Orban Regulator Overhaul May Help Shield Russian Nuke Deal

Hungary plans to separate its regulator in charge of overseeing nuclear power-plant construction from the government and give more autonomy to its chief.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s party submitted a draft law, posted on the parliament’s website on Wednesday, to make the key regulator of the country’s sole nuclear power plant, which is undergoing a 12.5 billion euro ($15.1 billion) expansion, independent.

The legislation will allow Orban to appoint a chairman to the body for nine years and eliminate the possibility of dismissing him. It’s a break from more than a decade of centralization that saw Orban extend his influence over independent institutions including the courts, the media and education despite rising objections from the European Union.

It also reinforces concerns that Orban is making the changes to retain broad sway over Hungary even if he loses next year’s parliamentary elections to an opposition that’s uniting against him for the first time. Some parties have vowed to stop the nuclear expansion, which is being financed by Russia.

The regulatory overhaul is necessary to comply with an EU request to have the national nuclear agency as an independent body, rather than as part of the government, Cabinet Minister Gergely Gulyas told a briefing on Thursday. He rejected criticism that Orban would pick a loyalist or that the agency would be politicized.

The post of the regulator’s chief is now vacant, as the previous head quit unexpectedly on April 29, without giving a reason.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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