Countries must quickly purchase as many coronavirus vaccines as possible, regardless of whether they come from the East or the West, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said in an interview to German news portal Focus Online.
Asked about Hungary’s decision to buy Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine, Orbán said that in a pandemic, a politician’s job was to take responsibility and protect the health and lives of his country’s citizens. He said there were no “Eastern or Western vaccines”; only good or bad ones. When the Hungarian authorities conclude that a vaccine is safe and effective, they authorise it, he added. “From that point on, to me, a vaccine that has been granted authorisation is a Hungarian vaccine I can use to save the lives of my compatriots,” Orbán said.
The prime minister said it was possible to treat the procurement of vaccines and the tense relations between the European Union and Russia as separate issues. He underscored that human life and the protection of health took precedence over political, including geopolitical considerations.
“Looking at it objectively, it’s clear that the eastern part of Europe developed a vaccination culture during the communist era which led to eastern Europe eradicating the polio virus a lot sooner than western Europe, where the Russian vaccine was not adopted for ideological reasons,” Orbán said.
Asked about the European Union’s centralised vaccine procurement programme, Orbán said it had become clear that “this was the wrong decision.” The United States, Britain, Israel and even Serbia “are well ahead of us EU member states”, he said, adding at the same time that it was now “too late” to change course and “complaining is pointless”. “Let the European Commission do what it has to do,” Orbán said. “We won’t get in its way and we’ll support it wherever we can, but out of responsibility for our people, we’ll exercise our national competences.”
Asked why he did not consider Hungary to be bound by the EU decision on vaccine procurement, Orbán said: “Brussels follows its own logic. It doesn’t take into consideration the importance of the time factor and is too slow to issue approvals and doesn’t appear to be talking to suppliers from a position of strength.” However, EU regulations do not bar member states from acting on their own, and the Hungarian government has taken advantage of this, he said.
Put to him that some believed the EU was also motivated by ideological considerations in its vaccine procurement programme, Orbán said: “I don’t know exactly what’s happening in Brussels or in the minds of the Brussels bureaucrats, but what I do know is that everyone who has died was someone’s father, mother, sibling or child.”
Put to him that several governments believed the EU could only challenge the US, Russia and China as a united bloc, Orbán said he did not support those who “want to bring back Cold War politics”. The prime minister said he believed Russia and China were much more of “a big opportunity for Europe”, adding that the bloc should “look for forms of cooperation that serve our interests”.
Concerning the state of Europe’s economy, Orbán said things were “going well” in central Europe. The region’s economic indicators, he said, were “excellent”, the budget “is in the best possible shape” and “our labour-based policies have resulted in near full employment”, he said. Central Europe, Orbán added, was also “progressing well when it comes to digitalisation”. Western Europe, on the other hand, “is pursuing an economic policy that’s too reminiscent of socialism”, he said, arguing that governments were raising taxes and implementing “complicated regulations” that hindered investment and businesses. “The EU should do much more to improve its competitiveness, but unfortunately its share in global economic output is falling, and this worries us,” Orbán said.