Hungarian Prime Minister Orban Visits Zagreb, Discusses INA

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ZAGREB, December 3, 2018 – Croatian Prime Minister Plenković and Hungarian Prime Minister Orban said in Zagreb on Monday the only issue burdening relations between the two countries was the management of the Croatian INA oil company, in which Hungary’s MOL is a part owner, adding that if MOL were to sell its stake to Croatia, the key point was to agree on the price.

The two prime ministers met ahead of a two-day summit of the Central European Initiative (CEI) in Zagreb and discussed many issues, underscoring that this was Orban’s first visit to Zagreb in seven years and an opportunity to strengthen bilateral relations burdened by disagreements over the management of Croatia’s largest oil company.

“There is good will on behalf of both the Hungarian and the Croatian government to resolve those problems. What we would like is this problem not to burden relations in other areas,” Plenković said.

Asked if Croatia was still willing to buy back MOL’s stake in INA, Plenković recalled that on the Croatian side was the government and on the Hungarian side a private company. “The Croatian government’s stance has not changed and in the end the key thing is to agree on the price.”

Orban underscored that disagreements over an economic issue, which he compared to “a thorn under the nail”, could not be more important than centuries of common history between two neighbouring nations. “I really don’t know of any economic problem that could be more important or difficult than 800 years of common history.”

Orban said “it’s not a normal situation between two allied and neighbouring states when a Croatian prime minister hasn’t been to Hungary in six years.” “Until today’s visit, I hadn’t been to Croatia for seven years. I came here to change this unnatural situation so that we can bring our relations back to normal. The current situation makes me unhappy,” he added.

Orban said it was confirmed at the talks with Plenković that the two countries were “on the same side.” “We want a strong Europe. We want to strengthen the cooperation between European nations.”

He said Croatian-Hungarian cooperation was “good”. “Economic figures are good, we have constant trade growth, more and more Hungarians come to Croatia, there’s a rise in the number of Hungarian investments in Croatia.”

“Hungarians in Croatia speak of the incumbent Croatian government with great respect and Croats in Hungary can’t remember a time when they enjoyed such great support from the Hungarian government,” Orban added.

“Things look good,” he said, but noted that “there’s a certain bitter taste in our mouths.” “The horizon of our relations is not entirely without clouds. You probably know how a healthy body reacts when a thorn gets stuck under the nail. It’s no big deal but it still affects a person’s mood.”

“That’s the situation we are faced with now,” Orban said, alluding to the outstanding INA-MOL issue. “We must pull this thorn from under the nail and everything will be all right.”

Asked by the press how he looked upon this issue, he said: “Hungary looks upon it as an issue between companies.” “Decisions should be made at company level. If Croats and Hungarians can’t cooperate in a company, then they shouldn’t do it, they should go their separate ways,” he said, adding that “in this particular case this means that Croatia should buy out MOL’s stake in INA. That’s the advice we can give.”

Asked by the press how to resolve the issue of Hungary’s refusal to extradite MOL CEO Zsolt Hernadi, for whom Croatia issued an arrest warrant on the charge that he had bribed former Croatian PM Ivo Sanader in exchange for securing management rights in INA, Plenković and Orban said it was a judicial matter.

“This government knows what the separation of powers is. This government neither intends to nor can in any way interfere in the work of courts and prosecutors,” said Plenković.

Orban too said he considered this “a legal matter” and that in Hungary “politics doesn’t interfere in legal matters. The judiciary should take its course. I won’t make any secret deals regarding any legal matters.”

Plenković said they also talked about transport cooperation, cooperation in the development of an LNG terminal on Krk island, and European matters, notably Croatia’s wish to enter the Schengen Area.

“We want to make headway there and I’m sure we’ll have Hungary’s support in that,” he said and Orban agreed. “We’ll be glad if Croatia becomes a member of the Schengen Area as soon as possible. That will bolster Europe’s importance too,” said Orban.

As for Hungary’s possible participation in the LNG project, he said it was primarily a question of gas prices. “At the moment, Hungary procures the cheapest gas from Russia. Second is gas from Romania, for which an interconnection is being built, third is the procurement of gas from Slovakia, while Croatia is only fourth,” he said, adding, “If we can agree a business model, we’ll be able to cooperate.”

For more on relations between Croatia and Hungary, click here.


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