Being conscious of the continent’s huge potential and scope for development, as well as its increased significance in international politics, Africa is among the core regions of Hungary’s foreign policy strategy of ‘Global Opening’. Besides stepping up mutually advantageous economic and political cooperation, it is a priority for our Africa policy to closely follow humanitarian issues, along with agricultural, environmental, water-management and health issues. We also strive to assess the need for sharing Hungarian experience related to democratic transition, connected to relevant international projects, if possible.

Our bilateral relations with the countries of North Africa have developed in a balanced way. Hungary has maintained all her embassies in the region after the regime change of 1989; our political and economic relations are constantly improving. Along the lines of ‘Global Opening’, Hungary strives to further strengthen her relations with the countries of the ‘Arab Spring’ and North Africa as a whole, attaching great importance to the Southern dimension of the European Neighbourhood Policy. From the two regions of the Arab Spring area, the North African states have embarked upon stabilization by electing legitimate governments. Hungary is committed to provide further support to democratic changes and modernization in these countries.

The relations between Hungary and the countries of Sub-Saharan Africa show more room for improvement. Our country and the states of the region enjoyed intensive cooperation for decades. These relations, however, were primarily based on the block politics of the Cold War. These ties broke up in the aftermath of the democratic transition in Hungary and the changes that took place on the continent of Africa, and were only partially replaced by pragmatic economic relations.

Nonetheless, we are convinced that we have a firm base on which we can rebuild the close relations of the recent past. The thousands of African professionals who graduated from Hungarian universities in the 70s and 80s, form an unbreakable link between our country and the continent. So do the several buildings, plants and roads planned or constructed by Hungarian experts in Africa. It is true that from the more than 10 embassies operating in the region in the 70s and 80s, only two have been kept today, in Kenya and the Republic of South Africa. However, their efforts are supported by an ambassador-at-large accredited to Nigeria, Angola, Ghana and South Sudan, as well as a network of 19 honorary consuls in the region.

Economic and trade relations between Hungary and the countries of Africa have developed remarkably during the past few years. Between 2011 and 2012, our trade with the countries of North Africa grew by more than 30% to almost 330 million EUR in 2012. Trade balance between Hungary and the countries of Sub-Saharan Africa improved by more than 17%, reaching 818 million EUR in 2012. In the field of development cooperation, Hungary has contributed 125 million EUR to the 10th European Development Fund, most of which is used in Sub-Saharan Africa, and we are engaged in various development projects in the region. Yet, there are still enormous potentials to be exploited. We believe that Hungary and Africa have a lot more to offer each other in their cooperation.

Beyond the context of our bilateral relations, Hungary is connected to Africa through the EU’s common foreign and security policy, as well as EU programs for cooperation and humanitarian aid. By the time Hungary joined the EU in 2004, Hungarian-African relations were in need of a complete overhaul. This has only been achieved partially, though with the EU accession our Africa policy was put in a wider institutional and political framework. Hungary’s Africa relations were nonetheless strengthened during our EU presidency, as a result of staging many joint events with the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries.

Although it cannot substitute governmental or diplomatic activity, Hungarian civil society has complemented the government’s efforts through its uninterrupted activity and interest in the values, problems and inherent potentials of Africa. Recent experience also shows that, usually on their own initiative, many companies already have a well-functioning network of business contacts in Africa. This is especially true in the areas of agriculture, health, services, energy and construction.

The civil and business communities have long advocated a dialogue with the authorities responsible for foreign affairs. This process started in the summer of 2010: at the initiative of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, several meetings between the academia and NGOs focusing on Africa took place. Well-functioning information transmission and cooperation channels were established with the relevant economic advocacy groups as well. In December 2012, the MFA organized the first African Stakeholder Conference. The event aimed at channeling the views and expectations of the representatives of Hungarian business and academic circles and NGOs focusing on Africa into governmental policy-making.

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Political, security and economic considerations, along with our humanitarian outlook all make it necessary that Africa forms an integral part of Hungary’s foreign relations. Intensifying mutually beneficial cooperation, discovering new areas of mutual interest: we trust that the Budapest Africa Forum will be an important step on the road to achieve these goals.