Peter Szijjártó, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade, called Hungary the engine of Europe’s economic growth, noting that the Central European region has undergone major changes recently and is of growing importance. Despite having once been among the last in Europe, CEE countries are now at the forefront.
Szijjártó also noted the strong alliance between the Visegrád Four countries, both economically as well as politically. The economic growth of V4 members is more than double the European average, and in the new European Commission, V4 countries hold important positions: Czech Republic and Slovakia have commissioners who are vice presidents, Poland’s commissioner will oversee agriculture and Hungary’s commissioner holds the portfolio for enlargement.
Even more notable, the FM pointed out that the Visegrád Four countries combined equal a market of 64 million. If the V4 were a country, it would be one of the largest in the EU, behind Germany and France (assuming the UK is out). In addition, the group boasts an unemployment rate and public debt that are both much lower than the EU average. Fueling this success, Szijjártó noted, are low taxes (the lowest in the EU), along with rational, common sense policy making. The minister also cited effective maintenance of financial and budgetary discipline by Central European countries, emphasizing that these countries have proven that, contrary to what has been said in the past, economic growth and financial discipline can both be achieved in parallel.
The FM also touched on the importance of developing a proper workforce and the government’s commitment to reforms for vocational training and higher education.
As to all the talk surrounding the need for German-French cooperation, Szijjártó pointed out that trade between V4 members and Germany is 70% higher than German-French, and that it is the V4-Germany cooperation that is of real importance to the competitiveness of the EU. On this note, the minister spoke out against harmonizing taxes across the EU, as this would lead to higher taxes in the region, and low taxes are critical to the competitiveness of CEE countries.
Turning to the continuous debate as to whether a strong Brussels should come with weak Member States or strong Member States, Szijjártó made clear that Central Europe believes that a strong EU can only be built on strong Member States.
Lastly, on migration, the FM maintained that Central European countries have a firm anti-immigration policy: They will protect their borders and insist on the right to decide who can enter their territory and who they want to live with.
The Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade was speaking in Tokyo at the Central and Eastern European Seminar of the Foreign Trade Organization of Japan (Jetro). Japan is Hungary’s number one Asian investor, with 170 Japanese companies employing 35,000 Hungarians. The Hungarian government has also entered into strategic agreements with six Japanese companies.