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 on Monday.
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. This is why, he said, countries had a duty to procure as many vaccines as possible as quickly as possible.
“Because those who buy time win lives and regain their freedom,” he said. Orbán insisted that 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.
The prime minister said it was “irresponsible” to politicise the procurement of vaccines “and let people die and restrict their freedom just because one has objections against the country where it was manufactured”. “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.” Orbán added that this was “a higher dimension” than that of European politics. “The health and freedom of our citizens are an absolute priority,” he said.
Asked about the idea that Brussels was using its vaccine procurement strategy to show that EU member states were stronger together than on their own, and that the bloc could function as a centralised state, Orbán said strategies must be measured by their success or otherwise. Member states should work together whenever it makes more sense to do so, but they should choose their own path whenever that is more successful, he added. “Right now we’re trying to achieve something together which everyone would have clearly been better off doing on their own, as the examples of Britain or Serbia pay witness to,” Orbán said.
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.
Concerning the issue of migration, he said the EU’s policy was based on a “flawed mentality” which had “turned the Mediterranean into a graveyard”. Hungary, however, is looking to overcome its demographic woes with the help of “strong family policy measures” rather than by “bringing in immigrants”. “The Germans want to force their Willkommenspolitik onto us,” he said. “I have to say no to that.” Hungarians respect the German approach as well as the link between Christian values and how they envision their homeland and nation, Orbán said. “All we ask is that they, too, respect how we want to define ourselves as Hungarians,” he added.
Featured photo via Viktor Orbán’s Facebook page