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Hungary aspiring to become EU visa ambassador in the Urals

Hungary aspiring to become EU visa ambassador in the Urals

16.04.2010 — Analysis

The crisis has substantially reduced the Urals-Hungarian cooperation; the trade turnover dropped by 40-45%. Dr. István Torzsa, the new Consul General of Hungary in Ekaterinburg, is going to work on the recovery of the bilateral relations. In an interview with RusBusinessNews he talked about Hungary's plans to establish a EU visa centre in the Urals and liven up business links.

- Mr Torzsa, in what countries did you work before, how would that experience help you organise work in the Urals?

- I have been a diplomat for more than 30 years. In this time I worked in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, South Korea, Canada working in different positions - from Deputy Attaché to the highest rank of Ambassador. Now I have been assigned to Ekaterinburg.

I will point out that I know little of Russia. My perceptions of Russia had formed when I was studying in the Moscow State Institute of International Relations in 1973-1978. Even then, during the era of Leonid Brezhnev we knew that changes are coming. I even had a dream to see what the Soviet Union would be like in 10 years time. Of course, the Russia of today does not much resemble the country in which I studied. Then in the shops you had only slicing sausage and cheese and everything else was sold on the black market while now the choice is even better than that in Hungry.

As it pertains to my work, this is a new page in my career as I have never before been in charge of a Consulate General. I am not a Consul, but first and foremost a diplomat and I will not be completely content just issuing visas. My goal is to give as much information as possible to the Hungarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs about regions included in our consular district which covers a vast area of 7 million square kilometres from Bashkortostan to Baikal.

- Your predecessor Pál Jenő Fabian in quite a short time had managed to establish on the basis of the Consulate General of Hungary a kind of European multi-visa centre where you can obtain a visa for travelling to Hungary as well as Latvia, Finland, and Austria...

- Yes, Mr Fabian has accomplished an immense amount of work. I know by my own experience how difficult it is to be a path breaker establishing a new Embassy of a Consulate General. As far as the multi-visa centre is concerned we are going to expand it further. At the moment I cannot in all honesty answer the question which European countries will join. We only have an official decision on just one State but even with this country we are still in negotiations. We do hope that by the end of April we will be representing "Hungary plus five".

We have an idea to establish, on the basis of the Consulate General of Hungary in Ekaterinburg a visa centre of the EU countries. We will try to discuss it with the Plenipotentiary Envoy of the Russian President in the Urals Federal District Nikolay Vinnichenko. The final decision on this issue will only be made after the elections in Hungary and the appointment of the new cabinet.

- How many visas has been issued in 2009? Do you expect to see a growth or a drop in the demand for visas?

- In 2009 our Consulate General issued 1828 visa documents for Hungary, 1350 - for Finland, 1020 - for Austria, 650 - for Latvia, 24 - for Slovenia. In January-March 2010 we issued 734 Austrian, 313 Hungarian, 264 Finnish, 80 Latvian, and 57 Slovenian visas. The number of documents issued has increased by 30-35%. I should point out that we started to issue visas to Slovenia and Austria only in October last year, to Finland - in May. This summer we are hoping to issue twice as many visa documents as last year.

- What other priority spheres will you have in the work of the Consulate General?

- One of the criteria for the assessment of a diplomat's work is the efficiency of trade and economic relations. I will give you just one example. When I started working in the South Korea the amount of investment from that country into the Hungarian economy was 300 million US dollars. When my commission ended this figure reached 1.5 billion. Here in Russia, I have heard, it is not so easy to build business relations, the work is slowed down by the lack of small and medium sized companies. Gábor Reppa, the Manager of the Department for Economic Relations of the Consulate General of Hungary in Ekaterinburg has to work like an ant, gradually filling up the list of the Urals partners.

In general, here we represent interests of Hungary and would like to promote our country. We would like to have more education and culture projects, we want Hungarians who know Russian to come to the Russian market and start their business here. All this would mean that the relations between our countries are developing. My colleagues from other countries say that it is not easy to work in the Urals but I think that if the door is shut one has to try entering through the window. 

- What Urals Federal District regions have you already familiar with and which ones are you planning to visit first?

- György Gilyán, the Ambassador of the Republic of Hungary to the Russian Federation, will arrive at the Mid Urals on 19 April. In Ekaterinburg he will open the workshop conducted by the Visegrad Four that includes Poland, Czechia, Hungary, and Slovakia. On 20 April we will go to Perm. The Perm Krai, therefore, will be the first region which I will be able to visit, not counting the Sverdlovsk Oblast.

We also have plans to visit Chelyabinsk. I am also planning to visit the Chelyabinsk Tractor Plant - Uraltrack as I have already met the Director General Valeriy Platonov. I do hope that in the future he accepts the offer to become the Honorary Consul of Hungary in the South Urals. In June I have an agreement to visit, jointly with Ambassador of Hungary to Russia, the Khanty-Mansiysk Autonomous Okrug, it is an important region for us as it is home for an Ugric people. 

