The men behind Paks II: Günther Oettinger and Klaus Mangold

Today János Lázár triumphantly announced that all of the EU’s questions about the Russian- built and financed Paks II nuclear power plant have been satisfactorily resolved. Hungary is free to begin its mega-investment which, according to most experts, is an unnecessary undertaking which most likely will also be unprofitable.

Coincident with, and not totally disconnected from, this announcement is the political storm brewing in Brussels over the appointment of Günther Oettinger, commissioner for digital economy and society, to be the replacement for Kristalina Georgieva, who in the last two years was EU commissioner in charge of the European Union’s budget and who also served as one of the vice presidents of the commission.

Georgieva’s departure is considered to be a blow to the Juncker administration. She was enticed by the Bulgarian government to leave her job as vice president and corporate secretary of the World Bank. After two years in Brussels she is returning to Washington as the chief executive officer of the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the International Development Association. Most people interpret her move as a criticism of the Juncker Commission’s way of doing business. According to politico.eu, “Juncker’s Commission will undeniably be weaker without Georgieva. But what makes her departure worse is that Juncker is compounding the loss by promoting Günther Oettinger to take her place.”

Oettinger has been in Brussels for a long time. Between 2010 and 2014 he was commissioner for energy. When Germany nominated him again in 2014, Jean-Claude Juncker gave him a lesser post as commissioner for digital economy.

Oettinger is known to be a man who says and does outrageous things. Back in 2000 he broke into the banned “Deutschland, Deutschland über alles” at a celebration of his German nationalist fraternity. A few weeks ago at a business conference he described a delegation of Chinese officials as having “their hair brushed from left to right with black shoe polish.” When talking about Merkel’s liberal social policy, he joked about “compulsory gay marriage.” First, Oettinger insisted that he had nothing to apologize for but, I guess under pressure from his government, he admitted that the words he used “have created bad feelings and may even have hurt people.” He is described as curt and comes across as “unintellectual and unserious—more likely to obsess over cars or football than trade deals or European Union directives.”

It was Günther Oettinger who as commissioner in charge of energy matters gave the preliminary go-ahead to the Paks project in December 2013. The incoming Juncker Commission, on the other hand, decided on a reexamination of the whole project. Although Oettinger was no longer officially responsible for energy, according to all available information he worked hard in the background to promote Orbán’s pet project.

The second player in today’s story is Klaus Mangold, a wealthy German businessman and a former member of the board of automaker Daimler. Mangold, who is sometimes referred to as “Mr. Russia” in the German press, runs an industry lobby for stronger economic ties with Russia and so has been lobbying against Western sanctions on Russia.

According to some sources, Mangold has had a long-standing interest in the Paks II project. In fact, he may well have been the person who initiated it, acting as an intermediary between Putin and Orbán. 444.hu found proof of Mangold and Orbán meeting in December 2012, “reviewing German-Hungarian and Hungarian-Russian economic relations, particularly questions of energy and its financing,” which would indicate that the meeting might have included a discussion of enlarging Paks with Russian help. So, argues 444.hu, negotiations about Paks began as early as December 2012. Subsequent talks between Russia and Hungary were conducted in secret. It was only in January 2014 that the Paks contract was signed.

Günther Oettinger may no longer be the commissioner in charge of energy matters, but he hasn’t given up his role as a secret backer of the Paks II project. Nowadays, he attends conferences in Budapest on digital economic matters and uses them as opportunities to discuss matters concerning Paks with Viktor Orbán. One of these trips took place on May 19, just before János Lázár’s trip to Brussels and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s visit to Budapest. This time Oettinger arrived on Klaus Mangold’s private jet. 444.hu learned that there was a dinner meeting attended by the two Germans and the Hungarian prime minister.

Klaus Mangold, Viktor Orbán, and Günther Oettinger

Klaus Mangold, Viktor Orbán, and Günther Oettinger in Budapest, May 19, 2016

That Oettinger flew to Budapest on Klaus Mangold’s private jet merited further investigation, but the reporters of 444.hu got nowhere with either the European Commission or Mangold’s office. A few days later Benedek Jávor, a member of the European Parliament (Group of the Greens/ European Free Alliance), wrote a post in which he expressed his disapproval of an EU commissioner lobbying for a project that is no longer in his portfolio. And there is another problem. Mangold is not a registered lobbyist, yet Oettinger met him despite EU guidelines forbidding meeting with unregistered lobbyists. Then, there is the question of the trip itself. Did Oettinger pay for it or was it a gift? According to EU rules, a commissioner cannot accept any gift over 150 euros.

So, Jávor began an investigation of his own. He wrote a letter to the European Commission:

According to an article published on 21 June 2016 in the Hungarian online magazine 444.hu, Commissioner Oettinger met with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and German consultancy manager Klaus Mangold on his trip to Budapest, on 19 May 2016. During this meeting, the nuclear project Paks II was allegedly discussed.

