EU leaders drag their feet in providing coronavirus vaccine – commentary

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While the worst of the coronavirus pandemic is still ahead of us, European Union leaders stick to their bureaucratic ways, thereby effectively slowing down the effort, Magyar Hírlap columnist Mariann Őry writes.

We are still at least months away from being able to relax on epidemiological restrictions, while people’s existence and their very lives are in danger.

The key question — which concerns everyone — is when will there finally be a vaccine. Gergely Gulyás, the head of the Prime Minister’s Office, recently said that the government is trying to create legal guarantees so that when there is a vaccine against the coronavirus — either from the West or the East — Hungary will be among the first to buy it. Gulyás also noted that research is being carried out under various projects, and Hungary participates in all relevant programs of the Union; so if there is a vaccine, Hungary will receive 6.5 million doses, which means a commitment of HUF 13 billion (€35.5 million).

The government has also asked the coronavirus operational group to examine Russian and Chinese vaccines with the help of experts because if they can provide real protection against the virus, the government is ready to buy from them as well. In fact, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán recently announced that Hungary is in negotiations for Chinese and Russian vaccines. This is the right approach because, to quote Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs Tamás Menczer, it is in our basic interest that the antidote to the coronavirus, a vaccine, should reach Hungary, no matter where it is first produced. 

But, not so fast, claimed Brussels, where there is a particular dislike for solutions that are quick, efficient and based on common sense. Eric Mamer, a spokesman for the European Commission, said, without mentioning Hungary, that it is not possible to buy and use a vaccine from a non-EU country in the European Union without complying with the necessary and valid EU procedures and requirements.

It is clear that all responsible nation-state leaders are working to get a reliable and effective vaccine as soon as possible. Who would take a risk here? What really sounds risky, however, is that we have to wait for Brussels. As far as rapid management of crises is concerned, our confidence in Brussels is shaky at best.

Just think of the fact that, five years after the peak of the migration crisis, faced with a much larger-scale African immigration crisis, they are still pondering a mandatory quota that has failed and sends a completely wrong message.

Or consider that, even in this situation, ideological attacks against Hungary and Poland remain foremost on the agenda, as if tackling the epidemic is no longer a priority.

Back in April, Fidesz MEP József Szájer pointed out that the coronavirus epidemic had created an unprecedented situation in the functioning of the EU institutions. They were faced with specific situations for which no special legislation or extraordinary legal order had been adopted, and were therefore uncertain — or unclear — how the general principle of force majeure applied to their operation.

Szájer’s warnings fell on deaf ears. There is a danger that the decisions taken by the European Parliament since the spring may even be annulled retroactively. What is so often said about the rule of law in Brussels — the capital of double standards?

Title image: European Council President Charles Michel, right, and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen participate in a media conference after an EU summit via video conference at the European Council building in Brussels, Thursday, Oct. 29, 2020. EU leaders held the video conference to address the need to strengthen the collective effort to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. They also discussed quarantine regulations, cross-border contact tracing, and temporary restrictions on non-essential travel into the EU as well as the EU vaccine strategy. (Olivier Hoslet, Pool via AP)

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