“The sense of cooperation is ingrained in Belgium’s DNA.”

Edited by Anna Popper

Belgian Independence Day is observed every year on the 21st July, commemorating the enthronement of the country’s first monarch, King Leopold I of the House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha-Koháry, who took the constitutional oath on that day in 1831. This historic day also marks the separation from the Netherlands and the formal establishment of the Kingdom of Belgium as a constitutional monarchy.

To celebrate the National Day of the Kingdom of Belgium and to bid farewell, H.E. Siegfried Peinen, Ambassador of the Kingdom of Belgium to Hungary and his wife hosted a grand reception in the gardens of the Belgian Residence. The event was attended by senior officials from the Hungarian government, representatives of cultural and social spheres, business executives, scholars, members of the diplomatic corps and Belgian nationals.

After the national anthems of Belgium and Hungary, the outgoing Ambassador took the floor and addressed the audience, summarising his four-year diplomatic mission, speaking about the strong ties between Belgium and Hungary in various areas, including economy and culture.

He also highlighted the 100 years of diplomatic relations between the two countries, which was celebrated in 2022 with cultural events and high-level political exchanges, including the visit of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, European Affairs and Foreign Trade and the Federal Cultural Institutions of Belgium, Mrs. Hadja Lahbib, after 11 years of hiatus. During the meetings with her counterparts they discussed, among other issues, the cooperation in connection with the rotating EU Council Presidency of the trio Spain-Belgium-Hungary.

In bilateral relations, the economic aspect is very important, more than 200 Belgian companies are active in Hungary in various sectors, many of them are members of the Belgian Business Club, Belgabiz.

Additionally, the Ambassador mentioned that the Belgian Prime Minister, Mr. Alexander De Croo recently launched a new international branding campaign entitled “Embracing Openness” to market Belgium abroad, which will run until April 2026. The aim is to declare Belgium’s commitment to openness, innovation, partnership and diversity, because Belgium is much more than the country of the best chocolate and beer, as the country’s real strengths lie in biotech and semiconductors, what really matters. The sense of cooperation is ingrained in Belgium’s DNA. (Belgium is one of the founding members of the United Nations, NATO and the European Union, and hosts key European and international organisations.) During its upcoming EU Council Presidency, starting on the 1st January 2024, Belgium will focus on promoting partnerships for innovation.

With reference to the Russian aggression in Ukraine, giving crucial magnitude of challenges to Belgium and Hungary, together with all other EU member states they will face these challenges within the EU and NATO as their common responsibility and sense of purpose. In this respect the Belgian government is also looking to the swift accession of Sweden to NATO, as it would strengthen the alliance with the inclusion of Swedish friends. In this regard, the Ambassador reiterated Belgium’s unconditional support to Ukraine.

Concluding his remarks, the Ambassador expressed his gratitude to the sponsors, without whose generous support this event would not have been happen. He also thanked the devoted and very professional work of the Embassy staff during his entire tenure.

After four years of successful diplomatic service, Ambassador Siegfried Peinen, his wife and their three children leave Hungary with fond memories, keeping a part of Hungary in their hearts and cherishing the friendships and connections they made during their tenure.

The official part was followed by the Allocution of H. E. Archbishop Michael W. Banach, Apostolic Nuncio to Hungary and Dean of the Diplomatic Corps, on the occasion of presenting the traditional Farewell Gift to H.E. Siegfried Peinen, Ambassador of the Kingdom of Belgium to Hungary:

Dear Colleagues in the Diplomatic Corps, Dear Ruth, Daniel, Nathan and Holly, Dear Ambassador Siegfried Peinen,

today we say farewell to our distinguished colleague and friend: Ambassador Siegfried Peinen from the Kingdom of Belgium, who will sadly be leaving us. As Dean of the Diplomatic Corps, I have the honour to say a few words of acknowledgement on behalf of all of us.

Your colleagues in the Diplomatic Corps frequently mention how much they enjoy your friendship and the kind relations you have established with the members of the Diplomatic Corps. That friendship and those kind relations were undoubtedly solidified by the time you spent at the University of Texas – considered one of the friendliest states in the United States of America. Texas is full of enthusiastic and friendly locals willing to show you their unique culture. Despite the large size of its cities, residents will still get a small-town feel because of the friendliness of the locals.

