Hungary “not in any hurry” to introduce euro
Holidays should not be planned before the summer period, minister says
Gulyas insisted that over 500,000 people a day could be inoculated if there was a sufficient supply of the vaccine. “It means that we could complete vaccination in two weeks if we had enough doses,” he said.
The minister added that all government members, including the prime minister, would get inoculated “in due course”. He said that the population was being vaccinated in a “clear order”, with health-care staff, the elderly in care homes, and then people older than 60 and with chronic illnesses receiving the shots.
Gulyas called it “irresponsible” that “several leftist politicians” were waging an “anti-vaccination campaign”.
The government “uses all opportunity” to ensure that Hungary has sufficient supplies of the vaccine, Gulyas said, adding that there was a “good chance” to obtain the vaccine from China, too. He said that supplies via the European Union were slow, with weekly amounts received below 100,000 doses, and insisted that at that speed inoculating 3 million people would take about 30 weeks.
“The government wants to leave behind an era of restrictions sooner than that, but it requires securing supplies from elsewhere,” Gulyas said.
The government “has in fact agreed with (China’s) Sinopharm”, and receiving the first shipment of up to 1 million doses of their vaccine “only depends on the speed of Hungary’s licensing”, the minister said.
So far, 129,860 vaccine doses have arrived from the EU, and 91,600 people have received their shots, while the government has reserved 19.7 million doses via EU channels, Gulyas said. He added that Britain, Israel and China had been “more successful” in producing or obtaining the vaccine than the EU.
Concerning the Covid-19 situation in Hungary, Gulyas said that the pandemic was being reined in, but warned that it could pick up again if restrictions were not observed. Restrictions could only be reduced if the number of active infections is “significantly” lower or vaccination of the population is as high as to guarantee that the most vulnerable can no longer be infected, he said.
Gulyas said that the government had reported demographic changes accurately: some 90,000 more people died in 2020 than a year earlier, “they were the ones that lost their lives to coronavirus”.
In another development, Gulyas said that Hungary was one of the “best performing” countries of Europe in terms of job protection. He argued that 4,000 more people were employed in December than in the same month of 2019, which proved the government’s economic measures.
Some 2.6 million families have used an opportunity to suspend their debt service, which represents a loan portfolio of a combined 3,600 billion forints (EUR 10bn). At the same time, 48 percent of Hungary’s firms have used a similar moratorium, representing a portfolio of 4,300 billion forints. He also noted that in sectors most impacted by the coronavirus crisis the government had volunteered to pay for two thirds of wages and wage-related costs, helping 69 percent of employees in catering and hotels, sports and entertainment.
In response to a question concerning whether Hungary had ordered any of the Chinese Sinovac vaccine which proved to be only 50 percent effective in Brazil, he said no orders had been placed but negotiations were ongoing with a broad range of suppliers. He said that among the Chinese vaccines, most likely Sinopharm would be purchased, which is reported to be around 80 percent effective — and even possibly above 90 percent, according to some sources.
In response to a question concerning what people should expect when planning their spring and summer holidays, he said every effort was being made to ensure the best possible outcome. Realistically, holidays should not be planned before the summer period, he said. However, if Hungary manages to acquire vaccines from sources outside the European Union, and current regulations continue to be respected, then a relaxation of restrictions may be possible earlier than the summer, he said, adding that under the current conditions, plans could not be made responsibly months ahead — only weeks ahead.
He said the government is in talks with representatives of various economic sectors on ways to reduce the damage caused by the epidemic. The tourism agency is currently in talks with gym owners, and it is open to consultations with festival organisers, Gulyas said, adding however that it was currently it was difficult to make responsible projections concerning summer festivals.
Meanwhile, Gulyas said vaccination certificates would most probably guarantee a number of sensible benefits throughout Europe, such as exemption from quarantine in connection with air travel. The Hungarian government will wait and see whether uniform European regulations are introduced and will create national rules based on those, he said.
In response to a question about when private companies would be allowed to purchase vaccines — and asked to comment on a report that a company had promised vaccination for a 5,000 forint registration fee — he said that for the time being states were getting exclusive access to the vaccine. If any private company offers a coronavirus vaccine, it is most probably a “fake”, he said, and advised people aware of such advertisements to report them to the police.
Asked about Hungarian government preparations for a new period of relations with the United States after the inauguration of Joe Biden, Gulyas called the US “Hungary’s ally”, adding that the government planned to continue cooperating with the new US administration accordingly. “We, for our part, are ready for that,” he said.
Commenting on the opposition’s demand for Hungary to introduce the single EU currency in an effort to boost the country’s competitiveness, Gulyas noted that Hungary committed to this obligation when it joined the bloc in 2004.
“Our experience gained over the past decades is that membership of the euro zone has gone hand-in-hand with rising prices and an incredible deterioration in the competitiveness of southern member states. We are not in any hurry; Hungary has a free hand in pursuing its financial policy and is enjoying the benefits of this freedom.”
Asked about suggestions concerning possible “interventions from abroad” in Hungary’s 2022 general elections and “whether there are concrete signs” of such attempts, Gulyas said it would depend on how the concept of “intervention” were interpreted.
“If we interpret it as attempts by various media outlets, NGO-s and social organisations … financed from abroad to discredit the Hungarian government … then we can say Hungary has been subject to such attempts for more than a decade,” Gulyas said. “Hungarian voters are, however, wise enough to recognise where the wind is blowing from,” he added. Gulyas said he expected such attempts “to be fiercer than ever before”. “The Hungarian opposition is weak, and would not be capable of governing the country; this is why the opposition asks for — and expects to receive — help from abroad. But the majority of voters cannot be fooled, and I hope this remains the case in future,” Gulyas said.
Regarding the 80 percent increase of domestic co-financing of EU agricultural subsidies over the next seven-year community budget period, Gulyas noted this would cost Hungary’s central budget about 400-600 billion forints (EUR 1.14-1.67bn) per year. The government’s position is that the competitiveness of the country’s agricultural sector must be ensured over that period, which requires the allocation of national resources allowed by EU rules.
Meanwhile, Gulyas branded as “fake news” press reports of a bid by Laszlo Palkovics, the innovation and technology minister, to offer his resignation.
The European People’s Party is suffering a leadership crisis, recording its worst performance of the past twenty years in the latest European parliamentary elections, the head of the Prime Minister’s Office said on Thursday in response to a question about whether ruling Fidesz representatives planned to quit the party family.
Gergely Gulyas told a regular government press briefing that Fidesz was the strongest and best-organised member of the EPP, representing the values of the EPP’s founding fathers. He said Fidesz was willing to help the EPP if there were demand for it. “It also has other political opportunities and political alternatives,” he added.
In response to a question concerning Germany’s CDU electing a new leader, he said the election was important not only for Germany but for the whole of Europe, considering that the CDU’s leader would be in pole position among the candidates for chancellor. He expressed hope that the CDU would get a leader who sought pragmatic cooperation with central Europe, despite potential differences of opinion.
In response to a question about whether the government would be willing to satisfy the demands of Budapest Mayor Gergely Karacsony and an alliance of local governments protesting against restrictions, Gulyas said there was an openness on the government side for talks with the metropolitan council and other city leaders.
He added that Budapest maintained a very costly office in Brussels which was involved in lobbying for direct support from the European Union. “If the government can help in this area, it is at Karacsony’s service,” he added. Gulyas said the government was “not treating the capital as a stepchild”, insisting that Budapest was the biggest winner of developments over the past decade.