The Hungarian government yesterday (17 November) explained that EU Commissioner Günther Oettinger’s controversial flight to Budapest on board a Kremlin lobbyist’s private jet took place as part of Hungary’s contacts with the businessman.
In an unfolding controversy, Oettinger flew on 18 May from Brussels to Budapest aboard the private jet of Klaus Mangold, a German businessman working as a lobbyist for the Kremlin.
The explanation given by the European Commission was that this was the only way for him to get to a working dinner with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán on time.
János Lázár, a government minister heading the Prime Minister’s Office, answered questions by Reuters and online media outlet index.hu over the affair. The Hungarian Permanent Representation to the EU circulated a text in English summing up the answers provided.
However, contradictions remain between the different accounts of the event. EUobserver journalist Eszter Zalan, who broke the story, said Lázár had confirmed to her that Oettinger was invited “weeks before” the 18 May dinner and therefore had plenty of time to book his flight. This part of the statement, however, doesn’t appear in the transcript provided by the Hungarian Permanent Representation.
And in its weekly programme published on 13 May, the Commission announces that Oettinger will be on an official visit to Budapest on 19 May.
— Eszter Zalan (@eszterz) November 17, 2016
Mangold was described by German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung as the “Mr Russia of German business” and has for several years led Ost-Ausschuss, a body representing German firms doing business in Russia.
He is reported to have good relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin and was recently named as the honorary consul in Russia of Germany’s Baden-Wurtemberg region, where Oettinger is from.
Mangold’s name doesn’t appear in the EU Transparency register, a voluntary database in which information about lobbyists and their activities can be publicly accessed. Oettinger has not reported having met with Mangold either. The Commission said he did not have to.
“Mr Mangold, a German businessman and consultant, is an advisor to the Hungarian government (under contractual relationship for a long time by now), therefore the government asked for Mr Mangold’s help to organise conferences on digitalisation as well as the Commissioner’s visit”, the text circulated by the Hungarian Permanent representation reads.
Furthermore, it explained that the idea of having such conferences was raised by Mangold, and that the Hungarian government suggested that Oettinger took the plane with Mangold, who was also travelling to Budapest.
“This private jet flight was not a gift but a means of transport provided under the framework of the advisory contract between the Hungarian government and Mr Mangold,” the Hungarian Permanent representation wrote.
Lázár is also quoted as saying that Oettinger used Mangold’s jet because the Hungarian state had no airplane. “If they had one, then the government would have used it for the journey”, the text reads.
The Commission has no airplane either.
According to Lázár, Hungary wants to be a “leader” on the digital economy and industry among the four Central European countries of the Visegrad group.
“Therefore the government needs lobbyists such as Mr Mangold”, the text says, quoting Lázár saying that the whole story was raised by Hungarian opposition MEP Benedek Jávor (Greens/EFA) out of “childish reasons”.
The Hungarian Permanent representation also insists that Oettinger was not involved in the closure of the infringement on the Paks II nuclear power plant project.
Lázár is quoted as saying that the Commission closed the infringement case regarding the compatibility of the Paks II with public procurement legislation yesterday (17 November).
During his previous mandate Oettinger was responsible for energy.