You have also pursued advanced graduate studies at the University of Rochester in New York. On its homepage you find the following: ‘Rochester is a tight-knit group of dreamers and doers. Hailing from all across the globe, we thrive at the intersection of our unique cultures, backgrounds, experiences, and passions. From performing arts ensembles, volunteer organizations, engineering clubs, and so much more – you’re bound to find your people.’

And how you have found ‘your people’ throughout your professional career: beginning in 2002 in Kinshasha, DRC, before returning to your capital city in various positions at the MFA, including the Central Africa Desk. You were then sent out again on mission: to Berlin and Dublin and, after studies at the European Security and Defence College, you returned to the MFA as Head of the CSDP Desk (Common Security and Defence Policy). Before arriving in Hungary in 2019, you were Deputy Head of Mission at the Embassy of Belgium in Riyadh, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Yes, indeed: ‘the intersection of unique cultures, backgrounds, experiences, passions!’

One could say: Belgium! For Belgian society is made up of various religious confessions and cultures (not to mention the more than 300 active breweries in your country!) that are not only required to coexist, but rather to intensify their dialogue and collaboration in building a single society with many faces. Therefore, perhaps a diplomat’s first challenge consists in presenting a social model that enables several communities to coexist with respect for their specific features, but with the concern that all people share in building the international and national community, founded on the essential human, spiritual and moral values of its heritage, over and above particular interests.

You now return to Brussels, once again ‘to find your people’, in the most trying times for the European continent and the world. In particular, the different nations of the continent must face the current serious situation on its Eastern border; they must work more closely together to solve this conflict. Your preparation has brought you precisely to this moment, and your experience teaches that peace depends on the common action in solidarity of all partner-nations of a continent which, with the international community’s support, will certainly strengthen the bonds between countries.

As a big tennis fan, you know this quite well. Tennis is not a game one plays alone. It’s a social activity, but without a subjective component. The focus is not on a player’s aims and intentions, but on the game itself. Commentator Günter Figal puts it this way: ‘[A player’s] aims are only pursued in order to play the game. For tennis players, it is the movement of the ball that prescribes their activities; their activities unfold and develop in this movement, which cannot be controlled by them. When applied to the international sphere, it seems that tennis very much resembles the life and mission of a diplomat!

Before quitting his poetic ambitions and going off in search of a new identity, the 18-year-old Arthur Rimbaud, today considered one of the most influential French poets and at the same time un enfant terrible, wrote “Brussels”. Situating us at Boulevard du Régent in July, he creates a scene full of summery charm with a touch of melancholy, beguiling floral scents and references to mysterious women. With the last line Je te connais et t’admire en silence – I know you and I admire you in silence’, he praises a moment of complete and unusual quietness in the bustling and glowing city.

Dear Ambassador Siegfried Peinen, that is the wish of your colleagues for you: ‘Find your people’; continue to work for peace; and together with Ruth, Daniel, Nathan and Holly, once again ‘know and admire’ your capital city.

And now, on behalf of the Diplomatic Corps accredited to Hungary, I have the honour of presenting you, Ambassador Siegfried Peinen, the traditional silver plate, in recognition of your service and as a remembrance of the friends you have made here.

Your Excellency, Ambassador Siegfried Peinen, on behalf of the Diplomatic Press Agency we wish You, Your wife Ruth, and Your children Daniel, Nathan and Holly, all the best in your future endeavours, wherever your diplomatic career may take you next. I express my sincerest consideration for the work you have done in Hungary, reflecting on the time you spent here. I highly appreciate the excellent relationship and cooperation that we have benefited from your experience. We will keep you, Dear Mr. Ambassador, as a very special personality and professional of the Belgian diplomacy and as a true friend of Hungary. Diplomatic service can be a challenging but rewarding experience, and Your Excellency, You have made the most of your time in Hungary.

Sources: Embassy of Belgium in Budapest, Apostolic Nunciature in Budapest

Photos by the Embassy of Belgium and DPA