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Hungary puts energy on top of EU list

disclaimer: image is for illustration purposes only
by Stefan Nicola
Berlin (UPI) Jan 5, 2011
Hungary has put energy on the top of its list of issues to be tackled during the country's turn at the rotating EU presidency.

The center-right government of Prime Minister Viktor Orban will organize its first EU summit Feb. 4 as the holder of the presidency and energy issues are set to feature most prominently.

The meeting comes only a few months after the European Commission tabled its energy strategy, which includes ambitious plans to modernize the pan-European electricity and fossil fuel grids.

Hungary is eager to back that strategy as it wants power but mainly gas connections to its western and southern neighbors. Budapest plans to launch informal talks this and next month to have EU energy ministers endorse the EU's 2020 energy mix and infrastructure priorities at a Feb. 28 meeting, news Web site Euractiv.com reports.

Another key document Budapest aims to push during its six-month presidency is the European Union's updated Energy Efficiency Action Plan, to be unveiled by the commission in March. The Hungarian EU presidency would like to see the plan endorsed during the second meeting of EU energy ministers in June.

When it comes to its domestic energy mix, Hungary is dependent on Russian natural gas deliveries and domestic generation of nuclear power. The four reactors at the Paks plant in central Hungary accounts for roughly 40 percent of the domestic power generation. The government has mulled the idea to modernize and expand the Soviet-built reactors with Russian help.

While in opposition, Orban's Fidesz party heavily criticized the Socialist government for teaming too closely with Russia on energy issues, mainly the Russian-backed gas pipeline project South Stream.

Yet since in office, the Orban government has acted surprisingly pragmatic in its energy relations with Russia, says Kai-Olaf Lang, a Hungary expert at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, a Berlin think tank.

"After a recent trip to Moscow, Orban adopted pretty much the policy of his predecessor," Lang told United Press International in a telephone interview Wednesday. "He now says he wants South Stream as well as Nabucco," the European-backed competitor pipeline.

Hungary hopes it can use its EU presidency by pushing domestic utility MOL, the largest oil and gas company in Hungary, into a "central European champion," Lang said, thus increasing its clout in the development of the regional energy sector.

The government also indicated that it's interested in joining the Azerbaijan-Georgia-Romania Interconnector, a scheme to import natural gas from Azerbaijan via the Black Sea to an liquefied natural gas terminal in Romania and then on to central Europe.

"This all shows that Hungary has a genuine interest in pushing energy diversification within central Europe," Lang said.

After Hungary's push for national and inner-European energy issues, Poland, which takes over the EU presidency in the second half of 2011, will focus on energy foreign policy and security issues.



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