Klaus Mangold currently leads a German consultancy firm, and used to be Chairman of the ‘Eastern Committee of the German Economy’. He is an important mediator between German firms and the Russian political scene. According to the Hungarian newspaper Figyelő, Mangold had already been a mediator in the previous 2013 Paks case. It has been reported that Commissioner Oettinger arrived in Budapest on Mr. Mangold’s private plane.

This meeting took place only a few days before Hungarian Minister János Lázár, of the Prime Minister’s office, came to Brussels to discuss the Paks II project.

We therefore ask the Commission the following:

  1. By what means did Commissioner Oettinger travel to Budapest?
  2. What information does it have about the content of this meeting?
  3. Has it investigated the possible use of state subsidies for the Paks nuclear project (SA.38454 (2015/C)(ex 2015/N)) and/or the infringement procedure in which the Commission objects that no public procurement preceded the Rosatom mandate discussed at this meeting?

Oettinger took his sweet time answering (on November 3, 2016):

  1. Due to the lack of commercial flights to arrive in time for the meeting with Prime Minister Orban, the Commissioner responsible for Digital Economy and Society joined Mr Mangold’s private plane.
  2. The Commission had been invited to a conference in Budapest about digitisation of industry and automated driving which was opened by Prime Minister Orban. Prime Minister Orban and the Commission met in order to prepare the conference and to discuss the setting up of national initiatives for the digitisation of industry (as outlined in the communication by the Commission of 19 April 2016(1)).
  3. The Paks II nuclear project was not discussed.

Two days ago the story was finally out in the open. Eszter Zalan of euobserver.com wrote an article inquiring whether Oettinger broke any ethics rule by traveling on a private plane of a German businessman with strong Kremlin ties. The article points out that on May 18 there was a choice of four commercial flights from Brussels to Budapest, and therefore Oettinger is simply not telling the truth.

In a way Oettinger’s flight with Mr. Russia is of secondary importance. What is much more worrisome is the visit of Oettinger and Mangold to Budapest in order to advise Viktor Orbán on how to handle a commission probe into the Paks project. But, as often happens, the use of the jet makes bigger waves than the less tangible accusation of foul play on the part of a pro-Russian lobbyist and a pro-Russian prime minister.

Oettinger, like so many people in such situations, keeps giving contradictory statements. By now his story has changed somewhat. In his latest version the Hungarian government paid for his plane ride. “We did not explicitly ask HU [Hungary] about their payment—neither for plane nor for hotel they also offered,” he said. He claims that “governments often offer transport & accommodation for missions of Commissioners when they invited for meeting, conference,” he tweeted, adding “I was invited to a dinner with a Prime Minister to discuss EU digital policies. It is my job to explain & discuss.”

The European People’s Party’s reaction to the Oettinger story is what it always is when one of their own is being questioned about a wrongdoing. Manfred Webber, who is the leader of the EPP group, told journalists that he had “complete confidence” in Oettinger. He called him a “very experienced commissioner” and said there was “no doubt at all whether Günther Oettinger is doing a good job.” The Socialists and the Democrats are naturally less charitable. They called on Oettinger “to clarify his unfortunate actions and unethical behavior.”

444.hu not undeservedly feels proud that one of its investigative pieces was picked up by the international media. And it is still on Oettinger’s case. Its reporters discovered that the EU commissioner paid a visit to Budapest during the past weekend and that he was planning to return to the Hungarian capital today. The occasion for Oettinger’s visit this past weekend was apparently a party given by the Strabag Construction Company. According to 444.hu, this trip was not recorded on the commissioner’s calendar. The occasion for his latest trip is another conference on digital cars and, again, he has a planned meeting with Viktor Orbán. Isn’t it amazing how the busy Hungarian prime minister has so much time for and interest in digital cars? All in all, Günther Oettinger’s activities in Hungary are highly suspicious, and they should be seriously investigated. However, most likely nothing will happen. Apparently he has the strong support of Chancellor Angela Merkel.

November 17, 2016
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Member

’nuff said…

Member

There are plenty of corrupt and immoral politicians within the EU and in Brussels, the viktor and his gang of criminals are using and paying them to get their way.

Observer
Guest

These petty and shortsighted political “deals” like the appointment of the obviously corruption prone Oettinger and his defence by unprincipled Webber are seriously coroding the EU and people’s trust in the political system. Hence Orbán, Kaczinsky, Brexit and now Trump.

The Webber’s and Merkel’s are letting the piles rot, our common house is creaking, but they turn a blind eye.
I wonder how bad the next year elections in Germany will turn out.

Guest

Webber is not Weber.

Observer
Guest

Mea culpa.

