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View of Budapest, the capital of Hungary.© Shutterstock
On 20 February 1922, the Hungarian ambassador, Count Olivér Woracziczky, presented his credentials to Belgian Foreign Minister Henri Jaspar. That marked the starting point of a century of good relations.
But the ties between our two countries obviously go back much further. As early as 1848, the young Belgium welcomed numerous Hungarian exiles after a revolution broke out in Hungary.
The so-called 'children's trains' also stand out. Just after WWI, 20,000 Hungarian children found a warm place in Belgian families. They came by train from Hungary to our country to recover their strength after the suffering from the war. An exhibition about it is currently running at the Historical Museum of Budapest.
During WWII, occupied Belgium received a great deal of aid from Hungary, especially medicines and grain. At that time, too, Hungarian children were temporarily accommodated in Belgian families. After the Hungarian Uprising of October 1956, Belgium provided shelter and housing for some 7,000 Hungarian refugees. That partly explains why there is still a large Hungarian-Belgian community present in our country today.
The most famous among them is the Belgian-Hungarian economist Alexandre Lamfalussy, founder of the European Monetary Institute, the forerunner of the European Central Bank. He is therefore considered one of the fathers of the euro.
300 Belgian companies
High-level visits also take place regularly. For example, King Albert II and Queen Paola paid a state visit to Hungary in 2002. Six years later, Hungarian President Sólyom in turn paid a state visit to our country.
Hungary's accession to NATO in 1999 and to the EU in 2004 provided a new fervour for our bilateral ties. Our trade relations saw a real growth spurt. Today, some 300 Belgian companies are active in Hungary and Belgium is among the ten largest investors there. KBC, without a doubt our main investor, controls the 3rd largest bank in Hungary. Other examples include Versele-Laga (pet food) and GSK (pharma).
In 2020, our country exported 2.9 billion euros' worth of goods, while imports from Hungary amounted to 2.6 billion euros. Both countries are very open economies. That is why we realise better than anyone the enormous advantages of the European Single Market.
On 20 February 2022, Minister Wilmès inaugurated a commemorative plaque on the building that housed the very first Hungarian embassy in Belgium in 1922. On the left, the Hungarian Minister for Foreign Affairs Péter Szijjártó and on the right the Hungarian Ambassador Tamás Iván Kovács. © Thomas Daems
In the second half of 2010, Belgium held the presidency for the Council of the European Union, in a trio with Hungary and Spain. That trio of collaboration will reappear in 2023-2024, when Hungary will take the torch from Belgium in mid-2024.
The 100th anniversary is a great opportunity to strengthen the bonds of friendship between our countries and citizens. In an EU context, it will be necessary to face the many challenges together through a constructive understanding. In doing so, Belgium will not shy away from points of contention.
As Foreign Minister Sophie Wilmès put it: 'Let this centenary be an opportunity for dialogue among partners and friends. Friends who can openly discuss what they disagree about. Partners, too, who must share responsibility for our European project, based on common values and principles.'