In general I do not have any unrealistic plans I am not saying that I will be visiting the Omsk or Irkutsk Oblast, but as to the neighbouring regions, I am planning to visit them as soon as possible. I am not going to simply sit in my armchair. 

- Mr Torzsa, your commission to the Urals coincided to the period of coming out of the financial crisis. Has the Consulate developed a plan to liven up Urals-Hungarian relations?

- As far as the financial crisis is concerned, it is too soon to talk about it having been overcome. There are different points of view on the matter; some say that they are a third of the way up from the crisis bottom, others, on the contrary, do not see any positive results. In Hungary, for instance, the situation is still that of crisis, recovery is expected only next year. How this will affect Russian-Hungarian relations beyond the Urals, it is difficult to say so far.

Moreover, it is the elections year in the Republic of Hungary. It is obvious that Hungary will have new Government and the current Cabinet which has been ruling for 8 years will retreat to the opposition. If after the appointment of the new Cabinet the official Hungarian delegation decides to come to Russia, first of all they would go to Moscow.

Moreover, if we open the new EU visa centre it would be desirable if the Hungarian Deputy Minister for External Affairs came to this event. I do not know when that will happen but the Urals-Hungarian relations will be significantly livened up. 

- How have the Urals-Hungarian relations survived the crisis 2009? How much has the trade turnover between Hungary and the Urals Federal District reduced?

- The trade turnover between the Sverdlovsk Oblast and Hungary has dropped seriously, by 40-45%. The Sverdlovsk exports have dropped, 80% out of which is rolled metal. The volumes of shipments from Hungary also suffered due to the reduction of orders made by the Urals businesses. It is difficult to judge the year 2010, but the mutual interest remains. The hard point of the development of the trade relations between Hungary and the Urals regions is in that 70% of Hungarian - produce of food industry and medicines - goes via Moscow and Saint Petersburg. Only special equipment or equipment destined for the modernisation of local plants is shipped directly.

Also there is the acute lack of cash during the crisis. For the Urals companies - to buy, for the Hungarians - to ship their goods this far. There is an opinion that the amplitude of the crisis does not look like "U" but rather kike "W". According to this idea, we may expect a next wave of crisis. I am not convinced, but there is a danger, especially in Russia, that there will be another wave of financial crisis. If we look at what interest Russian banks issue loans we will se the figure 15-20%. This means that banks think that crediting business is risky and even super-risky. 

- Has 2009 brought new projects into the "piggy-bank" of the Urals-Hungarian cooperation?

- 2009 has given us long-term projects, exactly. For instance, three years ago links between the Urals and Hungary began developing on the construction of the glass plant, all Urals regions had been considered as a potential site for the project - from Khanty-Mansiysk to Chelyabinsk. However, in October 2008 the investor had to forsake his plans due to the crisis. In August-September last year, as the situation improved, the partners got back to the negotiation. As a result the new enterprise will be constructed in the Sverdlovsk Oblast, there is a reliable partner and the funding scheme has been developed.

The second project is Hungarian companies working in the housing and services sphere. They are taking part in the Federal Programme "Clean Water" and are going for expansion. 

Summing up the results we cannot say that the Urals-Hungarian economic relations have ceased, but rather shrunk due to the crisis. 

- How are the projects funded with loans from the Hungarian Export-Import Bank being implemented?

- The Hungarian Export-Import Bank participates mainly in the budgetary projects where a Hungarian company acts as a general contractor. However, the interest of authorities slows down any project as it is necessary to comply with all the requirements, win with the main bid etc. All this is very serious. Now we are in negotiation with the Sverdlovsk Oblast regarding the principles of the participation of foreign general contractors, in particular whether it is possible to sign a general contract based on foreign currency. All these issues arose during the development of the system for the construction of a TB centre in Ekaterinburg. 

- Vnesheconombank has signed an agreement with the Hungarian Government on the transfer to Hungary of 95% of share of the Malev airlines acquired by the Russian State-owned corporation in 2007. In the future there is a hope that the company will come back to the Urals sky (Budapest-Ekaterinburg-Budapest flights have ceased in the beginning of 2009)?

- In Budapest I was told that in the nearest future this will not happen. I think that it will be totally impossible in the next 5 years. We, however, do understand that a direct flight would result in a large number of tourists from the Urals to Hungary. The Ambassador of Hungary to Russia and I do regularly raise the issue of the direct flight between Ekaterinburg and Budapest. So far, however, I am not an optimist in this issue. I think that this issue can be resolved by the efforts in the Urals, involving Ural Airlines. 

On the whole, as far as opening new destinations by Malev is concerned, it is impossible win the conditions of the crisis, our main goal is to maintain existing destinations. I can give you a graphic example of the bicycle lacking a wheel. It does not matter who owns it, you still cannot ride it. Malev is this broken bike, and it is not that important whether it is in the hands of Vnesheconombank or the Hungarian Government. 

The interview has been prepared by Valentina Mazharova

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