Having recently classified all information relating to the design, construction and funding of two nuclear reactors at the Paks atomic energy plant for fifteen years, the government now wants to extend this to 30 years.
Origo.hu reports a modification to a recently passed law classifying all information related to Paks II for 15 years was submitted to the Hungarian parliament’s Legislative Committee just hours before the committee convened this morning.
Part of the new legislating process introduced under the third Orbán government last year, the Legislative Committee is the committee through which all bills must pass before going to parliament for discussion and debate.
The law passed earlier this month exempts the Paks II project from Hungary’s freedom of information laws. No information of any kind is to be made available to the public for 15 years.
The bill submitted this morning proposes to classify the information for an additional 15 years for a total of 30 years.
Having opposed the original bill, opposition MPs opposed the proposed modification in unusually strong terms.
“This recommendation is completely baseless,” Tamás Harangozó (Hungarian Socialist Party, MSZP) told ruling party Fidesz MPs during the committee hearing. “You only want to protect the issue of corruption. You could have written three years or three thousand years if you wanted to.”
Bernadett Szél (Politics Can Be Different, LMP) said: “This law is pretty much about how you’re going to steal.”
LMP co-chair Andras Schiffer accused the governing parties of “treason… This law is not about energy security but rather about energy insecurity! Referring to business interests when public money is at stake amounts to theft.”
Schiffer pointed out that numerous international agreements ratified by Hungary do not permit such contracts to be classified.
Even the Jobbik member of the committee, Gabor Staudt, whose radical right-wing party supports the project, expressed concerns. “We hope it’s not because [the business] will go to your friends,” Staudt said.
In the end the 44-page bill was approved by the Fidesz-KDNP majority. If approved by parliament, it will be thirty years before anyone outside of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s immediate circle of advisers can understand his reasons for insisting Hungary move forward with this project at this time. By the time the information comes to light, Orbán will be over 80 years old.
The Paks II project has been criticized by opposition leaders and experts alike for its lack of transparency and high risk of corruption.
Corruption researchers have found that in Hungary’s public procurements secrecy alone can raise the cost by 4 to 8 percent. In the case of the Paks II expansion such secrecy would mean an increase of costs anywhere between HUF 160 billion (USD 600 million) and HUF 320 billion (USD 1.2 billion).
The majority of Hungarians do not support the expansion. Both the United States and the European Commission have expressed strong concerns but none of this has weakened the government’s resolve to move ahead with the project, which is to be funded with a EUR 10 billion loan from Russia and built by Russia’s state-owned atomic energy company (Rosatom) using Hungarian contractors.
Fidesz MP Janos Bencsik, the second Orbán government’s state secretary for energy affairs, believes Hungarians have the right to access certain information connected to the expansion of the reactor.
Zoltán Illés, former undersecretary for environmental protection in the second Orbán government, believes Paks II is being imposed on the country at enormous taxpayer expense by certain parties that stand to make huge profits. He says the decision to expand Paks was made in the absence of controls and dissenting opinion, professionalism and values-based decision making. At a recent roundtable discussion organized by civil activist group NowUs! Illés said he was certain the project would never be built, but that this would not prevent the government from squandering billions of forints preparing the project over the next five years.
In addition to making Hungary almost completely dependent on Russia for its energy, the deal likely conflicts with European competition law, according to The Financial Times. For this reason the European Commission is studying the possibility of formally launching disciplinary proceedings against Hungary. Furthermore, Euratom, the European Union entity that must approve all agreements related to nuclear energy within the EU, has yet to approve the project, citing technical and financial concerns.