The prime ministers of the Visegrad Four countries Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic discussed regional energy security at a summit in Budapest on 24 February amid concerns of over dependency on Russian gas. “We signed a common declaration that states that energy security is a highly important task for the signatory states,” Hungary’s Premier Gordon Bajnai told journalists after the meeting of regional officials. “We have reached an important step with today’s meeting,” he added.
Bajnai called for a “gas supply triangle” comprising a liquefied natural gas terminal on Poland’s northern coast, a similar planned project in Croatia in southeast Europe, and the long awaited Nabucco gas pipeline. “Our aim is to create a critical mass that can represent its interest more efficiently, a critical mass that simply can’t be passed by or overlooked,” he said.
The Nabucco pipeline project is aimed at reducing Europe’s dependence on gas from Russia by pumping supplies from Central Asian or Middle Eastern countries from eastern Turkey all the way to a distribution hub in Austria. “The countries of Eastern and Central Europe must reduce their one-sided energy dependence in order to strengthen their energy security,” Bajnai said.
The countries known as the Visegrad Four are looking to avoid future energy crises. In recent years, gas cuts due to price disputes between Russia and Ukraine have often left thousands freezing in Eastern Europe and forced countries to draw on their own gas reserves, he noted. “Then, we were able to help Bosnia and Serbia. Today we want to widen this cooperation,” Bajnai said. The planned gas pipelines were to link the Baltic and Adriatic seas, which would require “unprecedented cooperation not only between the institutions of the signatory states, but also between companies from the different states, as well as European funding.” He said countries in the region must also enhance storage facilities and integrate their gas networks by building interconnecting pipelines, such as a link between Croatia and Hungary expected to be completed by the end of 2010. About 80% of Hungary’s gas comes from Russia via Ukraine. It has boosted storage capacity since 2006 and now has a total of 5.5 billion cubic meters of commercial and strategic storage capacity.
Bajnai said Hungary also considered the Russia-backed South Stream a realistic and important project as it would be an alternative route of supply for the region, but he added: “If you ask my priorities … a pipeline which is an alternative route and alternative source would mean the biggest competition and therefore the best prices for the region. A pipeline with an alternative route would only be a significant improvement compared to the current situation.”
Bajnai stressed Hungary needed Russia in the long term in its energy supplies and said Russia could be included as one of the suppliers for the Nabucco pipeline on a commercial basis.  “What we would not like is that there is a single source supplying Nabucco, but if there are several suppliers Russia could be one of those,” he said, adding that this idea had not yet been discussed by Nabucco partners.
The Nabucco consortium, which includes Austria’s OMV, Hungary’s MOL Romania’s Transgaz, Bulgaria’s Bulgargaz, Turkey’s Botas and Germany’s RWE. Also in Budapest for the conference were the premiers of Bulgaria, Croatia, Romania and Serbia, and representatives of Austria, Germany, Slovenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Spain, the United States and the European Commission.