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Romania and Hungary clash over Black Sea gas distribution

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Europe

Romania and Hungary clash over Black Sea gas distribution

Gas deposits off Romania's coast worth billions of dollars have drawn the country into an economic row with Hungary. The EU is aiming to reduce its energy dependence on Russia, and Budapest wants to play a key role.

Ukraine gas-compressor station in Mryn (picture-alliance/dpa/epa/R. Pilipey)

Over the last few years, massive natural gas deposits have been discovered off Romania's Black Sea coast. Conservative estimates suggest they hold at least 40 billion cubic meters (142 billion cubic feet) of gas, others say they could hold as much as 200 billion cubic meters â€" enough to cover Romania's energy needs for decades and even turn the country into an energy exporter.

Planning for a pipeline project, dubbed BRUA (an acronym for Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary and Austria), began several years ago to facilitate gas transports through Europe. The BRUA pipeline is scheduled to begin operation in 2019. The project has received financial support from the European Union and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.

Read more: Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline â€" What is the controversy about?

As is so often the case with major international energy sector projects, BRUA has had its share of controversies. At present, Romania and Hungary are embroiled in a legal dispute over Romania's offshore gas rights and the volume of projected deliveries to Hungary via the BRUA pipeline.

In late June, Kristof Terhes, head of Hungarian gas system operator FGSZ, demanded Romanian politicians pass legislation necessary to deliver the 4.4 billion cubic meters of gas that Hungary seeks annually. Soon thereafter, Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto went a step further, claiming Romania was endangering the energy independence of the entire region with its foot dragging. Romania reacted with consternation and a number of politicians and experts retorted that Hungary was not living up to its responsibilities regarding construction of the BRUA pipeline.

Conflicting in terests

The exchange reflects the complex web of conflicting interests tied to the situation. On one side stands Austria and the rest of Western Europe, all of whom seek to curb dependence on Russian gas imports. Western energy companies such as Exxon and Austria's OMV, who are conducting the Black Sea gas exploration, are also part of that alliance.

Orban presser (DW/F. Facsar)

Orban wants to position Hungary as an energy distribution hub in Central and Southeastern Europe

On the other side, Hungary is aiming to improve, if not take a leading role in, the Central and Eastern European energy sector. And that is why Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban's government decided to halt construction on the section of the BRUA pipeline leading to Austria's Baumgarten gas distrib ution hub in July of last year. The Hungarians justified the stoppage with the claim that the existing Slovakian connector was entirely sufficient for transport.

Read more:Russian pipe dream hits raw European nerve

"The Russian gas monopoly will end because we will get over half our gas from other sources, in this case, Romania," Orban said in February. "This is a new situation, not only for Hungary but for the entire region. It means that Hungary will find itself in a new geopolitical position â€" one that is much more lucrative than in the past."

Hungary looking to be a key player

Political infighting over exactly how the Romanian government should tap into its natural resources has been a problem for years. In the past, companies were often required to pay low licensing fees for natural resource exploitation and poorly written contracts meant the state lost massive tax revenues. A new offshore law regulatin g Black Sea gas is supposed to change that.

The bill, which has yet to go into law, calls for licensing fees and a progressive tax tied to fluctuations in gas prices â€" ultimately that tax could be as much as 50 percent of a company's profits. Yet opposition politicians in Romania complain that most other relevant gas exporting countries demand even higher fees and taxes from companies.

Austria's Baumgarten gas distribution hub (picture-alliance/dpa)

Austria's Baumgarten gas reception center is a key distribution hub for Europe

Hungarian experts nevertheless see a leading role for their country in the fight over Black Sea gas. Economist and energy expert Andras Deak of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences pointed out that for the first time in more than 60 years gas from somewhere other than Russ ia could begin flowing into the country.

Read more: Bulgaria tries to loosen Russian grip with new gas pipeline deals

"It would be very dumb, or at least extremely pro-Russian, to not seize this opportunity," he said, adding that the only open questions are what guarantees Orban can give to ensure the free flow of gas through Hungary at acceptable rates and whether he can use Romanian gas as leverage in negotiating with Moscow.

Hungary's distance to Russia

Deak doesn't view Orban's calls for independence from Russia and Russian gas as a change of heart for the traditionally Kremlin-friendly politician. "Russia is not that politically important for Orban right now because [German Chancellor] Angela Merkel is so weak and Hungary is not viewed as the pariah it was a few years ago," he said. "Furthermore, Hungary is consolidating its relations with the United States under [President Donald] Tru mp. Hungary is not ending its relationship with Russia, it has just become a bit more distanced."

