Remarks of Ambassador David Pressman at the American Chamber of Commerce’s Patrons Dinner

Remarks of Ambassador David Pressman at the American Chamber of Commerce’s Patrons Dinner

December 5, 2023

W Hotel, Budapest


Thank you, Zoltán and Írisz, for hosting tonight’s event, and thank you to AmCham for being such a valued partner at an important moment in the U.S.-Hungary relationship.

The United States is one of Hungary’s most important economic partners by any measure.  We are the third largest investor in Hungary, its second most important trade partner, and the top export market outside the European Union.

Bilateral trade in recent years has been valued at nearly 10 billion dollars in merchandise trade and another billion in services.

These numbers are so big, the impact of your work here so broad, that the numbers can obfuscate as well as illuminate.  Tonight, I want to tell some of the stories behind these numbers, to illustrate how America’s investment affects the lives of Hungarians and their communities, and in the ways they most care about.

The price of drugs is an important issue, in the United States and in Hungary.  U.S. pharmaceutical companies’ presence in Hungary is providing Hungarian citizens access at no cost to the latest therapeutic methods, products, and technologies.

Janssen, better known in the United States as Johnson & Johnson, developed and trialed an important drug therapy in Hungary. This cutting-edge American breakthrough drug therapy changed the lives of patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia and other types of blood cancers in Hungary.

The U.S.-Hungary partnership brought that drug to Hungarians with cancer.

Semmelweis University is now one of the only institutions in the region that has access to ophthalmic gene therapies that treat retinal dystrophy, improving the lives of dozens of Hungarian babies by slowing down vision loss and even, in some cases, restoring vision.  Semmelweis has access to this because of U.S. company Novartis’s strategic partnership with the University.

The U.S.-Hungary partnership brought this treatment to Hungarian infants.

Hungary has one of the highest levels of heart disease in the European Union.  Because of the U.S.-Hungary relationship, 25,000 Hungarians with cardiovascular disease will benefit from new artificial intelligence-empowered research technology by Novartis in the coming years.

The U.S.-Hungary partnership is bringing this technology to Hungarians with cardiovascular disease.

For 4,000 Hungarian children living with Type 1 diabetes, U.S. company Medtronic, the world’s largest medical technology company, stepped in to provide educational support for the parents of these children, teaching them how to manage their child’s condition and training them on how to use their state-of-the-art insulin pumps at 36 dedicated diabetes centers throughout Hungary.

The U.S.-Hungary partnership brought these lifesaving skills to Hungarian families navigating diabetes.

For Hungarian young people looking for skills to enter the workforce and support their families, because of the U.S.-Hungary partnership there are nearly 90,000 Hungarian students who have now been trained to enter the IT workforce through Cisco’s Networking Academy and 10 schools serving underrepresented and underserved children that now have access to a year-long robotics program through National Instruments.

Because of the U.S.-Hungary partnership and companies like Abbvie, Amgen, Bristol Myers Squibb, Lilly, and many others, Hungary is a top pharmaceutical and biotech exporter in Central and Eastern Europe.

Because of the U.S.-Hungary partnership, U.S. companies like Microsoft, Oracle, IBM, Cisco, Dell, Kyndryl, and others are empowering Hungarian software developers to do things they otherwise could not.

The list rolls on and on.  So, when the government of Hungary speaks of “rolling dollars,” so do we.

Those dollars are helping Hungarians with leukemia get treatment, infants losing their vision to get it back, Hungarians with diseased hearts to get care, parents worried sick about their children’s diabetes to manage it, and young Hungarians wanting to support their families to get the skills necessary to enter the high-tech workforce.

The impact of your work in Hungary is broad and real.  The dollars rolling into Hungary by U.S. companies are changing lives, employing Hungarians, curing sick babies, treating cancer, healing sick hearts, and more.

In light of this, when the Prime Minister declares the United States as one of Hungary’s top “adversaries” or states publicly that the United States Government is trying to overthrow his government, those words land not only in Washington, DC but in your headquarters and in your board rooms.

When “windfall taxes” are imposed – or Minister Lazar declares foreign companies in certain sectors “persona non grata,” recommending they sell their firms and get out – the impact on foreign investment is real.

When books are wrapped in plastic, bookstores fined, and now the head of a major cultural institution fired for displaying photographs, imagine the questions being asked in Hollywood about the future of the entertainment industry’s business in Hungary.  I don’t have to imagine those questions; I have heard them.

