An expansion in diplomacy and the strengthening of foreign trade have been top priorities in the Hungarian government’s policy since 2010. Opening to the East and intensifying connections with the Balkans are important elements of the new strategy, which is illustrated, among others, by growing Hungarian investments in Serbia, Albania, and Montenegro. Another objective is to diversify the country’s energy supply as much as possible.
The intention behind all this is to widen the latitude for Hungary, primarily the economy, without questioning the basic ties with the West as a member of NATO and the European Union. The process is not going ahead without political debates both at home and abroad, so the government has to be careful to gain benefits convincing enough to fend off criticism.
Among the planned projects, the reconstruction of the Budapest-Belgrade railway line has to be mentioned first as financially the largest. This route has been a major one in Europe for thousands of years, since it connects the Balkans to Western and Northern Europe. Motorways are mostly completed in that direction; railway lines, however, are out-of-date and definitely in bad condition. It is a significant obstacle in developing the traffic of goods and passengers alike, which is inevitable if the European Union wants to give membership to Western Balkan states, as declared on its agenda. Critics of the project warn that it will be built with Chinese credit too expensively, making Hungary, and Serbia as well, indebted to Beijing and never being able to pay it off. In the long run, taking all aspects into account including projects that stimulate the economy indirectly, a good balance seems to be achievable.
Recently, Hungary has bought a 32-hectare area of land with concession rights in the Port of Trieste, Italy. For a hundred years, Hungary has suffered a serious disadvantage in trade by not having a port of its own. The new agreement with Italy enables Hungarian companies to participate in international freight transport more easily and efficiently. The infrastructure of Trieste is traditionally good and the city is connected to Hungary both by an electrified railway and motorway. In this way, this deal will undoubtedly contribute to improving Hungary’s maritime transport considerably.
Looking back in ten years’ time, we’ll be able to assess more precisely whether Budapest’s efforts to intensify ties with the Balkans have been successful. At any rate, it is obvious that there is still a vacuum in the region, where quite small and poor states face each other in distrust and even hostility. In this situation it would be unwise for Hungary not to try to take advantage of the chances that are currently at hand, which may be taken by others in the future. The country’s long-term interests can well be served by having political and economic positions in the Balkans.
Also, greater leeway and energy safety lies behind the deal with Slovakia, through which the gas pipeline systems of the two countries being connected increases the options for Bratislava and Budapest to gain access to new energy supplies. The same consideration motivates the Orbán cabinet to take part in the recently discovered Romanian gas field project, partly replacing the Russian supply, making Hungary less dependent on Moscow.
The opportunities for a small country in today’s increasingly global world are limited in all respects. Not being aware of this is a mistake. Equally wrong, however, is not realizing the options, the ’gaps’ that always appear even in these conditions. The Hungarian government’s actions in this field are illustrations of such attempts. The final verdict on them will be given in time.
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