On his first visit to Croatia in several years, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said he and Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic had agreed on the need to resolve the thorny dispute over ownership of the Croatian energy company INA.
"I came to change this unnatural situation and return our relations to the normal track," Orban told the press conference on Monday.
Plenkovic said that their dialogue showed "the desire of both countries to continue to develop economic co-operation".
In 2003 and 2008, MOL bought up 47.15 per cent of INA’s shares, leaving the Croatian state with 44.83 per cent. MOL later took over management of INA in 2009.
In June 2011, however, Croatia’s anti-corruption office, USKOK, said it suspected that between 2003 and 2009, Croatia’s then prime minister, Ivo Sanader, had taken bribes of 10 million euros from MOL’s chief, Zsolt Hernadi, to obtain INA's management rights.
In December 2016, Croatia lost an arbitration process against MOL over this issue before the UN Commission on International Trade Law, UNTRAIL, in Geneva.
Plenkovic said major differences remained between the two sides but that, "our goal is that, until an agreement is reached, mutual relations between the shareholders are better and allow better business operation and Croatia and INA-MOL to benefit".
Orban insisted that it was not an inter-state but an inter-company issue.
"There is a need to make decisions at company level," he said. He urged Croatia to "buy back INA" if no other agreement could be reached.
Although Croatia has repeatedly said that it will buy back the MOL shares in INA, the idea has never been realized.
In October, a retrial of MOL boss Hernadi and Sanader began in Zagreb, without Hernadi’s presence. On Monday, Zagreb County Court ordered pre-trial detention for Hernadi.
In November, Interpol approved a Croatian request – made in August – for a renewal of a “Red Notice” arrest warrant against Hernadi.
Concering the court procedures against Hernadi, both leaders concluded that it was a legal issue and that politics should not interfere with it.
The dispute over the energy company has continued to impact negatively on relations bwtween the two companies.
After Croatia refused to implement the UN arbitration court’s ruling – which rejected Croatia’s request to annul MOL's management rights over INA – Hungary blocked Croatia’s bid to join the OECD.
However, chilly relations started warming up after five of Croatia’s 11 MEPs in the European Parliament in September voted against a report condemning Hungary. Soon after, Hungary lifted its veto on Croatia’s membership of the OECD.
This week, Zagreb is hosting the Central European Initiative, CEI, summit, which gathers the six prime ministers of Albania, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Romania, Slovakia and Hungary to discuss issues of security and economy.
The central event for Croatia, however, has been Orban’s official visit, the first since 2011.
Several non-governmental organizations, Human Rights House Zagreb, the Centre for Peace Studies, Platform for International Citizen Solidarity, CROSOL, GONG and the Welcome! Initiative, released a statement condemning Orban's visit.
They jointly called the Hungarian leader "a populist and autocratic politician who, under the guise of protecting national interests and Christian culture, wants to create a closed and undemocratic society in Hungary".
Having "unfortunately" supported Orban in the European Parliament, Croatia should condemn him for human rights violations while he is in Zagreb, the statement said.