Fred Fenster
Guest

Strabag is owned by Russians (“Current stakeholders are Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska’s Cyprus based Rasperia Trading”).

If Russians give the money to Paks 2 then Russians wants to benefit from the construction.

That corrupt German politicians at the very top of the EU and corrupt German businessmen are so shamelessly conspiring to rape Hungary is more than outrageous.

This is exactly the kind of totally corrupt, technocratic elite that people all over the world are fed up with.

I hope Oettinger and Mangold will be imprisoned, from these reports I’m almost certain that they breached criminal laws too. It will depend on the prosecution though not on the Hungarian I am afraid. That said the Germans also like money so I’m not sure they will push too hard against their own.

Make no mistake this is a scandal of the highest order. An EU commissioner doing private business while abusing his position and corrupting the official EU legal review procedures for money, though I’m guessing that money will be paid after he left office and he will be a director at Rothschild or whichever advisory or investment firm it will be.

Observer
Guest

Fred FEU
“corrupt German businessmen are so shamelessly conspiring to rape Hungary..”
Hungary’s being raped by Orban first and foremost, but if they pay well others can have a go too.

Guest

Oettinger, European Commissioner, ought to have his title changed to German Commissioner: he only cares about his political career in Germany, not in the EU.

Guest

No! Every honest German is ashamed of this right wing wife-cheating homophobic xenophobic bastard!
I can’t get it that Merkel and Junckers still support him.
We Schwabs threw him out!

Mihal
Guest

These kind of stories answer the question: Why doesn’t the EU punish Hungary for their abuse of EU founds and their scandalous treatment of refugees? They seem to be in it and it’s convenient that there is a black sheep to blame the problem of the refugees on. As long as Orban is not cooperation the other nations don’t have to take their share either and it allows them to make unethical deals with someone like Erdogan.

Guest
Somehow I missed this, though the German press reported on it very critically: http://www.spiegel.de/politik/ausland/oettinger-flog-kostenlos-im-privatjet-von-mangold-nach-ungarn-a-1121488.html Oettinger’s spokeswoman says however he did not talk about Paks with Orbán – can we believe that? I’ve written before about this really reactionary “Christian” politician – he was prime minster of Baden Württemberg and we Schwabs in the end were very happy to get rid of him and gave the Greens a relative majority so after him there came a Green prime minister … He also is a perfect example for the DAIS-NAID syndrome (Do as I say, not as I do): He cheated on his wife, regularly makes homophobic and xenophobic statements, defended the previous prime minister Filbinger who was a real Nazi – called him a member of the resistance almost (!) and so on .. To call him a right wing asshole is probably not enough – I’ve always wondered how he became a successful politician because his intellectual qualities are really in doubt … A bit OT: Also once again – he was thrown out or rather not let into my favourite bar in Tübingen because of his reactionary attire – that was all over the German media too.So for those… Read more »
Istvan
Guest

JC Juncker should have been removed over his role in aggravating the British and adding fuel to the Brexit fires, and his drinking. There is an analogy here to the aging ( 76 year old) Democrat leader of the minority in the US House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi who is a total Democrat party operative who needs to be replaced due to repeated political defeats. Both Pelosi and Juncker are masters at holding together their factions in their legislative bodies while the entire political world collapses around them. I am sure Orban is thankful that Juncker is there and his incompetence helps him a great deal.

Istvan
Guest

Off topic but not irrelevant to Russian penetration of Hungary. Today President elect Trump will select retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn as his national security adviser. The other two individuals seriously considered were former congressman Mike Rogers and Frank Gaffney, Jr., both were on record clearly seeing Putin’s Russia as the number 1 security threat to the USA. Flynn sees IS as the no 1 threat and has a comfortable relationship with the Russians see http://www.politico.com/agenda/story/2016/11/russia-is-already-benefiting-from-trump-victory-000232

Guest

Seems that now Juncker and the EU commission are no longer happy with “Oetting-air”s antics – and the German people either hate him or laugh at him because of his incompetence.
http://www.spiegel.de/politik/ausland/guenther-oettinger-eu-kommission-verteidigt-flug-im-privatjet-a-1121977.html
On twitter:https: OettingAir

There you’ll find some jokes on him.

becky
Guest

Very OT, to some who disputed that the Democratic Party is in shambles nationwide (embedded links are also interesting).

https://theintercept.com/2016/11/18/the-stark-contrast-between-the-gops-self-criticism-in-2012-and-the-democrats-blame-everyone-else-posture-now/

petofi
Guest

Of course, Joseph Conrad’s “The Heart of Darkness is applicable here: ‘The irony! The irony! That is, we all thought that Trump was the end of the Republican Party whereas this election proved the end of the Democrats.

