It was again Magyar Nemzet that first came out with a short news item heralding Viktor Orbán’s forthcoming “diplomatic offensive.” The paper’s guess was that the move was in some way connected to the election campaign. The prime minister is supposed to visit Russia, China, and several other, mostly Arab countries.
I didn’t find Magyar Nemzet‘s explanation for this diplomatic onslaught terribly convincing because I’m sure Viktor Orbán still remembers his mistake during the election campaign in 2002 when he decided not to dirty his hands with campaigning but instead showed himself as the real statesman hard at work. And he lost the election.
The pro-government paper did mention, with reference to his Russian trip tomorrow, that “Viktor Orbán may sign an agreement about the continuation of the existing cooperation between the two countries concerning atomic energy matters.” It added that “the expansion of the Paks nuclear power plant” might also be discussed.
Népszabadság learned more about the plans from Fidesz sources. The paper reminded its readers of János Lázár’s announcement about the “advanced negotiations” concerning the enlargement of Paks’s capacity, which would double the output of the power plant. The government claims that this addition to the existing facilities would lower utility prices. The opponents of the plan claim the opposite: prices would rise because of the high cost of expanding Paks. Indeed, this particular investment will be costly. Experts talk about 3-4 trillion forints, which naturally Hungary doesn’t have. But that’s not the only problem. In her present financial situation, Hungary can’t even borrow that much money because it would upset the precarious balance the government achieved as far as the deficit is concerned. But it seems that thanks to the “good offices” of the Rosatom State Atomic Energy Corporation the Hungarian partner may be able to pay the cost of the investment on the “installment plan.” Originally, even Orbán was talking about an international tender, but none of the other companies that are in the atomic power plant business was ready to be so generous. Of course, this generosity has its price which might take several forms: joint ownership, profit sharing, and various other business arrangements.
Not surprisingly it was the politicians of Párbeszéd Magyarországért (PM/Dialogue for Hungary) who were the first to raise their voices against the plan because these politicians are committed to the idea of green energy. They objected, with good reason, to the secrecy with which these negotiations were conducted. They raised objections to making such a momentous and controversial decision without any public discussion or any consultation with independent experts. Why the hurry? Is Viktor Orbán afraid that he might not win the election and does he therefore want to push the decision through his parliamentary voting machine prior to April or May? Benedek Jávor, co-chair of PM, declared that he and his party consider any agreement arrived at in Moscow without parliamentary authorization null and void. Such a momentous decision cannot be the private domain of the prime minister. It is not only a very expensive undertaking, but the planned arrangement also puts Hungary at the mercy of Putin’s Russia.
The government’s answer to the critics was lame. András Giró-Szász, the government spokesman, declared that it would have been impolite to refuse an invitation from Putin. This explanation is utterly ridiculous. As if Putin one morning woke up, had a burning desire to meet Viktor Orbán again, and out of the blue dropped an invitation in his mailbox. Giró-Szász, perhaps realizing the absurdity of his first claim, added that “after all, it is very important to take a look at the past year’s economic results.” As if they had anything to do with the matter at hand.
Today we learned that Gordon Bajnai (Együtt-2014) and Benedek Jávor (PM) jointly wrote an open letter to Viktor Orbán in which they pointed out that the expansion of Paks would determine the country’s energy policies for the next sixty years and therefore such a decision cannot be sanctioned without a public debate and without parliamentary authorization. They demanded immediate information about any negotiations and decisions.
A couple of hours later Bajnai and Jávor got an answer: “yes, there will be a bilateral agreement” signed in Moscow. The Government Information Center pointed out that the government has been studying the possibilities of the use of atomic energy. A year ago Vladimir Putin and Viktor Orbán discussed questions of cooperation at the time of Orbán’s visit to Moscow. An agreement was reached in December. After the prime minister’s return from Moscow the government will inform the public about the details.
Thus, we don’t know more about the agreement than before. Obviously Viktor Orbán can make the decision, whatever that decision is, alone. The “people” this government talks so much about have no business questioning the wise man’s decision. He knows what is good for the people. Another case of Hungarian democracy at work.