For a long time, the cold war pushed Hungary away from France and the rest of Western Europe. Only from the early 1990s therefore was it possible to turn a new page in our bilateral relations, which have gradually become more and more intense in the political, economic and cultural domains, including through France’s support for Hungary’s NATO and EU membership.
The visit of the French President to Budapest in September 2007 established the basis for a Strategic Partnership, signed in May 2008 during a visit to Paris by the Hungarian Prime Minister, Mr Gyurcsány. This partnership has helped strengthen our dialogue on the main EU issues, to initiate or increase cooperation in areas including competitiveness clusters, the agricultural sector and environmental issues. It also facilitated the preparation of the Hungarian EU Presidency in the first half of 2011. France maintains intense political dialogue with Hungary. In 2015, it received the Hungarian Minister of State for EU Affairs, Mr Szabolcs Takács, Justice Minister László Trócsányi and Parliamentary State Secretary of Foreign Affairs and Trade Mr László Szabó. Mr Takács returned to France on several occasions in 2016, and met with his counterpart, Mr Harlem Désir, in Budapest on 7 November that year.
Following a slight downturn from 2009 onwards, due to the economic crisis, the volume of our trade has begun to increase again and totalled €7.3 billion in 2015. This was mainly due to a marked increase in our exports to Hungary (+8.3% in 2015). Our trade balance therefore is tending towards a rebalancing: France now has only a slight deficit of €196 million (compared to €387 million in 2013), and is now Hungary’s fourth-largest trading partner, representing 4.81% of its overall trade.
In 2014, France was the tenth largest supplier of Hungary, the top three being Germany, Austria and Russia. France was Hungary’s sixth-largest customer (4.5% of Hungarian exports) – while Hungary was France’s 28ᵗʰ-largest supplier. Our exports of mechanical, computer, electronic and electrical equipment made up the largest portion of our exports to Hungary (29%), followed by transport equipment (24%).
France is also the third-largest investor in Hungary (€2.7 billion) with more than 350 companies employing around 43 000 people there. Five French companies are amongst the leading 25 foreign investors in Hungary: Groupama, EDF, Sanofi, Auchan and Engie.
The attractiveness of the Hungarian market has deteriorated somewhat since 2010. Certain measures taken by the government through its two-thirds majority in Parliament have resulted in legal instability for foreign investors. After a period of crisis for some of our major groups, most economic disputes have now been settled. However, the introduction of sectoral taxes targeting foreign multinationals in particular, or favouring groups close to the government, has affected our companies. In the absence of real dialogue with the authorities, Auchan and its English, German and Austrian competitors have filed appeals at EU level against discriminatory measures.
Our cultural presence in Hungary is long-standing. France has attracted generations of Hungarian artists, poets (Endre Ady, Attila József, Gyula Illyes), novelists (Dezső Kosztolanyi), musicians (Franz Liszt, György Ligeti, György Kurtag, Péter Eötvös), painters (Mihály Munkácsy, József Rippl-Ronay) and photographers (Brassaï, André Kertesz). While ties were somewhat loose during the communist era, our cultural exchanges with Hungary have returned with renewed vigour.
Our presence is founded on several institutions: the Budapest French Institute (opened in 1992), the five Alliances françaises in the main regional cities (Debrecen, Györ, Miskolc, Pécs, Szeged); the Franco-Hungarian Youth Foundation; the Gustave Eiffel French lycée in Budapest; ten French-speaking bilingual sections with 1,239 pupils, 8 of which have received the LabelFrancÉducation label; and the French university centre at the University of Szeged, which coordinates various academic programmes in French and offers a dual master’s degree between the University of Szeged and the Lille Institute of Political Studies (IEP).
In Europe, France receives the fifth most Hungarian students, behind Germany and Austria, and the second most for Erasmus exchanges. Incoming mobility is of a good level (60% at master’s level and doctoral level), focused mainly on engineering and economic sciences. This commitment helps French remain the third-most-taught foreign language in Hungary (25,000 learners in the education system).
The French educational resources portal, co-financed since 2011 by 30 partner institutions, is well established and has been a success among teachers and learners. The multi-annual action plan for “French in diplomacy and public services”, financed 25% by Hungarian partners and 75% by the International Organization of La Francophonie, trained 500 Hungarian officials between 2006 and 2009.
Hungary has been an observer member of the International Organization of La Francophonie (OIF) since 2004,
The Hubert Curien Partnership (PHC) “Balaton”, launched in 1994, supports some 40 bilateral scientific projects per year, initiating cooperation between young researchers.
One of the major focuses of the Budapest Institut français (French Institute) is the sharing of ideas, aimed at promoting French thinking and closer ties between French and Hungarian researchers, journalists and civil society.
Thanks in part to the pioneering role of the association “Initiative France-Hongrie” (France-Hungary Initiative), aimed at facilitating the creation of joint projects between local and regional government bodies in the two countries), our decentralized cooperation has helped establish a dynamic relationship between various levels of local authorities. There are now 141 decentralized cooperation projects involving 5 regions, 12 sub-regional departments, 44 municipalities (including between Paris and Budapest, between the regions of Champagne-Ardenne and the Northern Great Plain in Hungary, and between Valenciennes and Miskolc).
- French Ambassador in Budapest: M Éric Fournier (since September 2015)
- Hungarian Ambassador in Paris: Mr György Károlyi (since January 2015)
- Chair of the France-Hungary Friendship Group of the French Senate: Mr Claude Kern
- Chair of the France-Hungary Friendship Group of the French National Assembly: Mr Rudy Salles
Updated: 3 November 2016