Hungarian opposition targets nuclear project in referendum drive

By bne IntelliNews February 27, 2017

Hungary's opposition party LMP announced on February 24 that it plans to organise a referendum drive against the Russian-funded expansion of the Paks nuclear power plant.

The party will use all available “peaceful instruments” to thwart the €10bn investment, LMP co-president Bernadett Szel said at a press conference. The effort follows the recent step back by the government over its bid to host the Olympic Games in 2024, after the required amount of signatures to spark a referendum on the project were gathered. The ruling Fidesz party also backed off last year when the opposition sought a national vote on its hugely unpopular Sunday shopping ban.

The Paks expansion is a contentious project both with Hungarian voters and the European Commission. The Hungarian and Russian governments unveiled it as a fait accompli without any prior warning in January 2015.

The LMP announcement came one day after Budapest withdrew its bid to host the Olympics following the collection of 266,000 signatures for a referendum on the plan, almost double the 138,000 required. The drive was primarily organised by a nascent political movement named Momentum, but several existing opposition parties, including the LMP, joined the 30-day signature collection bid in its later stages.

LMP argues that the Paks II project, which would see Russia’s Rosatom build two new reactor blocks, with a loan from Moscow providing 80% of the funds, would entail unnecessary environmental and national security risks. The party said it will submit a referendum question that asks “Do you agree that nuclear power plants with a larger power production capacity than the nuclear blocks currently in operation in Hungary, should not be put into service?" 

LMP MP Peter Ungar noted that the European Commission is expected to call off the last infringement procedure relating to the Paks expansion next week. Hungarians can, therefore, no longer wait for the EU to intervene, he claimed. 

Hungarian MEP, and former LMP member, Benedek Javor submitted a referendum question on Paks to the Hungarian National Election Office (NEO) earlier in the process. However, the government-friendly office rejected the application, arguing that referenda are not valid on issues governed by international agreements. Yet in a seemingly contradictory move, the NEO last year allowed the government to hold a referendum against the EU's refugee quotas. 

If the referendum question is rejected, LMP will persevere until it finds a question that the decision makers will pass, Szel vowed.

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