Hungary could have applied for free or low-cost covid tests from a 900 million forint (more than 2,500,000 euros) EU budget, but the government has canceled the request, Socialist MEP István Ujhelyi said.
István Ujhelyi said that “while in Hungary PCR tests are expensive even at the official price, in other countries they are often provided free or at a discount to the public to ensure successful control. After the program expired at the end of October and governments had to account for the spending of the money they had drawn down, I sent a public interest request to almost every government department to find out how this opportunity was used, but as usual, I received no response.”
After lengthy consultations, the Director-General of the European Commission informed the politician by letter that the Hungarian government had finally withdrawn and “did not request a single forint from this available budget.” Ujhelyi said:
It is scandalous that I had to obtain information from the European Commission that the government, although it had indicated its participation in the program in advance, has finally given up 900 million forints. At least as scandalous is the fact that the Fidesz government threw away nearly one billion forints that could have saved hundreds of thousands of people from buying expensive tests.”
This is not the first time the case was mentioned. At a press conference in January, PMO Head Gergely Gulyás was asked about it. As we reported earlier, he had then said that he did not know what happened to the money Hungary received for free testing from the European Union, and added that “it’s nice if the European Union did this, and 900 million is not a small amount of money, but it’s not too much for nationwide testing.”
Leftist daily Népszava contacted the Prime Minister’s Office to find out why they canceled the funding opportunity. The National Directorate General for Hospital (OKFŐ) replied:
“The project targeted an extremely narrow scope of support, limited to an extremely tight deadline: only children under 12 and citizens vaccinated with vaccines not recognized by the EU, to facilitate the testing of the EU Digital COVID card to enable the issuance and travel. Although the Hungarian side has completed all the planning necessary for the implementation of the project, the travel period has ended and the third wave of vaccines will be administered (from August 2021), as the new wave of Covid-19 begins, thus reinforcing the protection provided by the first two vaccines, and ensuring the possibility to travel to the EU Member States.”
Népszava adds, however, that there are still many people who, after the third vaccination, can only travel to Western Europe with a test, and many of them are forced to travel during periods other than the classic travel periods. The OKFŐ’s response also does not explain why EU money could not have been accepted even for the “narrow group of beneficiaries” it refers to.
The opposition’s joint candidate for prime minister, Péter Márki-Zay, responded in a Facebook post:
For the privileged Fidesz members, this amount is indeed small change, but for our fellow citizens who now have to spend tens of thousands of forints on tests because the government has forced them to take the Eastern vaccines and they cannot even leave the country, this opportunity could have been a great help. Besides, in a country where we have lost 41,000 of our fellow citizens to inept disease management, there is no reason to be stubborn. The government would do better to accept even the slightest help.”
Featured image via Csaba Krizsán/MTI