our countries together. There are several factors that make Serbia an ideal export destination for Hungarian companies: the close proximity, its central location in the Balkan Peninsula, along with the growing stability and competitiveness of the economy creates an excellent business climate where Hungarian companies can thrive.

4. What is the current situation regarding the pandemic in Hungary?

Hungary is rolling out a massive vaccination program that is unparalleled in Europe and places us on the top of the vaccination charts on the continent. The Hungarian Government considers vaccination the highest priority and the vaccines we managed to acquire are available now to all citizens. At the time of writing, the number of vaccinated has surpassed 4 million people. The gradual opening of businesses, services, and public events is closely aligned with the vaccination program. We have ample supplies of all sorts of vaccines from Western and Eastern manufacturers so the only limitation to the process is the daily dosages administered. The number of people who are willing to get vaccinated is growing so there is optimism in the government that we can reach a high level of immunity by the summer.

5. Today, Serbia is a candidate country for EU membership - negotiations started in January 2014. In your view, where is Serbia on its way to EU membership, and what will be crucial for Serbia to reach membership status?

I would say – using a colloquial expression – that Serbia is halfway there. Right now, it is hard to predict the future steps since major reforms are happening in the field of EU accession policy. The new methodology envisages a merit-based, yet more dynamic approach that could benefit Serbia. I agree with the recent statement of Mr. Olivér Várhelyi, commissioner for neighborhood and enlargement that “the possibility to open clusters can bring more dynamism into the negotiations.” I believe that the Serbian accession agenda, although having slowed down recently, can gain a new impetus in the coming period and we can see considerable results soon. In my opinion, Serbia is working very hard to open new chapters – and clusters – so the results will come. The economic cooperation between the EU and Serbia is a good foundation for the future. Remember that the EU and its predecessor, the European Coal and Steel Community, was founded on economic cooperation. I see a similar path here.

At the same time, I would like to point out that Hungary is a determined supporter of the Serbian EU-accession agenda. We use all available political forums to convince our international partners that the enlargement policy and support for Serbia can benefit both sides. The EU can gain a lot by developing closer ties with Serbia in the fields of security and peace, management of migration flows, infrastructure, and commerce. It is evident to us that Serbia is the key state for long-lasting peace and stability in the Western Balkans, therefore the EU cannot ignore Belgrade as an important candidate for membership. Our support is not only political, but we have sent experts, who are well-versed in accession negotiations to assist the Serbian administration on a technical level. We honestly believe that our endeavors will bear fruit and we are looking forward to a shift in the pace of negotiations.

6. When it comes to investments, how do investors from Hungary regard the Serbian market? How many Hungarian companies are operating in Serbia at the moment, and which are the most important companies investing in us?

Hungarian companies are well aware that in recent years, Serbia has gone through an impressive economic recovery that has lead the way to growing stability and competitiveness. These economic conditions are paired with a talented and hard-working labor force and state incentives provided by the Serbian Government, making Serbia an extremely attractive investment destination. All these factors have contributed to an increased interest in the country’s investment opportunities; a fact clearly indicated by the growing FDI influx. Big investors, such as the internationally renowned petrochemical company MOL and the Hungarian OTP Bank Group have a long-standing presence in the country, continuously expanding their activities through reinvestments.

In terms of capital allocation, today, Serbia is a priority target country for Hungarian enterprises. On this note, in November 2019, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade of Hungary launched a specialized financial instrument, the Western Balkans Investment Scheme, with the specific aim to foster the economic development of the Balkan region – including Serbia – through strengthening the presence and role of Hungarian companies. The program was considered highly successful, thus the Hungarian Government continued the initiative of promoting Hungarian investments abroad with a new program called the Foreign Market Growth Incentive that has a global scope. These new investments will have visible results in the coming years.

7. How would you describe your cooperation with the Serbian Government and business associations for the purpose of entrepreneurship development?

