Hungary through Spanish eyes – Interview with the Spanish Ambassador
His Excellency José Ángel Lopez Jorrin, Ambassador of Spain, spoke to GLOBS Magazine in the imposing building of the Spanish Embassy. The relationship between Spain and Hungary goes back many centuries and has involved outstanding figures like Jolán Árpádházi, the Spanish participation in the retaking of Buda and Angel Sanz Brizr, who saved the lives of thousands of Hungarians during the Holocaust. Please read a GLOBS Magazine interview here:
Despite that, this year we are celebrating only the 40th anniversary of our diplomatic relations. What is the reason for that? What is the relationship between the two countries?
Historically we have not had real problems. Also unfortunately because our relations had been very low. We are celebrating this year the 40th of anniversary of the resumption of our diplomatic relations, which originally go as far as 1920. However, we had different political regimes, the socialist one here, the Franco regime in Spain that did not help at all to the contact. Only since 1977, we started meeting again. What unites us the most is that we are both members of the European Union, NATO and we share the same values based on democracy. We have governments with similar ideologies and they are close to each other and we are fully determined to push forward the European Union idea.
How much are the economies of the two countries linked? What is the foundation of the co-operation?
They are based basically on the agro-industry. The exchanges of food staples, investments in agriculture particularly from Spain to Hungary in the white sector in the trade of goods. But also, the automotive section in the industry that have come here to work. We have an important factory in Szentgotthárd, Veszprém and near Miskolc. There are companies which produce components for cars and others which are interested in the rehabilitation of historic buildings. Of course, our companies in infrastructure (roads, trains, bridges) are the most powerful in the world. So, there are lots of perspectives there. Spain is trying to take advantage of its comparative competitiveness in sectors like infrastructure and in certain aspects of technology. Our economic ties could be better but we have to catch up with time.
The economic crisis affected both our countries significantly. In 2012, the banking system in Spain had to be bailed out using state funds and an international aid package. The unemployment rate is 18.6% even now, but despite that, the economy is growing, and there was a 3.2% increase in GDP last year. How did Spain manage to overcome the crisis?
The economic crisis was very severe and very deep. It gave way to a lot of unemployment and losses of housing. This has changed the panorama and the government, which came in 2010, had to undergo very deep reforms in the labour market and the fiscal sector. Now we are growing the fastest way in the European Union. We are creating more than half a million jobs every year, which is more than 7000 jobs every day. Direct investments are coming so we are optimistic about the maintenance of this. By 2020, our aim is to be able to make 20 million people working. The crisis will have served in the end to change minds, to change structures, and to change many things that were maintaining a very old obsolete labour market. Now it is very much modernised and things will never go back to what they were so the new panorama in the economics is more based on dynamism, flexibility in work and innovation technology for small and medium enterprises for having a new impetus. The young entrepreneurs are growing by the day. The situation is not yet excellent but it is getting better. The export sector has helped us to overcome the crisis because the growth was concentrated very much on real estate on building houses that reached a point in which it was not so sustainable. So, that cracked down.
A new route of migration has formed; this year the number of people approaching Spain by sea has tripled, with 3,300 migrants arriving between January and April 2017, alone. How is Spain coping with the situation and what is the long term solution?
In the middle of the nineties Spain has received more than 5 or 6 million foreign workers. Not all of them legal, many illegal. From Eastern Europe, from Northern Africa from South America. That did not really pose a problem to the Spanish society. In 2004-2006, we had a big immigration route push to the Canary Islands and through the Strait of Gibraltar to Ceuta and Melilla. Thousands came at a certain point in the Canary Islands, which is a region of 2 million people, 80.000 people were arriving. At that moment there was not a big wave of immigration in Europe, it was mainly there because at that time there was no war in Libya and Syria. We had to deal that rather alone at that moment without any kind of help. And, what we did is to deploy a policy of closed contact with the countries, which were sending these migrants. Like creating mechanism of cooperation with the police providing means like equipment, tools, vehicles, even aircrafts to control that. The problem was very much ended. Of course we had to build a fence in Melilla and Ceuta, which are very small towns. But, the basic work was done through co-operation in the local authorities. This mechanism proved to be right in order to prevent big waves of immigration and the problem went away from us.
We are talking about an issue that affects the whole of the European Union. What is your view of this issue? How must we deal with this new kind of challenge?
The whole of Europe is getting more and more aware that we have to do something in origin so that we can prevent people leaving their countries. Because normally, even if they are poor they love their home. These war conflicts should be ended and we need to establish a mechanism and we need to put in money. The Hungarian government is very much of that idea and I think in all EU countries they are coming to this conclusion but we have to tackle that. The question is what do we do with those who are already in? It is impossible to send them all home that would be unacceptable and also to send the bulk of them in only one country. Migration has always existed and it always will. Now that we have a more organised one we have to create better conditions for everyone to live in their own countries so we have to work on that. Integration is the duty of the migrants they have to adjust to the country where they are living. There is a part of tolerance of the receiving country that has to understand the one but at the same time, we have to bear in mind that countries are living entities. They are not a fixed photo. They are constantly changing and we cannot avoid that. Spain has been one of the intolerant nations in the middle ages right now it is one of the most tolerant countries of the world. We have laws, habits and customs, which might sound scandalous to other countries but this is the fact.
There are 17 autonomous communities in Spain; hence, the country appears to be a kind of paradise for minority rights. Despite that, it is not a new issue that some of those regions want independence for themselves.
After the death of Franco, democracy was re-established in Spain and the constitution recognised a big decentralisation of power. These regions little by little were getting more and more competencies. The constitution establish that the sovereignty lies on the Spanish people, who live in all part of Spain. If you want to break that country, everyone should vote not just one part of it.
According to the Catalans, while they pay 16 billion Euro every year into the central budget, they still end up last in state development projects. On 1 October, they intend to hold a referendum on the issue. Can you imagine the birth of an independent Catalonia?
In Catalonia, there always been some political parties, which wanted to separate them from Spain but they have never been majority. The Basques 10 or 12 years ago made a movement it went to the congress it was rejected and nothing happened but the autonomous government of the bask country continues having a very large economy. They have the largest autonomy of all regions in Europe. After the economic crises, they used this reason that they want to have independence. Spanish government said: okay, make a proposal bring it to the Parliament and when it is approved, there will be a system for that. What you cannot do is to do that on your own. Democracy is the rule of law. It does not mean that at the moment you disagree with things you vote and then you leave. First of all, Catalonia is a part of Spain. Second of all Catalonia is not being robbed nor oppressed. Third of all, it could set terrible precedent to which extent it would be followed in the rest of Europe.
You have lived here since 2014 and once, in an interview, you described Budapest as the most beautiful city you had ever worked in. How do you and your family find Budapest?
This is my last destination. I am going to retire next year. We are extremely happy in this town. People have been very kind to us all the time. Even though we do not speak the language, they help us, which is very much to be appreciated. There is rich cultural life it is easy to go around it is secure. We enjoy visiting the Castle and crossing the Danube at the Chains Bridge, walking along the river. I have visited most of the cities on the countryside as well. I really feel like I am on a vacation. Usually I go to official visits to mayors, to bilingual schools, to universities and I try to accept all the invitations. We have a cellar in Tokaj, which is a Spanish property but there is Hungarian wine there. I go and visit the Spanish businesses.
Source: by Gabriella GYÖRGY/GLOBS