A spirited conversation between former French President Nicholas Sarkozy and former Spanish PM José María Aznar was the highlight of a day-long conference in Budapest dedicated to spreading the word about Hungaryʼs economic successes to international investors.
Organized by the Hungarian Investment Promotion Agency, the “Inspiring Hungary” conference was staged at the Vigadó building in District 5 on Tuesday.
It saw key note speeches by Minister of Finance Mihály Varga and Governor of the National Bank of Hungary György Matolcsy, a discussion with Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Péter Szijjártó, TED-talk type presentations and round tables.
Both the German and American chambers of commerce organized break out “cluster” sessions. The Budapest Business Journal was involved, with editor-in-chief Robin Marshall the moderator of the day, while the FT’s regional reporter, Melanie Hopkins, chaired one of the round tables.
Some 350 delegates and members of the international press were invited to the conference, which also included a selection of exhibition booths.
The emphasis was firmly on Hungary as an investment destination, a place to find innovative patners and a skilled workforce capable of "value added" jobs. There was even an announcement from Szijjártó about advantageous changes to conditions around the cash subsidies offered to those making R&D investments here.
One of the main talking points was undoubtedly the very last session, which saw Sarkozy and Aznar engage in a wide-ranging and often passionate on-stage interview with Alexander Marguier, publisher and editor-in-chief of the German political magazine Cicero.
The two former leaders, friends who shared clear chemistry, spoke passionately in defense of a European Union that respected the separate cultures and traditions of its member states, the common currency, and of a “crisis of leadership” in politics.
Aznar was dismayed by what he saw as a lack of quality in those drawn to public service nowadays, saying the best candidates simply do not stand.
Sarkozy was more blunt, saying Boris Johnson was worse than Donald Trump, because the U.S. President has no ideology and is all about “the deal”, which means you can at least talk with him, while the U.K.’s Prime Minister is an ideologue.