The European Commission has closed one of the probes launched into Hungary’s project to expand the Paks nuclear power plant, the commission confirmed on its website on November 17. According to a senior official in Budapest, the commission found that the project is in line with EU public procurement rules.
The commission has long questioned the fiscal wisdom and legality of the €12.5bn deal agreed with Russia in 2014 to expand Hungary's sole nuclear facility. The EU executive opened twin infringement procedures - the other on state aid - in 2015. However, Budapest has in recent weeks been heavily encouraging speculation that Paks II is about to get the green light.
“The decision of the European Commission means that Hungary had the right to make a deal with Russia, and it did not breach EU procurement rules,” Janos Lazar, the powerful leader of the Prime Minister’s Office claimed to a press conference. Budapest expects the EU’s state aid probe to be closed favourably next week, Lazar added. Hungary can begin the expansion of the power plant in 2017 or 2018, he suggested.
The same official claimed last week that Moscow has accepted unnamed demands from the EU on the project. However, he offered no detail at all about the requested changes.
Budapest was earlier reported to have struck a “secret deal” with Germany that would offer support from Berlin for nuclear project. In return, Hungary would tone down its confrontational stance towards Brussels' migrant quotas now that Budapest’s referendum on the issue is over.
The EU's Digital Commissioner Guenther Oettinger is reported to have used a private plane offered by Klaus Mangold, a German businessman with strong Kremlin ties to fly to Budapest in May. According to 444.hu’s sources, the under fire German, who was commissioner for energy until 2014, advised Prime Minister Viktor Orban on "how to handle" the probes.
The commission, however, insists “the Paks II nuclear project was not discussed”. The Hungarian Permanent Representation also insists that Oettinger was not involved in the closure of the infringement procedure on the Paks project.
Oettinger confirmed that the trip took place, but denied any breach of the Commission’s transparency and ethics rules. He argued that the Hungarian government suggested him to share a private jet with Mangold. Chief spokesperson of the European Commission Magaritis Schinas also defended the German commissioner.
“The commissioner accepted an invitation by the Hungarian government and I must say this is within our norms,” Politico quoted Schinas. “If I was cynical enough it also saved some of the taxpayer’s money.”
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