Exclusive: Hungary seeks Israeli gas as alternative to Russian supply

Hungarian State Secretary Péter Szijjártó blames EU crisis on “values,” cites gay marriage.

December 15, 2013 20:41
2 minute read.
Hungarian State Secretary for Foreign Affairs and External Economic Relations Péter Szijjártó

Hungarian minister Péter Szijjártó. (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)


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Hungary is looking to Israel and its newfound natural gas to help it shake its dependency on Russian energy, State Secretary for Foreign Affairs and External Economic Relations Péter Szijjártó told The Jerusalem Post in an exclusive interview in Tel Aviv on Friday, following a two-day visit.

“Hungary is very dependent on Russian gas. We heat 80% of our houses with gas and import 90% of our gas from Russia,” Szijjártó said. “Being so dependent means that you’re quite defenseless.”

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In a meeting with Finance Minister Yair Lapid, Szijjártó offered Israel access to Hungary’s 7 billion cubic meters of state-owned gas storage.

“We could be a central European distribution hub for Israeli gas, and hope we will learn about your export strategy as soon as possible,” Szijjártó said. The other fields in which he hoped to strengthen ties included water, agriculture, and innovation.

During his trip, Szijjártó also met with executives at Teva, including ousted CEO Jeremy Levin, to whom he awarded that Officer’s Cross of the Merit Award, one of the highest civilian awards in Hungary. Teva is one of the most significant investors in Hungary, and the biggest pharmaceutical company operating there. When it announced its recent scheme to cut its global workforce, causing a political firestorm in Israel, Hungary’s Teva workers were largely unaffected.

Teva, which has taken heat for the massive tax benefits it enjoys in Israel, has found similar incentives in Hungary. It is one of 35 “strategic companies” that receive special government privileges and can discount 90% of a special tax on pharmaceuticals.

Szijjártó prided himself on the fact that Hungary took an independent approach than the EU would have like on a variety of issues. While nuclear power was headed south in many places, he noted, Hungary was ramping it up from 43% of its electricity supply to a projected 60-70%. While the EU issued guidelines in its Horizon 2020 platform that defined Israel within the green line, Hungary expressed unhappy with the developments. And while the EU pushed a platform of human rights and diversity, Hungary was forcefully embracing its Christian heritage.

“The [European Union’s] economic crisis is caused by a crisis of values, which is more serious,” he said. “In Europe if you say you are proud to be Christians, it is not the mainstream. When you speak about family, they tell you have to say ‘families,’ because there is more than one type of family. We say that there should be be a husband who is a man and wife who is a woman and children.”

When asked whether taking a strong stance against gay marriage might scare off the diversity that helps breed innovation, Szijjártó replied, “That problem hasn’t occurred. Hungarians are an open people and friendly to foreigners, so if someone wants to come and enjoy life they can.”

Gay couples, he said, could register their partnership and receive legal benefits without getting married.

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