BAKU, Azerbaijan, July 25 (UPI) -- The time is ripe for more cooperation between Hungary and Azerbaijan on energy projects, Hungarian Foreign Affairs Secretary Peter Szijjarto said this week.
Szijjarto, who is also in charge Hungary's external economic relations, said Monday during a visit to Baku the two country's state-owned energy companies -- Hungary's MOL Group and Azerbaijan's SOCAR -- are poised to work together, the Trend news agency reported.
"Hungary owns some rights to the largest energy structure of Central Europe -- MOL company," Szijjarto said. "We are ready to cooperate on MOL individual projects with SOCAR."
Cooperation on energy projects with Azerbaijan on energy projects could help reduce Hungary's dependence on imported energy, he said.
Hungary imports more than three-quarters of its energy and is especially dependent on Russia for its natural gas supplies. The country's national energy strategy, adopted last year, calls for the development of alternative supplies.
One of those alternatives is the planned Nabucco West pipeline connecting natural gas fields in the Caspian Sea to Europe. MOL is a shareholder in the project.
Szijjarto's visit comes less than a month after a similar trip to Baku by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who met with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and attended the Crans Montana Forum.
There he asserted the European Union should develop closer ties with the Caspian region, and Azerbaijan in particular, to secure the bloc's energy supplies.
Orban said east-west gas pipelines built during the communist era must be augmented with new, north-south routes, such as Nabucco West, the English-language weekly Budapest Times reported.
That project would run from Turkey through Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary and end in Austria but isn't expected to be operational until 2017.
Hungary has also signed up for the Russian-backed South Stream pipeline, seen as a competitor to Nabucco, which would supply Europe with Russian gas via the Black Sea -- thus avoiding Ukraine as a transit nation.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has called for a 2015 completion date for the first phase of South Stream.
Hungary is also seeking security of its gas supply through the completion of a Slovakian-Hungarian gas interconnector, which would enable it to enter EU (primarily German) markets for the first time. Budapest says such an interconnector could provide up to 12 billion cubic meters per year -- almost completely covering its annual demand.
Liquefied natural gas could also help the diversification of Hungary's energy import sources, tapping an existing Italian LNG terminal and future Croatian, Slovenian or Polish facilities through an Azerbaijan Georgia-Romania interconnector.
In the meantime, Szijjarto said Hungary wants to expand cooperation with Azerbaijan not only in energy but other fields as well.
One of those areas is the building industry, where Hungarian companies are looking to open up eastern markets for infrastructure, road and railway construction to replace European work lost due to the financial crisis.
Another area is water, where Hungary boasts considerable expertise in water management, purification and sewage disposal, which it has demonstrated in Saudi Arabia, the Hungarian news agency MTI reported.