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Hungarian-Croatian dispute over MOL oil company

October 4th, 2013

As the Hungarian government joins the dispute between Croatia and the MOL oil company, left-wing and centrist commentators believe that the Orbán government could defend the national interest abroad only by completely contradicting its own rhetoric against foreign investors present in the Hungarian energy sector.

On Tuesday, the Croatian authorities issued an Interpol and a European Arrest Warrant for Zsolt Hernádi, the Chief Executive Officer of Hungary’s oil and gas company MOL, which owns close to 50 per cent of the INA oil company. The Croatian authorities suspect Mr Hernádi of bribery in connection with the MOL takeover of INA management rights (see BudaPost through June 11, 2011). The Hungarian Chief Prosecutor’s Office declined a request to interrogate Mr Hernádi on behalf of the Croatian judiciary, saying that the Croatian documents submitted did not contain proof of any wrongdoing. In July, the Croatian prosecutor unsuccessfully requested the interrogation of Mr Hernádi as a suspect (see BudaPost July 13). The Hungarian government issued an official protest statement and declared that Croatia could object to a foreign investor’s leading role in a strategic company, but the use of “extra-economic” means was unacceptable. The Hungarian government has asked the management of MOL to investigate whether and how its interests in INA should be sold. Foreign Minister Martonyi canceled a visit to Croatia. The Hungarian government noted that MOL invested 3 billion Euros in INA when the Croatian company was on the brink of insolvency. The state has a stake of approximately 25 per cent in MOL.

If Hungary belongs to Hungarians then Croatia should belong to Croatians”, János Dési writes in Népszava. The left-wing columnist believes that the Croatian government is doing exactly what the Orbán government did: it wants to regain control over strategic companies from foreign investors, and exploit the country according to the wishes of the respective “political demagogues”. If the Hungarian government can re-nationalize energy and utility providers, it should not be surprise if another state acts accordingly, Dési contends.

The situation is completely bizarre”, Péter Magyari comments in 444. The Hungarian government, which itself accused foreign governments of infringing on Hungarian sovereignty, now wants to protect the national interest by intervening in the dispute between Croatia and MOL, Magyari suggests. He finds it strange that the Orbán government has also hinted that it would turn to the EU to protect the interests of MOL, although in the past the same government was highly critical of the EU for intervening in defence of multinational firms. Magyari believes that both Hungary and Croatia are eager to defend their perceived national interest by any means, and thus no consistency nor principled approach should be expected from either side.

Népszabadság, on the other hand, thinks the government is actually acting in conformity with the policy it has been pursuing in connection with large foreign owned utility providers in Hungary. In its front page editorial, the leading left-wing daily does not find the decision to consider the selling of INA shares held by MOL surprising after all. By giving up its interests in a strategic company abroad, the Orbán government wants to send the message to foreign investors present in the Hungarian energy sector that they have no chance to keep their assets in Hungary.

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