Budapest-based political scientist Peter Kreko, who studies Hungarian-Russian relations at the Political Capital Institute, sees things similarly. "Orban is currently working on his trans-Atlantic and Western European relationships, so it is important for him â€" both at home and abroad â€" to show that he is not dependent on Putin," he said. "Moreover, as a country with few natural resources, Hungary is keen to become a sort of energy distribution hub when it comes to Black Sea gas. Orban hopes this will allow him to expand his regional influence even if it has nothing to do with exporting his political ideology to other countries in Southeastern Europe."

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  • Date 18.07.2018
  • Author Keno Verseck
  • Related Subjects Russia, Hungary, Romania, Dmitry Medvedev, Budapest, Vladimir Putin
  • Keywords Romania, Hungary, Black Sea, gas, Russia, pipeline, energy, natural gas
  • Feedback: Send us your feedback.
  • Print Print this page
  • Permalink https://p.dw.com/p/31hb3

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Europe

NATO hits back at President Trump's Montenegro World War III remarks

Romania and Hungary clash over Black Sea gas distribution

Hungary joins US in refusing UN's safe global migration compact

A trip to Portugal's Dino Park

Source: Google News Hungary | Netizen 24 Hungary

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Posted by On 4:47 AM

The Latest: Hungary to pull out of UN accord on migration

The Latest on the influx of migrants into Europe (all times local):

1:45 p.m.

Hungary's foreign minister says his country will pull out of a United Nations accord on migration to be adopted in December because it goes against Hungary's security interests.

Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto says Wednesday that the U.N.'s Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, whose final draft was released last week, also goes against common sense and that Hungary has doubts about the accord's non-binding status.

Under Prime Minister Viktor Orban, elected in April to his third consecutive term, and fourth overall, Hungary has adopted strict anti-migration measures and has made it very difficult for refugees to obtain asylum.

The U.N. document is a "non-legally binding, cooperative framework" meant to foster "international coop eration among all relevant actors on migration, acknowledging that no state can address migration alone, and upholds the sovereignty of states and their obligations under international law."

â€"â€"â€"

12:10 p.m.

The German government is launching a new drive to declare Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia "safe countries of origin" in hopes of making it easier to return rejected asylum-seekers and deterring others.

Chancellor Angela Merkel's government first sought two years ago to have the North African countries declared safe, following several Balkan nations in 2015. The designation means a country is assumed to be safe unless an applicant can prove persecution.

That bid failed in parliament's upper house, where the government doesn't control a majority.

Merkel's new Cabinet initiated new legislation Wednesday to declare the three countries and Georgia safe.

Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said th e government plans to do the same this fall for other countries from which fewer than 5 percent of applicants are granted asylum. He didn't identify them.

â€"â€"â€"

11:25 a.m.

Greece's migration minister has warned that mainstream political parties across Europe are adopting a "xenophobic agenda" to maintain voter support.

Dimitris Vitsas on Wednesday said the shift in policy had occurred despite a sharp drop in refugee and migrant arrivals in the European Union since 2015.

Vitsas called on traditionally dominant political parties in the EU, on the center-left and center-right, to work more closely on immigration and defend "European values."

He called on the EU to exert greater pressure on member states opted out of migration settlement schemes, including Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic.

â€"â€"â€"

11:05 a.m.

An aid group says it won't dock its boat in an Italian port an d that instead it's seeking a go-ahead to disembark in Spain with the woman who survived a migrant boat wreck and the dead bodies of another woman and a toddler.

Spanish rescue group Proactiva Open Arms has accused Libya's coast guards and the Italian authorities financing and training them of abandoning the three people in the Mediterranean Sea on Monday after taking 158 other migrants from the boat and destroying it.

Proactiva said on Wednesday that it can't trust how Italian authorities will handle the investigation into the event after the country's interior minister, Matteo Salvini, referred to the group's claims and account of the rescue operation as "lies and insults."

Italy's new populist government has vowed to halt the flow of migrants across the Mediterranean.

Source: Google News Hungary | Netizen 24 Hungary

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Posted by On 2:11 AM

Viktor Orban, Hungary's controversial prime minister, set to begin Israel trip

Viktor Orban, Hungary’s right-wing, anti-immigrant prime minister whom critics accuse of having authoritarian tendencies, is scheduled to arrive in Israel on Wednesday for a two-day visit sure to generate a healthy dose of criticism and controversy.
Orban, reelected easily to a third term in April, is scheduled to meet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday, as well as President Reuven Rivlin.

