Another referendum campaign could be on the horizon in Hungary as opposition party Politics Can Be Different (LMP) announced Friday that it would seek a vote on whether Hungary should go forward on a deal to expand the Paks nuclear facility. LMP co-chair Bernadett Szél said last week that the expansion would be an even greater risk to the country than hosting the 2024 Olympics.
Szél was referring to the success of a recent signature collection drive which gathered over 266,000 signatures of Budapest residents who favored a referendum to decide whether the city should host the Olympics in 2024. She said the overwhelming response shows that people want a say in important national issues.
“The success of the signature drive for the Olympics [question] proves that people won’t allow the government to make certain decisions above their heads and behind their backs,” Szél said at a press conference Friday. “It would be pretty basic for the government itself to call for a referendum [on Paks], but LMP doesn’t trust that the cabinet has reached that level.”
If accepted by the National Elections Office, LMP’s referendum question would read, “Do you agree that nuclear power plants with greater overall power generating capacities than the capacity of presently operating nuclear power plants in Hungary should not be installed?”
The question, which LMP will reportedly submit to the National Elections Office this week for approval, had to be carefully formulated: European Parliament MP Benedek Jávor (Dialogue for Hungary/PM) submitted a referendum question on Paks nearly a year ago which was denied on the grounds that it would have overwritten an international contract. But LMP board member Péter Ungár argues that while a referendum cannot be legally held on the obligations of an international contract, the contract itself could be put to referendum.
Szél and others in her party have argued that the Paks project would pose threats to the environment, and that it hasn’t been subject to adequate oversight by regulatory and inspections agencies. Other critics believe the hastily-planned expansion is a way for Prime Minister Viktor Orbán to ingratiate himself with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The project would be undertaken by a Russian energy firm and financed with a EUR 12 billion loan from a state-owned Russian bank.
Péter Ungár promised that his party would not allow such a project to take place when it is “not supported by the majority of Hungarian people.” He said intervention in the project by the European Union could no longer be expected, since an infringement proceeding against Hungary in the matter is expected to be dropped this week in the European Commission.
The Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP) announced Tuesday that it supports LMP’s push for the referendum, and vowed to assist in collecting the signatures necessary to allow a people’s vote to go ahead. The issue was reportedly discussed among party leadership, and MSZP President Gyula Molnár and the party’s candidate for prime minister László Botka both support a collaboration with LMP on working for a referendum, index.hu reports. Momentum Movement, which initiated the successful Olympics signature drive, declared that while it is not opposed to nuclear energy (“This is about a safe energy source, without which in the short term Hungary’s energy supply is completely unimaginable,” said Momentum’s spokesman), it does consider the Paks project to be “an attempt by Russia to gain influence” in Hungary, and thus Momentum would support any attempt to oppose the project.