As I mentioned, the excellent political relations have helped in establishing and enabling the business climate. The regular high-level visits, as well as the annually organized Hungarian-Serbian intergovernmental summits and the sessions of the joint economic commission, are frequently accompanied by business delegations. These government-led events, together with the excellent chamber relations all contribute to fostering business-to-business cooperation. I would also highlight the role of the Hungarian Export Promotion Agency, the CED Central European Economic Development Network, and EXIM Bank; all three Hungarian institutions have representative offices in Serbia, with the aim of fostering exports and investment promotion.

8. What is the nature of foreign trade cooperation between our countries and which industries in Serbia have the most potential? What does Serbia export to, and what does import from Hungary?

Among the countries of the Western Balkans, Serbia is our most important trading partner. The volume of bilateral trade has been showing steady growth, and in the past five years, it has increased by 50%. 2019 was considered a record year in terms of bilateral trade as the volume reached 2.6 billion EUR. However, despite the epidemic, Hungarian-Serbian trade relations continued to flourish in 2020, marking a 3.4% year-on-year growth. This dynamic boost is a clear result of all the activities I mentioned earlier. Based on the account balance, the Hungarian surplus is still prominent; the share of Hungarian export from the total trade is 64.2%. However, the Serbian contribution is gradually increasing, meaning that we are on a trajectory leading to more balanced bilateral foreign trade. The most important product exported from Hungary to Serbia is electric current; in 2020 this single commodity accounted for 12.9% of the total export volume. On the other hand, electrical machinery, apparatus, and appliances are the main import commodities shipped from Serbia to Hungary (22.3% of total imports). Along with the big investors, there are a couple of hundred Hungarian companies operating in Serbia. A substantial number of them are joint ventures that represent the Hungarian company throughout the Western Balkans.

9. Can you tell us about the relationship between Serbia and Hungary in the fields of science, culture, and education?

Our overall excellent relationship shows itself in these fields as well, be it vast projects to preserve each other’s cultural heritage – for example, the reconstruction of the synagogue in Subotica, or the renovation and expansion of the Serbian Orthodox Museum in Szentendre – or everyday concerns, such as supporting the mother tongue education of Hungarians in Serbia, and Serbs in Hungary. The main contact point to meet Hungarian culture in Belgrade is the Collegium Hungaricum, where – if the epidemiological situation allows – we organize exhibitions, concerts, and conferences. Also, every year, Hungary offers 50 scholarships to the youth in Serbia who wish to study at Hungarian universities, from the bachelor to the doctoral level.

10. How would you present your country as a tourist attraction? Which characteristics and sights would you highlight?

Hungary, despite being a relatively small country, has a varied landscape and rich culture that tourists should definitely discover! As the number one highlight of the country, the capital, Budapest has a lot to offer in every season. From its Christmas fair to summer festivals, concerts to sports events, the city has everything. As a special treat, I would like to recommend the thermal baths of Budapest since they are a truly unique phenomenon in the world. Visitors from Serbia can enjoy the comfort and healing characteristics of thermal water that has been around for many centuries. After that, it is a great idea to take a stroll on the walkway next to the Danube. The view is truly one of a kind that is a world heritage site in itself. Keep an open eye for Serbian cultural heritage that is very much present in the city! For those interested in gastronomy, a burgeoning restaurant scene awaits the culinary adept. New chefs and ideas bring traditional recipes to new life, and I honestly think that our dishes are pleasing to the Serbian palate!

Aside from Budapest, I also want to highlight other opportunities in the country. Lake Balaton is a rich cultural landscape, which rewards visitors with astounding azure waters, fresh wine, museums, and historical heritage. You can easily spend a week cycling around Balaton and see the castles, beaches, and nature reserves in the area. For those interested in fishing and hunting, the rich rivers and lakes of Hungary offer a great experience. The abundance of game and fish makes the country an ideal destination. Friends of hiking and eco-tourism should definitely check out the famous Hungarian National Blue Trail that spans 1,168 kilometers around the country and passes major touristic hotspots. I think this short summary proves that there is a lot to see and do in Hungary!