Civil groups and opposition political parties alike have condemned the decision to keep secret for 30 years the details of Hungary’s deal with Russia to expand the nuclear power plant at Paks. They have appealed to President János Áder not to sign the bill and to have it reviewed by the Constitutional Court.
The legislation was passed by ruling parties Fidesz and KDNP, and will keep under wraps both the business and technical details of the agreement under which Russia’s Rosatom will build two new 1,200-megawatt reactors costing EUR 12 billion. All opposition parties voted against.
The government says the 30-years secrecy is a national security matter and is in line with guidelines elsewhere in Europe. The Soviet-built plant currently provides about half of Hungary’s electricity.
Timea Szabó, of opposition party PM (Dialogue for Hungary), said the decision to classify much of the contract information is a hotbed for corruption and amounts to “the legalisation of a gigantic robbery”.
The Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP) said Fidesz is the most corrupt of all times, and experts estimate the confidentiality will cost HUF 400-500 billion of public money.
Critics say the deal, first announced by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and Russian President Vladimir Putin in January 2014, is an example of Orban’s efforts to strengthen energy cooperation with Russia despite the conflict in Ukraine. The arrangement includes a EUR 10 billion loan from Russia to cover an estimated 80% of the construction costs. Hungarian companies are to carry out 40% of the work.
The government has described the contract as a “marriage of interests,” saying the financial terms offered by Russia could not be matched by any other supplier.
Representatives of Transparency International Hungary, the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union, anti-corruption watchdog K-Monitor, investigative journalism NGO Atlatszo.hu and energy research NGO Energiaklub have written to Áder calling his attention to the law’s unconstitutionality, and urging him not to sign.
The legislation effectively allows the government to classify virtually any information related to the two new reactors, covering all “business and technical” information, including contracts, studies and preliminary work, plus all contractors and subcontractors.
The Democratic Coalition said the next government would have to lift the classification of data. Deputy leader László Varju said it is unclear whether the 30 years applies from the completion of the project or on the date when the contract is fulfilled, so in practice it could mean “sixty to a hundred years” from now. The Russian loan puts Hungary at serious risk, he said.
PM said the secrecy means the government “wants to make a gigantic heist legal and delay the possibility of getting caught”. Co-leader Szabó said Orbán and the Fidesz group “will not avoid going to prison”. She said the classification is unconstitutional and contravenes the law on access to information on environmental issues and the Aarhus convention on public consultation.
Green-liberal party LMP said it would turn to Áder, the Constitutional Court and the ombudsman to complain. Co-chair Bernadett Szél said the majority of MPs who approved the law would not be active in 30 years. Government claims that secrecy in such cases is a European standard are untrue, she said, citing French, Finnish and British examples. If everything is classified, it will be impossible to prevent corruption, Szabó said.
The Együtt (Together) party said classification was against the Constitution. Spokeswoman Zsuzsanna Szelényi said Hungarians have the right to know how their money is spent. Legislation already ensures that the most sensitive details for security policy are kept hidden. The new law poses a “huge corruption risk” and experts estimate that such a project would enable up to HUF 500 billion to be stolen, Szelényi asserted.