A vaccination point in Hungary – Photo: MTI

"There are more arguments to be made for EU membership than against it", minister says

Gulyas: Hungary still one of Europe’s safest countries

Hungary continues to be one of the safest countries in Europe in terms of Covid-19, the head of the Prime Minister's Office told a government press briefing on Thursday. Gergely Gulyas said that having evaluated the coronavirus situation in Hungary relative to the rest of Europe, the government had concluded that the situation in Hungary "continues to be the best".

Hungary has retained second place in Europe in terms of the ratio of fully inoculated residents, while the country has sufficient reserves of coronavirus vaccines, he said, adding that “we are in the position to inoculate anybody at any time”. “Those who register today may get any of their preferred vaccine in two days’ time.”

The government will take steps to further increase Hungary’s vaccination rate in the coming weeks, Gulyas said. “In many European countries there are clear signs that a fourth wave has begun, and he warned Hungarians against making trips abroad unless fully vaccinated.

The government has discussed issues around a possible third coronavirus jab, mandatory vaccination, as well as increasing the vaccination rate of the elderly and of the 12-16 age group, Gulyas said, adding that Prime Minister Viktor Orban will make relevant announcements on Friday. He said that the Delta variant of the coronavirus could affect the elderly most acutely, therefore “we must do everything to get over-60s vaccinated”.

Concerning the possibility of mandatory vaccination, Gulyas said that under the constitution “everybody is responsible for themselves”. “Still, we must consider whether vaccination should be made compulsory for doing certain jobs” such as in health care, he added.

All Covid-19 vaccines in use in Hungary are effective and would provide protection in the event of a fourth wave, Gulyas said, adding that “those working to create distrust in vaccines” had the effect of discouraging people from getting inoculated, thereby putting them at risk of death.

The government considers “efforts to create distrust in certain vaccines for political gain extremely harmful”, Gulyas said. “The benign assumption is that there are political interests behind these efforts, while the malign one is that it’s about the business interests of pharmaceutical companies,” he said.

Gulyas urged political players and journalists to accept the findings of science and not to exploit the issue of vaccines to help certain political parties.

Citing research by Semmelweis Medical University, the minister said the finding had “clearly indicated that the efficacy of all vaccines licenced for use in Hungary is above 96 percent”. The results also show that Russia’s Sputnik vaccine “is the very best” since all 1,300 blood tests taken have come back positive, Gulyas added.

Meanwhile, Gulyas said that the EU’s attempt to link the disbursement of recovery funds to the issue of Hungary’s child protection law was “an extremely negative development”.

The practice of linking unrelated issues would “bring the European Union to ruin”, Gulyas said.

He said Hungary and the EU had had disagreements in the past and would most likely have more in the future as well, adding that EU membership was in Hungary’s best interest nevertheless. “There are more arguments to be made for EU membership than against it.”

He said talks on Hungary’s post-pandemic recovery plan had been so advanced that the European Commission president had already put in an informal request to visit Hungary, “which always happens after the agreement is signed”.

“Hungary is prepared to discuss any further demands the EC may have, but this practice of linking unrelated issues will bring the EU to ruin because everyone will have some issue that someone else disagrees with and they’ll enforce their opposition in some other area,” Gulyas said. “That’s exactly what we’re seeing now, since the recovery fund has nothing to do with the child protection law.”

“Hungarians are entitled to the monies in the recovery fund,” he said.

Concerning the contested legislation, Gulyas said that the government would not give up its position that sex education was up to the parents, adding that “when Brussels demands equality in sex education it actually means that we should allow LGBTQ activists into schools and kindergartens”.

He said the press and advertisers weren’t allowed to depict content that could affect children’s sexual development.

Gulyas said this debate was not limited to just Hungary, noting that the Vatican and the Italian state were also at odds over the curriculums of church-run schools.

Europe will be seeing a lot more of these debates over the coming years, he said, adding that the Hungarian government was committed to protecting human dignity and did not want to interfere in the lives of adults.

Asked about the EC’s fresh infringement procedure against Hungary over the child protection law, Gulyas said the government would have to read it carefully before responding. He insisted the law was in line with the government’s goals and the interests of children, adding that the EU had nothing to do with the law and arguing that child protection was a national competence.

Gulyas said the government expects the law to provide better protection against paedophiles, adding that the planned register of paedophile offenders could be up and running by the autumn.

