When asked about the greatest achievements of the organization over this period, FHCCI President Miklós Maróthy is of the view that the Chamber is not a sports club fighting for quantifiable results. Rather, the greatest achievement, he believes, is the fact that “the Chamber is still alive and kicking, aiming at forming a community where its members have a good time.”
In an interview with Diplomacy & Trade, he highlights that “it is a community based on volunteer membership where individuals and company representatives exchange and share views primarily on business issues and they do this in a comfortable setting. Our membership has stabilized and we currently have 221 members. This is a good figure given the fact that 85-90% of French or French-affiliated companies in Hungary have a connection with our Chamber. Of course, not all FHCCI members are from these firms – others are here to establish and/or maintain business and social connections. So, in my view, the greatest achievement of the past 25 years is that we have a well-functioning, well-received and professionally appreciated organization.”
Miklós Maróthy recalls when he was present at the foundation of the Chamber a quarter of a century ago, times he has recently discussed with the founding president, László Madarász. They have agreed that 25 years ago lobbying the government was of much greater importance, many companies joined the organization for this very purpose. “Nowadays, companies do not really need such a role by the Chamber – it is rather connections through networking activities that they require from us and that is what we provide forum for,” the President says.
He adds that the CCIFH is not a primary actor in attracting French working capital to Hungary but “at times, when we have the opportunity, we participate in events that present Hungary in France. The latest of such events have been initiated by the chambers of commerce in southern France: “during the European Football Championship, we organize meetings between Hungarian businessmen, who are visiting France on this occasion, and local businesspeople. These are country presentations in basically any field the locals are interested in about Hungary: viticulture, textile industry, etc.”
As far as the different fields of business represented among FHCCI members are concerned, Miklós Maróthy says he cannot really see any sector standing out. “Given their weight in the Hungarian economy, there are a lot of member companies engaged in commerce and I can say that law firms are slightly over-represented in number with many law offices helping French ventures here. There are also industrial investors who are present in Hungary, representing various fields from cement production through the pharmaceutical industry to research laboratories.”
In the early years of the Chamber, it was mostly the big industrial and service sector companies (electric and gas supply, pharmaceutical research, etc.) who arrived to take part in the big Hungarian privatization wave, while later, it was the light industry firms that characterized the French investments in Hungary. France is the 5th- 6th largest commercial partner for Hungary and, what might not be widely known, the balance of bilateral trade is quite even, currently a bit positive on the French side because of a lot of supplies from France recently.
As far as the current investment environment in Hungary is concerned, the FHCCI President says it is a frequent topic of discussion at and outside the Chamber forums. “Our members sometimes express their feelings about this matter with harsh words. The main concerns include the frequently changing legal environment with regulations extremely difficult to follow. As for corruption, it is a difficult issue to talk about. As the saying goes ‘corruption is the flow of money I‘m left out of’. It is something intangible but it is a quite easily perceptible problem present in our everyday discussions. Uncertainties in the tax environment is another sensitive and confidential topic. For this very reason, companies usually do not deal with this latter issue on the surface. All these mainly concern the larger companies as smaller firms are not that much in the limelight. However, basically all of them complain about bureaucracy, the difficulties in acquiring permissions to start a business.”
Whenever possible, the French-Hungarian Chamber of Commerce and Industry takes part in popularizing the French presence and French values in Hungary – and not just in the economic and business fields. “Our appearance at events – many times alongside the Ambassador – is greatly appreciated. It gives French enterprises a comforting feeling of stability that there is a large organization present,” the FHCCI President concludes.
The historic past
The roots of the French-Hungarian Chamber of Commerce and Industry are lost in the mists of time. Relations between French and Hungarian traders in France, existed from the late ninth century to the founding of the French industrial circle in Budapest in 1888, the beginnings were numerous.
Before the Second World War, the first French-Hungarian Chamber of Commerce already reflected the dynamism of trade relations between the two countries, but it disappeared in the turmoil of the war. It was not until the fall of the Berlin Wall, that it reappeared for the rebirth of wide-ranging bilateral relations.
Driven particularly by István Kovács, President of the French section of the Chamber of Commerce in Hungary (CCH), and Michel Duger, Commercial Attaché of France in Hungary, the idea of recreating a French-Hungarian Chamber would take a first step forward in October 1990, in the form of a prior agreement between the CCH, represented by its President Lajos Tolnay, and the Assembly of French Commerce and Industry Chambers, also represented by its President, Philippe Clement.
After all member companies of the French section of the CCH expressed enthusiasm at the idea of joining a mixed chamber, on 16 May 1991, following a General Assembly chaired by György Csányi, its future treasurer, the CCIFH was born and joined the great family of the Union of French Chambers of Commerce and Industry Abroad.
With his expertise, his dual nationality and his commitment to the two countries, László Madarász, CEO of a banking group that came to be BNP Hungary, was elected President of the French-Hungarian Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
The Charters of FHCCI
In 2008, the French-Hungarian Chamber of Commerce and Industry took the initiative to focus on social responsibility. Health was the first theme and the renewed success of the Charter of Health September 24, 2009 has justified the continuation of this approach to maintain the positive image of the member companies of the FHCCI. Later, a second topic – caring about the environment – was added. They launched the Environmental Charter in 2009. The purpose of both charters was to draw attention to the importance of environmental and health conscious approaches of the member companies and their 60,000 employees. With the signing of the Charters, members of the Chamber wish to highlight the actions of the French companies in the field of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), especially in the field of health, prevention and environmental protection.
More than 360 French companies are present in Hungary and can contribute significantly to the improvement of the environment and sustainable development.
It can have a major influence on the quality of the environment and on the lifestyle. ‘We all have a role to play as individuals, employers or employees, governments, consumers and parents to meet the challenges of today'.