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Cooperation between East and West, with Hungary as a bridgehead, is in the country’s interest, Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó said at the Eurasia Forum in Budapest. “We live in a rapidly changing world,” Szijjarto said. “Old systems are collapsing, new ones are forming.” He said the US and China were the world’s most competitive nations while the European Union lagged behind them. Szijjarto referred to America’s “patriotic government” and its America First political and economic doctrine. China, he added, was still expanding fast, with “remarkable” annual growth of around 6%. He said the EU had been late to respond to these challenges. Instead of intensifying competition, the EU has embarked on policies that restrict internal competition, and this acts as deadweight on its external competitiveness, he said. Central European countries have made structural reforms, including tax reform, that has strengthened their competitiveness, he said, adding that the EU wanted to harmonise tax regimes. “We are sending a message to western European states that we’ll block all measures to harmonise taxes …” he said.

Meanwhile, Szijjártó said capital investment flows had changed direction as large eastern European companies bought up western European ones. He said that once German companies had occupied the top echelons of investments in Hungary but now South Korean companies were in first place.

The minister said that Hungary has borne criticism for allowing a Russian company to construct the expansion of its Paks nuclear power plant, yet large companies from the US, France, Germany and Hungary are all involved in the joint project. Eurasian cooperation is plainly in the EU’s interest, he said, adding that this strengthened technological and scientific development while boosting the bloc’s competitiveness. Cooperation among Eurasian states is the best way to strengthen Europe and make it more competitive, he said.

György Matolcsy, the head of the National Bank of Hungary (NBH), said Eurasia was on the cusp of a new era as the Eurasian continent played a growing role on the world stage. Cooperation on the continent, he added, was becoming increasingly important. “After the Atlantic era, we face a new era … in which infrastructure, education and economic knowledge are all vitally important,” he said. “Hungary is leading the way in building relations between East and West, and was the first European country to join the Belt and Road Initiative,” Matolcsy added.