Foreign minister Peter Szijjarto – Photo: Facebook

Szijjarto: Hungary-Serbia cooperation set to expand to labour market

Hungarian staffing company Prohuman's expansion to the Serbian market may strengthen the "labour market dimension" of the cooperation between Hungary and Serbia, the minister of foreign affairs and trade said on Wednesday.
10. May 2023 17:11

Hungary’s recent run of record investments has led to an increased demand for skilled labour, Peter Szijjarto told an event organised by Prohuman in Belgrade, according to a foreign ministry statement. Though the aim is for these positions to be filled by Hungarian workers, it has to be said that certain positions are very hard to fill locally, Szijjarto added.

Hungary has therefore decided to allow the employment of guest workers for a definite period under regulated conditions, the minister said.

He noted a framework under which qualified recruitment firms can bring in guest workers from 15 countries without a special authorisation procedure.

Serbia is one of those 15 countries, Szijjarto said, adding that the skill, discipline and work ethic of Serbian workers made them popular among Hungarian employers.

Currently 5,430 Serbian citizens have Hungarian work permits after 1,353 people were recruited last year, he said.

Szijjarto welcomed that Prohuman, Hungary’s biggest staffing company, had entered the Serbian market, saying it would hopefully lead to the addition of a new “labour market dimension” to Hungary and Serbia’s strategic cooperation.

Serbia key to EU competitiveness

Enlargement could swiftly improve the European Union’s competitiveness, and so the bloc needs Serbia more than Serbia needs the EU, Szijjarto said in Belgrade. He told a business forum organised by the Serbian chamber of economy that while the “realignment in world economy” has harmed the EU, it is also severing important trading ties due to political considerations, and “they practically make east-west cooperation impossible”.

“Whoever tries a pragmatic approach to the issue and tries to take a rational look at the relationship between East and West is branded pro-Russian, pro-Putin and accused of being a propagandist of the Kremlin,” he said.

Economic players are further hobbled by EU measures and the US’s steps to prioritise its own companies, he said. “Meanwhile, Europe is shooting itself in the leg with the sanctions,” he said.

Reliable partners and partnerships are key to being successful under such circumstances, he said.

Enlarging the bloc and thereby its economic market would greatly improve competitiveness, Szijjarto added. “That is why we don’t approve of the high-browed and condenscending approach towards Serbia,” he said.

Hungary is a great supporter of the Open Balkan initiative, Szijjarto said. The government has suggested to hold the next summit of the group comprising Albania, North Macedonia and Serbia in Budapest, he added.

Close cooperation between the EU and the states in the region is a key element of competitiveness, as is energy security, he said.

Hungary and Serbia “can only count on each other” in the latter issue, he said, referring to recent agreements to build a new oil pipeline and to set up a Hungarian-Serbia conglomerate to trade in natural gas. Supply security in Hungary and Serbia has become impossible without each other, he said.

Meanwhile, bilateral trade has jumped by 59 percent to nearly 6 billion euros last year, and Hungary’s OTP Bank is one of the largest in Serbia, he said.

The government will also carry on with its economic development programme for ethnic Hungarians in Serbia, he added.

Hungary, Serbia to build new oil pipeline link

In a bid to improve energy security, Hungary and Serbia will build a 128km oil pipeline between Algyo in Hungary and Novi Sad (Ujvidek) in Serbia, Szijjarto said. A contract on the planned project to be implemented by Hungary’s state oil company MOL and Serbia’s Transnafta will be signed at the summit meeting of the two countries’ governments on June 20.

At Wednesday’s meeting it was agreed that Hungarian energy company MVM and Serbia’s gas supplier Srbijagas will set up a joint regional natural gas trading company and Hungary will store 100 million cubic metres of gas on behalf of Serbia, Szijjarto said.

Hungarian companies will also participate in upgrading Serbia’s electricity network, he said, adding that work was going according to schedule on doubling the capacity of the interconnector linking the two countries’ electricity networks. “There is no energy security for Hungary without Serbia, as there is no energy security in Serbia without Hungary,” said Szijjarto.

The minister said the committee also made an important decision on a large-scale infrastructure development project to cut the long waiting times at the border of two countries by building a modern border-crossing station between Roszke and Horgos, Szijjarto said, noting the importance of ensuring free flows between countries that have six billion euros-worth of trade turnover and close relations between their people.

“This is about one of Europe’s busiest border crossing stations, and we would like to build one of Europe’s top-notch such facilities there.” Further measures to speed up cross-border traffic include restructuring the Hercegszanto crossing to allow cargo transport there and allowing buses to cross at the Asotthalom border station. The opening hours at the border stations will be extended, Szijjarto said.

Regarding the war in Ukraine, Szijjarto said that neither Serbia nor Hungary was responsible for the outbreak of the war, yet both countries were paying a high price for it. He called it “bad news” that the world was heading towards the formation of blocs.

“Central Europe must live up to its task of being successful in this very difficult environment, and this can only be achieved through reliable and predictable partnerships,” Szijjarto said, noting that Hungary and Serbia enjoyed such a partnership.

“Hungary and Serbia both support peace and the two countries are in agreement that what is most important is to save lives, which is possible only if there is peace,” the foreign minister said.

Answering a question, Szijjarto highlighted the importance for the Hungarian government of security cooperation with Serbia in the context of ongoing illegal migration which he said posed a serious challenge to both countries.

He noted that Hungary last year had to block 271,000 illegal entry attempts at its southern border. “We want to strengthen cooperation with Serbia in efforts to move the EU’s external line of defence further south,” Szijjarto said, noting the participation of Hungarian police forces in patrolling the Serbian-North Macedonia border together with Serbian police officers and border guards.

Hungary, Serbia public media service sign cooperation agreement

Representatives of the public media service providers of Hungary and Serbia signed a cooperation agreement in Belgrade on Wednesday. The pact between the Media Service Support and Asset Management Fund (MTVA), Duna Mediaszolgaltato and Serbia’s Radio and Television is aimed at broadening their programme content, acceleration information exchange, and promoting national minority issues.

The agreement includes provisions on a royalty-free exchange of programmes and the possibility of co-productions.

Anita Altorjai, chief executive of Duna Mediaszolgaltato, said after the signing ceremony that the agreement was aimed at cooperation in informing and entertaining the public, promoting minority protection, tolerance and cultural values.

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