He cited the EC’s 2020 LGBTQI strategy as evidence that LGBT rights organisations wanted to send activists to schools and kindergartens.

Gulyas said that because the child protection law also pertained to the depiction of heterosexual content, it could just as well be called “heterophobic”.

On another subject, Gulyas said Hungary considered the EC’s new “Fit for 55” catch-all climate change plan to be “unacceptable in its current form”.

He said the EC’s plan would make households rather than polluters bear the costs of the fight against climate change, and would also “destroy” the achievements of the government’s policy of reducing household utility fees.

Hungary is prepared to support a more ambitious climate plan, Gulyas said, adding, however, that most European Union member states were not even honouring the commitments they had made so far.

He also underscored the importance of making climate protection and emissions reduction a global issue. The EU is responsible for just 7 percent of the world’s pollution, Gulyas said, adding that while the bloc should aim to reduce its own pollution, it would have little effect if major polluters like China and the United States did not join the relevant accords.

He said the EC’s climate plan should only be approved with the unanimous consent of member states.

Concerning the steps taken by the government to aid Hungary’s economic recovery, Gulyas noted that the operative board overseeing the recovery had approved more measures this week. These include Hungary’s Eximbank opening a 100 billion forint credit line with 0.1 percent interest to boost SME investments, steps to accelerate public procurements, and allowing foreign companies in Hungary to employ foreign workforce up to 20 percent of their headcount, he noted.

Asked about the potential introduction of more tax cuts, Gulyas said the government would wait to assess the results of the National Consultation public survey before starting talks with employers and employees.

Asked about the chance of administering a third Covid-19 vaccine dose to those who have not developed enough antibodies after two shots, Gulyas said the government was set to announce a relevant decision on Friday morning. Most Hungarians will be protected in the event of a fourth wave of the pandemic, Gulyas said, arguing that all of the jabs in use in Hungary were effective against the Delta variant of the virus.

Citing research by Semmelweis University, Gulyas said that focusing on the level of antibodies as a marker for immunity was beside the point. He said the Budapest municipality’s antibody tests were therefore “pointless” and only served to create uncertainty around the vaccines and discourage people from getting inoculated.

Addressing reports that 700 Hungarians had travelled to Romania to receive a third jab, the minister explained this in terms of the 1.5 million Hungarians who live in Transylvania.

Also, he said the government was working under the assumption that schools would be able to start the year in September under normal conditions.

Meanwhile, he said the government wanted to see Liszt Ferenc International Airport in state hands and at the very least under Hungarian ownership. He noted that in a 2005 televised debate, Viktor Orban had asked then-Socialist prime minister Ferenc Gyurcsany not to sell the airport. However, the left-wing government sold it anyway, causing “serious damage”, Gulyas said, adding that the Fidesz government was now in talks on buying it back.

Gulyas said it had been long expected that if the Americans withdrew from Afghanistan the region would destabilise, and this was likely to trigger a new wave of migration.

Meanwhile, he said if Poland were to leave the EU, the bloc itself would be worse off. Poland, he added, had an interest in asserting its interests within the EU, and the Visegrad countries, including Poland, benefited from mutual help.

Commenting on government measures to control the price of construction materials, he said price rises were expected to plateau soon and prices would decrease within a few months’ time.

On the subject of pay in the education sector, he said lecturers in state-run colleges and universities would get a 15 percent wage rise in early September and another 15 percent in January.

Regarding “traffic chaos” in Budapest, Gulyas derided the capital’s “badly thought-out traffic rules” and “unused cycle lanes” which caused “huge traffic jams for motorists”. He suggested that the mayor, Gergely Karacsony, should spend more time doing his day job rather than concentrating on his bid to become the next prime minister.

On the subject of the possible withholding of EU recovery money, he said the European Commission would have to “find its legal footing”. The Hungarian government’s responses to its proposals, he added, had always been well-intentioned, and it would continue to respond accordingly.

Commenting on infringement proceedings launched against Hungary because the commission objected to the Hungarian authorities obliging a publisher to carry a content warning in the case of a children’s book portraying non-traditional gender roles, Gulyas insisted the proceedings lacked a legal basis and, moreover, were unconnected to the child protection law. The government office decided to sanction the publisher on the basis of Hungary’s consumer protection law, he added.

Leave a Reply