Hungary’s natural gas storage facilities were 44 percent full and were being filled up further, Péter Szijjártó, the foreign minister, said after meeting the Austrian, Czech, Slovak and Slovenian foreign ministers in Budapest on Wednesday.
The current reserves equal a quarter of annual consumption, he said, adding that Europe’s reserves currently averaged 16.7 percent.
Hungary has also held trade talks on buying gas in addition to the amounts contracted in long-term agreements, and expects to have the opportunity to buy another 700 million cubic meters of gas before the start of the heating season, he said.
Meanwhile, the government is ramping up the upgrade of the Paks nuclear plant, he said, with the aim of “setting the first blocks of concrete in the ground by next year”. The government is also working on finding alternative transport routes for fuel rods which normally transit Ukraine, he said.
Szijjártó warned that Europe, especially Ukraine’s neighbours, faced “extremely grave challenges” to their “physical security” due to the war, as well as “wartime inflation” and “total uncertainty” with regard to energy supply.
Szijjártó said it was crucial to strengthen economic ties among Hungary, Austria, Slovakia, Slovenia and Czechia.
Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg said the war in Ukraine had further exacerbated a situation already made difficult by the coronavirus pandemic. He added that Russian President Vladimir Putin was using “famine as a tool” in his war, and so it is important to aid the Sahel region, he said, referring to stranded Ukrainian grain deliveries to the region.
Meanwhile, the Western Balkans, Schallenberg said, remained a geostrategically important region, adding that it was “imperative” that Bosnia and Herzegovina obtain EU candidate status as soon as possible.
Ivan Korcok of Slovakia said coordinating gas deliveries was “important”, and said the reserves should be benchmarked against consumption. Slovakia has also sufficiently filled its reserves, he said.
Korcok also welcomed the steps taken to advance Moldavia and Georgia’s EU integration.
Slovenian Foreign Minister Tanja Falon said the five-country talks gave an opportunity to reach agreements on common challenges. She said migration pressure plagued Slovenia too, but the Schengen Area should continue to function freely. Slovenia is therefore dismantling the fence on its border with Croatia while continuing to ensure protection and security, she said.
Szijjártó said Hungary was contending with the dual pressures of taking in more than 830,000 refugees from Ukraine while preventing 120,000 illegal migrants from entering at the southern border.
He said Hungary would continue to care for refugees while stopping illegal migration at its border, adding that the country has spent 1.6 billion euros on those two objectives, while Brussels had reimbursed only 2 percent of the costs so far.
The only permanent solution will be peace, Szijjártó said. Until then, the government has a duty to protect Hungary and Hungarians from the war and its fallout, he said. Hungary is setting up “border hunter” units to push back against growing migration pressure, he said. The new troops are all the more needed as “illegal entrants are armed more and more often as they try to cross the border,” he said.