Hungarian hardball tactics in failed airport deal launched with EU
(Bloomberg) – The Budapest airport operator has expressed concerns to the European Union over what he calls undue pressure from the Hungarian government, just as Prime Minister Viktor Orban asks billions of euros in pandemic recovery funds.
Orban is visiting Brussels on Friday for talks with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on a wider range of issues. Ahead of this meeting, the committee was briefed on the concerns of AviAlliance, a Germany-based airport management company which is also the hub’s largest shareholder, according to people familiar with the matter who asked not to be identified. like discussions. are private. The Singaporean sovereign wealth fund GIC and a Canadian fund hold minority stakes.
AviAlliance told the committee that shareholders have come under pressure to sell the airport to entities and individuals close to the Hungarian government and that the situation has worsened since they rejected a bid last year, one of the people said.
They cited a € 50 million ($ 60 million) freeze in virus-related aid from the London-based European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the person said. Recent years have seen unfounded accusations about the airport’s investments, obstruction of the facility’s development and threats from pro-government ministers and media, the person added. The Hungarian government sold its remaining stake in the hub in 2011.
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Although the airport owners have not made a specific request to the commission, they are reporting their issues at a time when von der Leyen has the opportunity to force Orban to respect the rule of law, including rights investors.
After years of criticizing Orban’s government for violating EU democratic standards, the € 800 billion stimulus fund gives the commission much more leverage to bring Hungary into compliance. The country is set to receive more than € 7 billion in grants from the fund, but only if von der Leyen is happy with his adherence to the rule of law. Faced with next year’s elections, Orban wants to access as much economic aid as possible.
“I don’t want to negotiate anything because we have settled most of the financial issues,” Orban told Hungarian state radio on Friday. “I am more interested in issues related to the future of the EU.”
Asked to comment directly on the concerns of airport operators, a spokesperson for Orban said he had nothing to add to the Prime Minister’s comments. Spokesmen for von der Leyen and AviAlliance declined to comment, as did a press secretary for the Canadian pension fund Caisse de Dépôt et Placement du Québec. A spokesperson for GIC in Singapore did not respond to an email or a call.
Hungary offered the EU an olive branch on Wednesday by amending the legislation underpinning attacks on foreign-funded universities and civil society groups. But it has also drawn criticism from the Dutch government over the investment climate this month by blocking the sale of a Dutch insurer to an Austrian group.
Friday’s agenda will not be limited to stimulus fund plans, one of the people said. Hungary has recently sought to create national champions, including in the financial sector, while further tightening its grip on the media.
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