As Europe Shivers, Hungary Has Heat
The people of Europe are being offered as sacrifice for the ever-bloodier Ukrainian war effort. Hungary remains the sole exception.
On the eve of the First World War, the Ottoman Empire was widely referred to as the “sick man of Europe." Today, it is Europe that seems like a sick man, threatening to cut off its own life support. While the United States also seems to be struggling with soaring energy prices—one in six U.S. homes have fallen behind on their energy bills, Bloomberg reports—the pace and passion of the ritual harakiri committed by Europe is particularly remarkable.
“First the food and then the morale: should one make peace with Putin in order not to have to freeze in winter?”—so went the headline of the liberal Neue Zürcher Zeitung, one of the oldest Swiss newspapers.
Let’s look at the heart of the E.U. in economic and political terms: Germany. The average German household consumes roughly 1,700 cubic meters of gas a year; according to current data from a price comparison portal, a German citizen has to pay 3,240 euros for utilities—almost three times what the price was a year ago. But another increase in prices is expected soon: from October, utility costs for Germans may increase by up to a thousand euros. RheinEnergie, which supplies the big German city of Cologne, is more than doubling the price of residential gas.
Grim warnings have also been issued to German citizens. “Germany could face blackouts and power grid collapse due to electric heaters," warned Peter Lautz, head of the Stadtwerke Wiesbaden Netz utility company, which supplies 170,000 customers with electricity. Georg Friedrichs, head of Berlin's Gasag—one of Europe's largest regional gas suppliers—suggested that the temperature of homes should not be higher than 18 degrees Celsius (64 degrees Fahrenheit), but “the young and fit can get through the winter with two sweaters and a little climbing on the stairs."
Rest assured: German municipalities are working on a solution. The Socialist mayor of Ludwigshafen, Jutta Steinruck, has promised that people will be housed in halls used for mass sporting events and concerts where there will be heating free of charge. The management of the city of Hannover has also made a painful decision: in the future, public buildings, swimming pools, sports halls, and gyms will have access to cold water only.
The problems will not stop here. German industry is the engine of the economy of the E.U., and its emergency braking will gravely affect the rest of the continent. In 2020, energy costs for BASF and fellow German groups Evonik (worth $9 billion), Wacker Chemie ($7 billion), and Covestro ($6 billion) accounted for an average of 5 percent of their costs of goods sold, according to UBS. This year, they’ll be over 40 percent, writes Reuters.
This might lead not only to a severe setback in German industry but to widespread social tensions. In light of the current energy crisis, Nancy Faeser, Interior Minister of Germany (Social Democrats) has spoken of her fears of “radical street protests.” The German people have gotten used to a very high quality of life since the reunification of the Eastern and Western half of the country in 1990. They will not tolerate struggling with their bills for long. We can expect Germany to see mass protests like what we have seen in Czechia lately. The response of the old right is not much different from that of the new left: the Interior Minister of the state of North Rhine-Westphalia in Germany, Christian Democrat Herbert Reul, called those planning to protest the rising energy prices “new enemies of the state.”
Keep in mind: most of the articles cited here merely assumed a reduced capacity of gas flow through the Nord Stream 1, and not the full stop. Incidentally, Gazprom has just announced the indefinite shutdown of said pipeline. The real question is not whether Germany will be able to pay for gas, but whether there will be gas at all. Yet the European tactic—with Germany at the helm, and Joe Biden’s approval in the background—seems to be arming Ukraine boundlessly, thereby prolonging the war indefinitely, sending the E.U. to its knees.
Why has the war found Europe in such a vulnerable position? If we are to believe the "Stuttgart Declaration"—a document prepared by twenty leading German university lecturers in defense of nuclear energy—it was the unilateral focus on solar, wind, and natural gas, that has maneuvered Germany into an energy shortage and uncertainty of supply that "threatens competitiveness and prosperity." While Russia was stockpiling gold and modernizing its military, Western Europe was busy preparing for a modern “end of days” vision, the ever-delayed “Green apocalypse." Now Germany seems to backtrack on shutting down its final nuclear reactors and its coal power plants could be restarted soon. An energy expert told German public service media that the country will need to import more than 30 million tons of coal this winter. Germany has sizable ports, but they are overbooked, and it is questionable whether they will be able to cope with this quantity.
