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Court Rules Hungarian Government Must Make China-Hungarian Railway Contract Public

In 2020, Hungary received a US$1.9 billion 20-year-term loan from China for a railway construction project. Hungary’s foreign ministry said that the contract agreement with China must be kept confidential. If it were not, it would be detrimental to the national interest. On October 7, 2021, a Hungarian court ruled that the government must make the contract public by October 22.

In 2014, Hungary, China and Serbia signed the original memorandum of understanding to rebuild and expand the railway line between Budapest, the Hungarian capital, and Belgrade, the Serbian capital. The long-stalled project, which has been on hold since 2017, is planned to rebuild and expand the 150-kilometre (93 miles) line between Budapest and Kelebia (a village in Southern Hungary). Construction in Serbia will begin in 2018. China is to provide 85 percent of the financing in the form of loans and Hungary will provide 15 percent.

In 2020, Hungary received the 20-year loan of $1.9 billion of the from China. In April of the same year, the Hungarian parliament voted to keep all details of the railway project confidential, including a feasibility study of its profitability, stressing that it was necessary in order to obtain the loan from the Bank of China.

Bernadette Szel, a member of Hungary’s independent opposition party, filed a lawsuit to make the Chinese loan agreement public. On October 7, Szel won the second appeal. The court ruled that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had not attached any credible evidence that the issuance of the contract would harm Hungary’s national interests. and that the documents must be published within 15 days.

According to Reuters, the railway project, part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, will be China’s first major infrastructure project in the European Union. The aim is to help transport Chinese goods from Greece to Western Europe. It is viewed as Beijing’s efforts to open new foreign trade links within the EU. The Hungarian prime minister, Viktor Orbán, has been a strong supporter of the project.

Source: Radio Free Asia, October 20, 2021