Both Serbian and Hungarian high leadership have made public statements condemning the new tax Bulgaria imposed on Russian gas going through their borders, brought on by its new legislation passed last Friday, 13 October. The TurkStream pipeline, which facilitates the supply of the vast majority of Hungary’s natural gas imports, runs through Bulgaria. The Eastern European nation is now looking to raise an additional €1.2 billion in annual tax revenue through the new, €10.2 per megawatt-hour levy introduced on Russian gas.
However, evidently, this raises concerns in countries relying on the pipe’s supplies, who now have to endure significant extra costs—not just Hungary, but Serbia and Austria as well.
President Aleksandar Vučić of Serbia was among the first to speak out on the issue, saying:
‘This is a big problem for us. This will lead to a drastic increase in the price of gas by an additional €100 per 1,000 cubic metres of gas. This is an appalling increase, and we will talk to the Bulgarian side. And this [decision] should not be valid for Serbia,’ as quoted by the Serbian newspaper Politika.
Meanwhile, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Péter Szijjártó of Hungary commented on the unfortunate developments while visiting Moscow, Russia for the Russian Energy Week, even before the new Bulgarian law was passed. According to the Hungarian business news site Portfolio, he said that the Hungarian government is in contact with the Serbian and Bulgarian leadership about the issue, adding that
his cabinet is ready to take steps to prevent the Bulgarian legislature from passing laws that negatively affect Hungary.
He went on to reassure all that Hungary’s sufficient gas supply is not in any jeopardy, as there are enough reserves in the storage tanks to cover 62 per cent of the country’s annual consumption already. However, Minister Szijjártó also stressed:
‘This is evidently unacceptable. If an EU Member State is threatening the gas supply of another Member State, that simply goes against the idea of European solidarity, the European rules,’ still according to Portfolio.
President Vučić of Serbia confirmed he is planning on holding bilateral talks on the matter with his Bulgarian counterpart, Rumen Radev.
However, that meeting may not be very effective.
As a matter of fact, this new tariff was spearheaded by Prime Minister Nikolay Denkov’s liberal, strongly pro-EU We Continue the Change Party. Also, in Bulgaria, a presidential veto can be overruled by a simple majority vote, so the most Radev could do is send the legislation back to parliament for another vote, where it would likely pass again.
MP Venko Sabrutev from the ruling Bulgarian party shared his strong sentiments about the new law, saying ‘Bulgaria decides on its own what fees to introduce for the transit of gas through its territory,’ and even going as far as saying to the objecting countries ‘Hungary and Serbia should look for an alternative,’ if they don’t like his party’s new law.
Hungary, just like the rest of Europe, went through a major scare in the summer of 2022, when energy prices suddenly skyrocketed as a result of the Russo-Ukrainian war. Thankfully, they have come down to a reasonable amount since then, and, with the help of the Hungarian government utility reduction programme, have stayed relatively low and affordable for Hungarian citizens.