(And by the way, can someone strike a wooden stake into the heart of Hillary Clinton? She’s now reported to be readying her helpless daughter Chelsea to run for political office…)

Reality Check
Guest
False equivalency and some misinformation. 1) The Republican party was reported as being in disarray after 2012 election. Many even blamed Hurricane Sandy among other other factors external to the party. The liberal press was one of their big bogeymen. http://www.cnn.com/2012/11/09/politics/gop-disarray/ 2) The GOP’s self criticism did not come into full force until well after the election when they produced the position paper that urged them to reach out to blacks, latinx, and immigrants. Advice they ignored and the demographic changes are not going away. They won’t be able to continue to run on a white nationalist platform for much longer unless they take the vote away from minorities. 3) In 2012 Republicans did not have to deal with Wikileaks, Comey, and Russian meddling. These situations were unprecedented in modern US history. And it is ridiculous to think these factors did not have an impact. 4) Democrats fielded an incredibly qualified nominee that had been the victim of a decades long smear campaign of misinformation and lies that extended into this election. Romney faced no such decades long propaganda campaign. 5) The phenomenon of fake news sites was not an issue in 2012. The fake news sites added to the… Read more »
petofi
Guest

Hillary has to go off into the sunset with Huma and leave the political stage. Problem is, without a hand in Washington politics, the Clinton
foundation won’t be worth a donut.
Chelsea is set with her 10 million dollar apartment, her seat on the Foundation board paying a sweet $300,000 annually; and a gig speechifying at $65,000 per 30 minutes whenever she’s running short and mommie dearest is nowhere to be found.

Guest

But you’ve got no problem with the Trump family?

Anyway if people pay (not the government …) to see Hillary or Chelsea or …

Remember how Sarah Palin used to show her daughter in talks about abstinence before marriage being the only way for young women – until her pregnancy could no longer be hidden?
And now she’s back …

webber
Guest

aha… And how much did Trump’s daughter’s pad cost?…

Istvan
Guest

Being an Republican of long standing I am not distraught at the situation of the Democrat party. On the other hand I am distraught at how the Republican Party is rapidly being transformed into the party of Trump. Becky I don’t disagree the DP is in shambles right now.

webber
Guest

I don’t agree that the DP is in shambles. They have won a few more seats in congress, and Clinton got far more votes, over all, than Trump (+1m. more, and counting). There is no reason for a DP member to despair.
I would not be surprised if, within four years, the Democrats took control of both the House and Senate.

Joe Peschi
Guest

Given the cancellation of South Stream, due to EU pressure (which I am sure that most regulars inhabiting this forum cheered on), and the go-ahead given to Nord Stream2 and use of Opal pipeline, Hungary does in fact need the expansion of nuclear. Once Nord Stream 2 is finished and perhaps a smaller version of Turk Stream, Hungary may be left with very few real and meaningful natural gas import options as Ukraine will most likely be just an incident away from being retired as a transit route. Nuclear will go a long way in cutting natural gas dependence in electricity generation for instance. Natural gas could be replaced in household consumption as well, if need be.

How about some reality? This conversation could really use some!

Joe Peschi
Guest

BTW, the Rusophobia being expressed here is nothing less than hate speech in my view. I know it has become generally accepted among the Western elites in the past few years, but really, this is getting out of control. If we were to do the same in regards to anyone being connected with Israel/Jews, would we not be called Nazis, anti-Semites and so on?

aida
Guest

I do not think Putin’s Russia is brilliant. However diplomacy must deal with the unlovely. The politically correct anti Russian politics has been a bit of a disaster, so far. Best to try get common ground before we get too excited. The idea Russia will play a subservient part is unsustainable. L

Istvan
Guest

I plead guilty to being an enemy of the Russian Mafia State.

Guest

Me too! And I also detest the Hungarian government mafia and any other corruption.

What I really hate is the hypocrisy of those “Christians” where ever you find them. they are against against abortions (or any other form of contraception) but for the death penalty and seem to enjoy torturing …

They hate LGBT people but cheat on their partners and so on …

Joe Peschi
Guest

When you throw Hungary’s interests under the bus in the process, you are also an enemy of Hungary. Did you notice that Germany, with all its anti-Russian bluster keeps dealing with them? Nord Stream2? Why not! German companies doing flourishing business with Russia? Why not? Hungary’s interests must also come first if you love Hungary and the Hungarian people.

Guest

Troll!

What does Hungary profit from Russia?
How many Hungarians have emigrated to Russia for work?

Guest

Interesting imho:
EU drops some reservations about Hungary’s nuclear expansion project
and
The European Commission has ended proceedings against Hungary over the award of a contract to Russia’s Rosatom to expand the Paks nuclear power plant, although it is still investigating the country’s funding for the project, Reuters reported on Friday.
So all’s not clear yet on the Eastern front …

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