Lecture by HE Andras Klein, Ambassador of Hungary to Bulgaria on "Future relations between Bulgaria in Hungary" - 18.09.2014, Varna
On September 18, 2014 H.E. Andras Klein, Ambassador of Hungary to Bulgaria since 2011 gave a public lecture in Varna on "The future relations between Bulgaria and Hungary." The main topics were the economic, political and cultural relations between the two countries and the common challenges within the EU and in respect to the global financial crisis and the events in Ukraine. Issues in the energy sector also received serious attention.
Economy and Tourism
Bilateral trade between the two states is thriving, the ambassador said, saying that trade between Bulgaria and Hungary is close to EUR 1 billion. This is not a small figure for two small countries that do not share a border. Unfortunately, exports from Hungary to Bulgaria are far greater than that of Bulgaria to Hungary. This imbalance, however, is offset by the increased levels of Hungarian tourists in Bulgaria. In the early 90s, the number of Hungarian tourists in Bulgaria decreased considerably. This bad trend reversed after 2000.
Cultural and educational ties between the two countries have always been very strong. While political and economic relations between the two countries are developing well. Unfortunately in recent years, this area is declining. After the changes in the early 90s, institutional ties disappeared. Before this period, there were a large number of exchange students. Today this is extremely rare. Cultural and educational institutions need serious attention from our governments.
The European Union
The two countries have similar interests within the EU. There are frequent consultations between the Hungarian and Bulgarian diplomats, agreeing on 95% of important topics. The Hungarian government has experienced some conflicts with the European Commission in recent months. Still, Hungary has never prevented any important decision in Brussels. Hungary continues to meet all international obligations, including those related to security and commitments to NATO. What raises disputes, the ambassador said, is “the interference of the EU in areas that are not within the competence of the commission, but are of national competence.” Examples of this are the events of 2010 and 2011, when Hungary chose a new government led by Viktor Orban. At that time the country was in economic recession. The new government proposed a new method for tackling the crisis, rejecting the austerity measures imposed by Brussels. The goal was to preserve the middle class in the country. This was not only economic but also a political question, threating to democracy in the country. “Taxation,” Klein insisted, “is a state policy!”
Another important issue that resonates in Bulgaria is electricity prices. Hungary reduced the price of electricity for the population by 22.5% and by 11.5% for the industry sector. “The price of electricity,” the ambassador said, “is not only an economic issue.” It has serious political consequences. The Transatlantic agreement between the EU and USA, for example, is an important geopolitical move that should be completed. Still, electricity prices in the US are far lower that those in Europe and in Hungary. This would undercut the competitiveness of Hungarian businesses. To prepare for this situation, it is important to build a comprehensive strategy to reduce electricity prices. The EU has to recognize that the price of electricity is a national policy.
The Energy Sector
The chaos in the Bulgarian position in terms of energy projects hinders cooperation between the two states with regard to the energy sector. Hungary supports the construction of South Stream. Bulgaria’s position on it, however, is unclear. Similarly, the fate of the construction of the nuclear Belene is also unclear. The Russian involvement in the construction of two reactors was canceled, despite the national referendum approval rate. At the moment the government is negotiating with an American company. Similar is the situation with Belene "I will build you Belene?" Initially, it was their intended construction of two Russian reactors, but the project stopped. After a referendum, it became clear that the nation supported the Russian project. However, work on it was not renewed. Instead, there is now talk of US reactor.