Hungary's Orban paves way for gas pipeline in defiance of EU
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban reaffirmed Tuesday support for Russia's controversial South Stream gas pipeline, shortly after Budapest approved a law seen as a green light for its construction in defiance of EU policy.
Orban said the planned pipeline which will bring Siberian gas to the European Union -- bypassing Ukraine -- is key to securing EU member Hungary's energy supplies.
"We support any gas pipeline which brings in energy sources," Orban told journalists after a cabinet meeting.
The EU however has blocked the project and threatened to fine member states if they go ahead with construction as part of sanctions along with the US against Russia over its role in the conflict in Ukraine.
"If there is trouble in Ukraine however, gas should still reach Hungary, and for that, we need another pipeline," Orban said Tuesday.
Late Monday, the Budapest parliament, dominated by Orban's right-wing Fidesz party, voted -- by 131 in favour, 35 against -- to amend a 2008 law to enable a company to build a pipeline without the license required to operate it.
Although the 16 billion euro ($22 billion) South Stream project is not mentioned in the legislation, energy experts say the law is clearly designed with it in mind.
"It the only pipeline that Hungary can build," Judit Barta of the Budapest-based GKI Energy Research firm told AFP.
"The amendment was a trick to enable the start of construction of South Stream and sidestep EU regulation," Barta said.
The European Commission has asked Hungary for clarification, spokeswoman Anna-Kaisa Itkonen told a press briefing Tuesday.
But the EU appears deeply divided on the project with several member states, who depend on Russian gas transported via Ukraine, supporting it.
With a capacity of 63 billion cubic metres per year, the main pipeline will stretch nearly 2,500 kilometres (1,500 miles) from Russia under the Black Sea to Bulgaria, Serbia, Hungary and Slovenia and ending in Italy.
The European Union and the United States have repeatedly criticised Orban over his cosiness with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
In September, Hungary shut down its reverse gas flow to Ukraine, then soon afterwards allowed Russian gas giant Gazprom to store gas in local storage units.
Earlier this year, Orban signed a deal with Putin for a 10 billion euro loan from Russia to upgrade Hungary's only nuclear plant.
© 2014 AFP