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Orbán, Plenković discuss awkward issues in Zagreb

Following a meeting with Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenković on his official visit to the Croatian capital of Zagreb on Monday, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán asserted that “I know of no economic issue more valuable than the 800-year friendship between the Hungarians and the Croatians.”

On his first visit to Croatia in seven years, Orbán said after talks with Plenković that while the relationship with Croatia “is not without its problems,” he had arrived in the country to help “ensure that relations get back on track,” official Hungarian government website reported.

Orbán said that economic figures related to Hungarian-Croatian cooperation are excellent, trade volume and Hungarian investments in Croatia are continuously increasing, and increasing numbers of Hungarians are traveling to Croatia. Tourism figures indicate that “relations between the people are also good,” he added.

Responding to a question on tensions over the management of Croatian oil and gas company INA, Orbán observed that “if something doesn’t work, it shouldn’t be forced,” adding that if the Croatians and Hungarians cannot run a business together, then the Croatians should buy out Hungarian peer MOLʼs stake in INA.

MOL and the state of Croatia each hold just under half of INAʼs shares, but MOL exercises management rights in the Croatian firm. The stakeholders have long been at odds over investments at INA, and Croatiaʼs government earlier said it was willing to buy out MOL. 

MOL CEO Zsolt Hernádi has been charged in Croatia with bribing former Croatian Prime Minister Ivo Sanader a decade ago to grant MOL management rights in INA. In late October, a retrial weighing the corruption charges against Hernádi and Sanader began in Zagreb without the presence of the MOL chief, after a Budapest court refused to execute a European Arrest Warrant in August.

Hernádi has been acquitted of the corruption charge by the Hungarian judiciary. However, the governing body of Interpol took a decision at a general assembly in Dubai in mid-November allowing a Red Notice earlier issued for Hernádi to be renewed.

Concerning Hernádi, Orbán claimed that “in Hungary, politics does not interfere in legal issues.” He added that he will not be concluding any secret deals in relation to any legal issue, and insisted that in international relations law and intergovernmental political relations should also be separated as clearly as possible.

Plenković said it is the will and the intent of both the Croatian and the Hungarian governments to find a solution to open questions regarding the matter of MOL and INA.

“Itʼs important that this problem does not continue to burden our everyday relations,” he said. While reaffirming the governmentʼs stand on buying out MOLʼs stake in INA, he raised the issue of price. “Until an agreement is reached, the aim is for both businesses to operate well,” he noted.

LNG gas supply ‘a question of price’

Addressing the possibility of Croatia supplying Hungary with gas from a liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal on the Croatian island of Krk, Hungarian news agency MTI cited Orbán as saying that the gas would be more expensive than that supplied from Russia, Romania or Slovakia.

“Itʼs a question of price for us. If we can find a business model that produces an acceptable price for Hungary, then weʼll cooperate,” the prime minister said.

Orbán was cited as saying by that gas will play a diminishing role in the Hungarian energy system, since the country is expanding its nuclear power plant and is engaged in the development of solar power. At the same time, he added, since these capacities will only reach their peaks after many years, gas will continue to have significance.

Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Péter Szijjártó, who travelled with Orbánʼs delegation to Zagreb, noted that Magyar Eximbank has opened a EUR 420 million credit line to support partnerships between Hungarian and Croatian businesses. He added that an agreement had been reached on a trilateral effort by China, Croatia and Hungary to offer Chinese tourists to the region attractive opportunities in Budapest and on the Croatian seaside.

During his official visit, Orbán will also be holding talks with Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović and Speaker of the Croatian Parliament Gordan Jandroković.