At the same time, rising energy prices have helped Russia earn EUR 93 billion in revenue from fossil fuel exports in the first 100 days of the invasion of Ukraine—according to the Centre for Research on Energy and Clear Air. The European Union obtains 40 percent of its natural gas imports from Russia, but the loss of the European market will not affect Putin sensitively in the long run, as he will probably find a ready market in China and Turkey in the coming years. As Rod Dreher has observed in these pages, slaying “Slava Ukraini” won’t help the unemployed and freezing this winter, while Putin has his “last laugh."
The globalist elite just doesn’t seem to care. Radek Sikorski, ex-Foreign Minister of Poland and liberal MEP, has recently summarized this view well in a lecture held at Hungary’s MCC Feszt. In my own description of the event: “Sikorski was recently in Washington and was very pleased with the elite's support for Ukraine.… There will be peace only if we help Ukraine enough for Putin to realize that he cannot win in what he is doing. The Ukrainians are fighting our fight, concluded Sikorski. According to him, sanctions always harm both sides, but the point is that it hurts the Russians. Russia should have been sanctioned much earlier and much more strongly."
German Economic Minister Robert Habeck, a Green, reminds us of an impotent witch-doctor of plague-era Europe: “We still have a very critical winter ahead of us. We have to expect that Putin will further reduce the gas." But according to some, freezing is the new normal. “Europe is in for 5 to 10 'difficult' winters," Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo (Liberal Democrats) coolly predicted. Is it so crazy then to believe that the globalists don’t care what the people of Europe want? German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock (Green Party) will gladly help us settle the question (German fact-checkers have claimed that this quote was distorted in the pro-Russian media, so I have used the original German transcript here):
“If I make this promise to the Ukrainians: 'We will be by your side as long as you need us,' then I would like to deliver, no matter what my German voters think, I would like to deliver for the Ukrainian population.… This means that every measure I take must last as long as Ukraine needs me.… And we now have the winter season ahead of us, where the challenge we face as democratic politicians is that citizens will take to the streets and say, 'We can no longer pay our energy bills.' And I say: 'Yes, I know, and we will help you with social measures,' but I don't want to say, 'Ok, then we will stop the sanctions against Russia.' We are on Ukraine's side."
Sure enough, recently a social package has been announced by the German government; it is worth less than one third of the Covid-19 industry relief package. Will the people accept this as compensation for such immense self-imposed damage?
The Old Testament spoke of burnt offerings to please God. The modern religion of liberalism has conjured a new term: ice-cold offerings. The people of Europe wanted to sacrifice for Ukraine, but now they are the ones being sacrificed.
Among the E.U. countries, Hungary is the only one where panic over Russian gas has not prevailed—wrote RIA Novosti, a Russian state-owned news agency. This is one of those rare cases when you can trust Russian news. In September and October, Gazprom will supply a maximum of 5.8 million cubic meters more natural gas per day to Hungary via Serbia than the amount specified in the previous long-term contract, Hungarian Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó recently announced. His philosophy seems to be different from that of the above-cited Baerbock: “The purchase of natural gas or the origin of natural gas is not a political position, but a hard, vital physical reality…. I cannot look at the issue of energy supply through an ideological lens. They can label me Gazprom's whatever, if that's the price to keep people warm.”
Hungary currently has gas stored for 76 normal winter days. Stockpiling, however, didn’t start yesterday. Nearly four billion cubic meters of natural gas were stored in the five Hungarian gas storage facilities until August, which is 226.7 million cubic meters more than the amount prescribed by the E.U. The amount stored so far is 98 percent of the annual residential consumption. This means that Hungary is the fourth best in the E.U. in terms of storing natural gas in proportion to its consumption. The government decided earlier that about 700 million cubic meters of natural gas should be procured in addition to the quantities already contracted, and the recently announced purchase from Gazprom is part of this important acquisition.