And, most recently, when the government proposes to create a new domestic security agency, armed with unfettered and unchecked investigative powers – including tapping the nation’s intelligence services, issuing subpoenas, demanding documents from and depositions of anyone involved in “democratic debate,” all without judicial oversight, it is alarming.  The government’s proposed authority has a mandate whose breadth is breathtaking.   As written, it has the ability to reach each of your companies and each of your employees should you be deemed to be involved in “advocacy activities” or “democratic debate.”  Just as it reaches independent media organizations and civil society organizations.  This draft law makes Moscow’s foreign agent law look mild and meek.

As leaders of the business community, you are comfortable and experienced at working in a transactional relationship.

But you also know how your deep, long-term investments in Hungary are distinct from a simple transaction.  You are not here to make a sale and leave.  More than signing a contract, you have made a commitment.  You are part of this community.

Alone among our Allies, Hungary’s leadership seems to think of Hungary’s membership in NATO as a contract rather than a covenant.  In fact, NATO is a political-military alliance, an alliance of democracies built on shared values, values to which Hungary committed as a condition of joining the Transatlantic Alliance.  This is why we have pledged to defend each other.

We have committed to be willing to shed American blood to defend Hungary not because it fulfills its narrow, contractual obligations – devotes a certain percentage of the budget to its military, participates in joint exercises, etc. – but because we are both members of this community of values.

As Hungary joined the Alliance, it was a shining symbol of success among those countries to emerge from behind the Soviet Union’s Iron Curtain.  The Prime Minister himself played a historic role in that.  But Hungary did not simply leave the Warsaw Pact and reject communism.  It was welcomed into the European Union and NATO and embraced free market capitalism and democratic government.

That is, it did not leave one community and get left in the middle.  It left one community behind and joined another community of values.

And as a direct result, for more than twenty years, Hungary has prospered and benefited from everything that came with that membership.  Countries like Ukraine – which had the same GDP in 1991 as Poland, but at the moment of Russia’s full-scale invasion lagged Poland by a factor of four – did not find the same new home that Hungary did; it was left in the middle.

It is as a member of the EU and NATO that Hungary has thrived, and that your businesses – American businesses – have thrived here.  Upholding our values was the way we achieved our interests.

Yet today, we are increasingly seeing an Ally that relies upon its NATO Allies, but feels comfortable disregarding the interests of those same Allies and our Alliance, including during a time of war in Europe.

That disregard is evident when the Prime Minister embraces Putin, when his government threatens to hold up crucially needed aid to its neighbor, Ukraine, while Ukrainian men, women, and children are murdered by war criminals.  When independent media and civil society organizations are investigated and attacked.  When judges are smeared.  When the nation looks to strengthen ties with Russia at a time when its Allies are isolating it.

Just yesterday the Prime Minister described Hungary’s philosophy behind these decisions.  Hungary’s foreign policy, he said, is by design “radical.”  As a diplomat, I would submit that it is in our countries’ national interest to sustain a foreign policy grounded in enduring values, shared interests, and long-term strategic commitments among Allies, one that has yielded unprecedented strategic benefits.

And as business leaders, I wonder if “radical” foreign policy is consistent with the kinds of long-term commitments your businesses have made – and upon which their health depends – here in Hungary.

We are in this together.

I’m referring to both the government of Hungary and the U.S. government, but it is more than that.

“We are in this together” includes all of you.  Hungary has thrived in the EU and NATO, and your businesses have thrived in a European, Transatlantic Hungary.  Returning the U.S.-Hungarian relationship to where it needs to be cannot be done by a few; it is in our common interest, consistent with our shared values, and aligned with a shared strategic outlook.

I’m an optimist.  And I don’t think I’m alone in my optimism.  When I meet with Hungarian youth and young professionals, both here in Budapest as well as in small towns and cities like Gödöllő and Békéscsaba, I see hope for the future and a strong will to be a part of the West.

Despite sitting Ministers describing the United States as – and I quote – “…a dead corpse with growing fingernails,” the youth of Hungary see it differently.  One need only look at the skyrocketing applications we receive from young Hungarians interested in studying, working, and living in the United States.

This past year we even had the privilege of facilitating a bright young participant in our programs from the village of Márokföld – a Hungarian village with a population of 46.  I guess 45 after we sent one of their residents abroad for the summer, until he eventually returns to shape our common future.

Like all of you, I see tremendous potential and optimism in Hungary’s youth.  We – all of us – need to do everything we can to offer them a bright future for Hungary and its relationship with the United States.

I understand that the business world has a bottom line to watch.  There are shareholders to look out for.

This overall relationship also has a bottom line.  The people of not only the United States and Hungary, but the broader coalition of Allies, we too are shareholders in this relationship.  And this includes everyone in this room.

I’m grateful for everything you do to represent American interests and values here.  Please keep up the good work.  You have my commitment that your government will remain a committed partner.  This relationship is too important for anything less.

Thank you.

*Updated 12/07/23