Be the first to know - Join our Facebook page. Hungary's anti-immigrant leader Orban wins a third term, April 9, 2018 (Reuters)
Also on his schedule is a visit to the Western Wall, Yad Vashem and a meeting â€" uncommon for visiting prime ministers â€" with Chief Rabbi David Lau. He is not scheduled to go to the Palestinian Authority.
When the visit was announced earlier this mont h, Opposition MKs Yair Lapid and Tamar Zandberg came out against it. Lapid said it was “worrisome” that Netanyahu was turning Israel into the best friends of European regimes that were increasingly becoming illiberal. Zandberg said that Netanyahu should not be giving legitimacy to Orban, whom some accuse of fanning the flames of antisemitism.
Earlier this week, Israel’s Ambassador to Hungary Yossi Amrani told the Hungarian television channel ATV that “Hungary and Israel are allies, partners and friends.”
Amrani, referring to Hungary’s consistent support inside the EU and in international forums for Israel, said: “As an Israeli, I am quite thankful to Hungary for its support of Israel. You as a Hungarian can be proud of the moral support, the leadership and the courage your government [and] your diplomats are showing in different international arenas.”
For example, among EU countries, Hungary has consistently abstained rather than vote against Israel in th e UN. It abstained in December in the UN General Assembly vote condemning the US for moving its embassy to Jerusalem; in May when the UN Human Rights Commission voted to establish an investigative committee into the violence along the Gaza border; and last month, when the general assembly condemned the Gaza violence and passed a resolution calling for protection of the Palestinian civilian population.
Hungary was also instrumental in thwarting an EU resolution in December that would have condemned the US for its decision to move its embassy to Jerusalem.
Israel, according to a Channel Ten report, is also helping Hungary diplomatically. Following a request to Netanyahu from Orban last year, Israel â€" the report stated â€" has worked to try and open doors for Budapest in Washington, including meetings earlier this year between the US secretary of state and the Hungarian foreign minister, and a meeting between the two countries’ national security advisors.
Last summer, j ust before Netanyahu went to Budapest for a summit to meet with Orban as well as the leaders of Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, the Hungarian prime minister praised Miklos Horthy, who was Hungary’s leader during World War II when 600,000 of the country’s 800,000 Jews were murdered in the Holocaust.
Netanyahu’s trip also triggered criticism in Israel because it came in the midst of an anti-immigrant billboard campaign by the Hungarian government, which many felt had antisemitic overtones because it used the image of George Soros, the Hungarian-born Jewish financier who is a harsh Orban critic. Soros also happens to be a harsh critic of Israel’s policies.
Amrani, in his television interview, took issue with characterizations of Hungary as an antisemitic country.
“What do we have in Hungary? More than a quarter of a million Israeli tourists traveling here, and they are safe. You have the largest Jewish community in Central Europe; my information is that t hey feel safe as well. And you have the rebirth of Jewish life in this country, with an investment in hospitals, in the renovation of synagogues, in Jewish culture. This means respect; this means integration and a certain reverence for Jewish culture,” he said.
“This is not antisemitism, by my definition of antisemitism. I think Hungarians, when people accuse them of being antisemites, should ask for proof. They should be on the offensive, and not be on the defensive of this issue.”
Orban’s visit comes less than two weeks after Netanyahu came under a barrage of criticism for agreeing to a declaration on the Holocaust with the Polish government which critics said significantly downplayed the role of Poles in the genocide.
That declaration was part of a deal whereby Poland would decriminalize a clause in a controversial bill that would have made it a crime punishable by three years in prison for saying “Polish death camps,” rather than “German death camps in Poland.”
The Polish government, like the Hungarian one, is being accused of having anti-democratic tendencies. And, like Hungary, it is also among Israel’s strongest diplomatic supporters inside the EU.
Earlier this week, Amnesty International called on Yad Vashem to cancel Orban’s planned visit to the site, and for public protests if he is allowed to visit.
“Yad Vashem has served for years to legitimize for the Israeli government cooperation and diplomatic relations with leaders who are tyrannical, fascist, antisemitic and war criminals, in order to gain support for various Israeli actions that violate human rights and international law,” the statement said.Source: Google News Hungary | Netizen 24 Hungary