French president highlights importance of ties with Central Europe

Int’l Relations

French President Nicolas Sarkozy on Friday stressed France’s interest in ties with Central Europe after talks with his Hungarian counterpart László Sólyom in Budapest, Hungary’s MTI News Agency reported.

Sarkozy’s trip was his first in preparation for France’s presidency of the European Union in the H2 of 2008. “Very much will be decided (in this region) regarding how Europe is capable of developing economically,” Sarkozy said after meeting Hungarian President Laszló Sólyom. “For France there is no difference between small and large countries, we do not differentiate between countries which can speak up and those which have to stay silent,” Sarkozy said. “There are only equal nations and states.”

Sarkozy planned to give a speech later Friday in the Hungarian Parliament, as well as to meet with Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány and center-right opposition leader Viktor Orbán. The French president also was scheduled to visit a construction site of Budapest’s fourth subway line, in which two French companies - Alstom and Vinci - are involved, and planned to meet with members of Hungary’s French community. Sarkozy, whose father Pal is Hungarian, traveled to the country as budget minister in 1994 and again in 2004 as finance minister. He also has made at least one personal visit. After his meeting with Sólyom, Sarkozy touched upon how the anti-Soviet revolutions in Hungary and in Czechoslovakia had influenced him during his youth. “I belong to a generation which grew up in the tradition of the events of Budapest in 1956 and the Prague in 1968,” he said. “When I was a student, I always greatly valued the courage of the Hungarian people, who never gave up.”

Sarkozy spoke briefly about minorities, acknowledging Hungary’s situation, as it has 10 million residents while another 5 million ethnic Hungarians live in neighboring countries as a result of post-World War I peace treaties. “Stability and peace are very important for France,” Sarkozy said, adding that while France did not support any sort of territorial changes, “I fully understand the cultural and emotional ties between Hungary and Hungarians outside the borders.” Sarkozy also said that while his country backed individual rights for minorities, «we have a more moderate position regarding collective rights.

He referred ironically to the length of his current visit - just around seven hours - but said he was considering Sólyom’s invitation to return in November for the World Science Forum to be hosted by Hungary. “You can imagine that I arrive today in Hungary as head of state with deep emotions,” Sarkozy was quoted as saying in an interview published in Friday’s edition of the Népszabadság newspaper.
“Beyond the personal aspects, I would like to shape the age-old relations formed by history between Hungary and France so that they are rooted in the present and point decisively toward the future.

France is Hungary’s fourth-largest trading partner, with Hungarian exports to France totaling €1.54 billion ($2.14 billion) in the H1 of 2007, while French exports to Hungary stood at €1.57 billion ($2.18 billion) in the same period. The previous visit to Hungary by a French president was by Jacques Chirac in February 2004.

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