This was just one among the many steps announced this summer by the government to deal with the current energy crisis. Hungary is also considering restarting the mining and extraction of lignite and the launching of new blocks for the Mátra coal power plant. At the same time, the government is supporting a new program for the exploration and production of natural gas assets and light oil in Hungary; in some places, production will start early next year. This might come as a surprise if we think that the expression “right wing” necessarily means “small government.” However, the Hungarian right firmly believes that the power of the state is a possible means of helping the people in times of crisis.
In reaction to the rising energy costs, the Hungarian government has also decided to alter its previous utility cost-reduction program, while still preserving the core of the measure. In the case of natural gas, people will pay a reduced price up to a consumption of 1,729 m3/year per place of use. In the case of electricity, they'll pay up to a consumption of 2523 kWh/year per place of use. In the case of electricity, the reduced price is HUF 36 (8 cents) per kWh and in the case of natural gas, HUF 102 (25 cents) per cubic meter. But all families with three children or more automatically receive the reduced utility prices: there are 300,000 such large families living in Hungary today.
So how many people will this measure help? Around 1 million people living in big families will be helped, while 4.2 million out of 5.6 million electricity consumers and 2.6 million out of 3.5 million gas consumers are at an average consumption or below. In a country of 10 million people, this is a rather amazing achievement—definitely more than what many left-wing governments can boast. According to a survey commissioned by the Austrian regulatory authority, Energie-Control Austria and the Hungarian Energy and Public Utilities Regulatory Authority, Budapest remains the continent's cheapest capital in terms of utility costs. It is guaranteed that some Hungarian cities will experience similar spending and energy cutbacks as Germany, but so far, the predictions are not as grim.
While my friends all around Europe are complaining about the previously unimaginable utility bills they are receiving, I am getting the same bills as before, even after the above-mentioned changes: around $30 for gas and around the same for electricity, altogether not more than $60. We are a normal family of three, using gas for heating, hot water, and cooking.
Get weekly emails in your inbox
Conversations overheard on trains, while subjective, can be a good indicator of public mood. The conversations I’m hearing in Hungary revolve around people switching from holidays abroad to domestic destinations, draining garden pools, and canceling preordered designer bags. Conversations in Germany revolve around surviving the winter. Is it a surprise then that German comments in social media vastly support Orbán, saying things like: “Orbán is doing what the people elected him to do”? (If you read Hungarian, click on this excellent collection of such comments).
Back in 2013 it was the European Union that took legal action against Hungary—and failed—because of the then-nascent Hungarian utility cost-reduction program. Fast forward 9 years: “Europe needs to impose a price cap on Russian pipeline gas, E.U. Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said on Friday, to foil what she said were Russian President Vladimir Putin’s attempts to manipulate the bloc’s energy market.” Von der Leyen is not the only one to come around. As several European states are struggling with the consequences of the sanctions, energy prices in the Netherlands have doubled in one year. The Liberal Dutch government is now planning to introduce a comprehensive family protection subsidy, modeled after the Hungarian government. Spain and Portugal, both of left-wing leadership, have also announced similar measures. Most E.U. governments are now eyeing fixed prices, tax reductions, or subsidies. There’s a Hungarian saying, perhaps difficult to translate: “Hungarians are not right, but in the end, they will be proven right."
At the same time, in the mind of some liberal E.U. leaders, Soviet-type reactions are sparked. Hungary has also banned the exporting of energy carriers, including firewood—drawing the ire of these politicians, who have implied on a number of occasions that energy carriers might have to be redistributed on an E.U. scale between the member states in the future. Orbán, widely labeled the “bad guy” for talking to Putin and buying his gas, might just save Europe in the end.