The concept of the Energy Union Tour which I launched last month is rather straightforward; I visit the Member States in order to explain, in person, what the Energy Union could bring in each of the national contexts. While doing so, I am equally interested in hearing the priorities and preferences of each country, and the unique perspective they each can bring to the table. Judging from my visits so far, this practice does not only enrich our debate on the form and shape of our common Energy Union but also allows sharing best practices and new ideas.
In that sense last week's visit to Hungary was not different. Accompanied by the mayor of Budapest's 12th district, I started the day at the MOM Cultural Complex, famous for its exhibitions and concerts. But instead of enjoying Magyar culture, I was led straight to the… sewers. Yes, the reason for visitng MOM was to witness the smart heating and cooling system which uses waste water as its primary source. It gets even better: the system was put in place using a smart financing system of which one third of the costs were funded by the EU and the rest through a private loan. But given that the new system saves 20% of the cooling costs and 50% of the heating, MOM pays back the loan simply by capitalising on its savings. It's smart, simple, and highly efficient!
The rest of the day revolved around meetings with the Hungarian government, committees of the national parliament (in its magnificent neo-gothic building), exchanges with stakeholders from the energy sector, and a dialogue with Hungarian citizens. In each of the meetings I presented our findings on how the Energy Union would benefit Hungary's various sectors.
If I could draw some lines across all those meetings, there are several recurrent themes which seemed highly important to my Hungarian interlocutors; security of their energy supply, interconnections between Hungary and its neighbours, and tackling energy poverty. What can I say; I couldn't agree more on the relevance importance of all three, which are therefore strongly reflected in the Energy Union strategy.
Energy security and regionalisation are in fact strongly intertwined as the latter is to a large extent the solution to the former. Security would be enhanced through diversification of the sources of supply, for which proper connections are necessary. Hungary is exemplary when it comes to its electricity interconnections, and is an important member of the CESEC High Level Group through which we are working to regionalise the gas infrastructure in Central East South Europe. Another important measure to increase energy security is energy efficiency, a field with huge potential in Hungary and across Central and Eastern Europe.
Finally, the question of access to energy is very close to my heart. No less than 10% of European households suffer from energy-poverty; a number that should keep us all up at night. Yet, my views have always been that comprehensive price subsidies (to below production costs) are not the answer. Subsidies should target those (and only those) who need them. In other words, let us not subsidise those who wish to heat their swimming pools but rather those who can't afford to heat their homes. This way we can tackle energy poverty without unbalancing the market or hindering (necessary) investments.