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Hungary pushes for joint East European front on energy policy

Hungary's government is urging other east European countries to band together in energy policy issues, to give the region more weight in negotiations.

“Appearing jointly as a region, we can be a more effective energy partner for the European Union, for Russia and even the United States in strategic questions,” Hungarian Economy Minister János Kóka told a meeting of representatives from 10 governments in Budapest today. Countries in the region were affected at the beginning of this year when Russia's OAO Gazprom cut gas shipments through Ukraine by as much as 35%. They also want to fend themselves against blackouts that left millions of homes without electricity when Germany's power grid malfunctioned earlier this year. Kóka is proposing the meeting of countries, including Italy, Poland and Austria, to ask for EU grants to build cross- border interconnectors, used to link electricity systems. The countries also want to present a joint position for the EU's energy policy and for the bloc's talks with Russia, he said. Other countries at the meeting include Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Croatia, Slovakia and Slovenia. Most of them use more natural gas and electricity than they produce. Many of the former communist countries rely on shipments from Russia to keep power plants running and to heat homes. (Bloomberg)