MSZP launches series of debates and discussions on Future of European Union

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LEZ_9939Viktor Orbán’s politics is a dead end in Europe, Socialist MEP István Ujhelyi said at an online press conference on Sunday held together with Deputy Mayor of Budapest Kata Tüttő.

Speaking at the opening of the EU’s programme series on the future of the European Union, Ujhelyi stressed that while Fidesz is leading Hungary out of the European Community, according to the democratic opposition’s values Hungary only has a future in Europe. At the same time, the Socialist politician added that the operation of the EU clearly needs to be reformed, and people must be asked about the details and directions of this reform.

Ujhelyi announced that since the government had failed to consult Hungarians on this matter, MSZP would take on the task and in the coming months, as part of the programme announced by the European Union, would launch a series of debates and discussions with NGOs, advocacy groups, trade unions and citizens. The Socialist MEP said that each month an all-round debate on a specific subject would be held, mainly online. According to Ujhelyi, the current Fidesz government’s European policy only serves the petty power greed of the “ruling kleptocracy”, so that Orbán’s abuse of the rule of law or the way he spends EU money cannot be criticized at home or indeed in the EU.

Deputy Mayor of Budapest Kata Tüttő, who took part in the opening event of the conference series on the future of the EU in Strasbourg as the Socialist member of the Committee of the Regions of the European Union, was the first Hungarian to address the plenary debate. At the press conference, Kata Tüttő said that the new citizen-led European programme series aims to involve as many people as possible in shaping the EU: an online platform has been created, which is also available in Hungarian, and a number of events organised by the Commission will help the discussion, too. “Our hope is that these debates and discussions will help us identify areas where we will be needing more EU involvement in the future, and others where we will need less. We want a European Union that is more in line with who we are now and what we see in the world today”, said Kata Tüttő, adding that a long process had begun, but the comments also made it clear that substantive work and real change was underway.

Kata Tüttő and István Ujhelyi had previously also initiated and organized a social campaign pertaining to the future of the European Union. In 2018, during an online consultation called “Our Europe”, more than 20,000 people filled in the Socialists’ questionnaire, and the results confirmed that the overwhelming majority of people support Hungary’s membership of the EU, a significant majority want to join the eurozone as soon as possible and would like to see more EU funds spent on health, for example.

You can follow the newly announced series of discussions on the transformation of the European Union on MSZP’s social media sites. The online consultation platform set up by the European Commission can be accessed at https://europa.eu/european-union/conference-future-europe_hu

Strasbourg/Budapest – 20.07.2021

 

SOUL VACCINE – MENTAL HEALTH PROPOSALS

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8pont engSOUL VACCINE – Mental Action Plan for Post-Covid Phenomena

The protracted pandemic has posed a serious mental health challenge to almost all of humanity, including us Europeans.

The mental and psychological effects of the covid virus affect not only the members of the infected population, but also those who, although they have been spared the virus, have suffered significant mental impacts due to restrictions, reduced social contacts, negative economic consequences and forced changes in lifestyle. In other words, almost all people.

According to a Boston analysis (synthesising related research from several countries) published in the peer-reviewed journal Nature Medical, one in three people who have been infected with the virus suffer from some form of post-covid illness: anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder or other neurological complications.

Research is ongoing (e.g., at the Department of Developmental Psychology at ELTE-Faculty of Education and Psychology and through an initiative of UNICEF Hungary) on the extent of mental distress among those who have not contracted the virus but have been psychologically damaged by restrictions, quarantine, disruption of social relationships, livelihood insecurity or extreme stress.

We can already safely say that a significant proportion of society has been mentally affected and is still suffering from the coronavirus epidemic and its aftermath. In February this year, the European Commission, in collaboration with five children’s rights organizations, published a survey showing that one in five children are distressed and unhappy because of the virus and one in ten have been found to have specific symptoms of mental health problems (e.g. depression). UNICEF’s Hungarian Young Ambassadors, as well as SOS Children’s Villages’ own research, confirmed that anxiety and feelings of emptiness among young people had increased significantly, with nearly two-thirds reporting unusual fatigue and more than half also reporting regular sleep disturbances in relation to the covid-quarantine period.

Professionals have said that even before the coronavirus epidemic, nearly a quarter of young Hungarians were already experiencing mental health problems: but their care and support is severely limited by a lack of professionals. According to publicly available data, there is a shortage not only of child psychiatrists, but also of psychologists, physiotherapists and other mental health professionals.

In fact, even before the pandemic, depression was the second most common cause of long-term disability, ahead only of cardiovascular diseases – in other words, mental health is inescapably important because of its impact on society and, by extension, the economy.

We know from statements by experts and from figures previously published by the state that Educational Specialist Services and school psychologists are radically overburdened. For this reason, it is not uncommon for a parent and their child to have to wait six months before they can be admitted to individual psychological care or even an anxiety-relief group. Most Hungarian kindergartens and schools have a psychologist, but even so, there are many unfilled positions in the country, so that in many cases there is one school psychologist for every 450 children, and students often remain without care.

The right to physical and mental health is a fundamental human right. Therefore, there should not be a single kindergarten, school or other educational institution in the country where a full-time mental health professional is not available.

The EU4Health programme, launched by the European Union with a budget of €5.1 billion, has as one of its objectives to improve mental health. A strategy for the effective use of the EU4Health programme should be developed in cooperation with civil society and professional organizations. Strengthening mental health is also a priority in the concept of the European Health Union, which I have partly initiated and developed, and therefore enhanced coordination at EU level is needed to achieve these common objectives as effectively as possible.

It is essential to strengthen the infrastructural conditions for mental health and psychological support networks. The Széchenyi2020 programme includes a HUF 6 billion investment in the development of the child and youth psychiatric, addiction and mental healthcare system, but most of the investments have not happened to date, and the deadlines have been extended by two years.

As a member of the European Parliament’s Public Health Committee and one of the drafters of the European Health Union concept, I propose an 8-point action plan for the attention of the government and professional organizations:

  1. SURVEY AND NATIONAL ACTION PLAN

An immediate and comprehensive assessment should be made of the current status, operation and availability of psychological and mental health services in Hungary, of the specialized psychiatric clinics available on a health insurance basis, as well as the network of school psychologists. Taking into account the outcome of this, an extraordinary “National Mental Action Plan” should be made to assess and address the mental health impacts of the epidemic, involving civil and professional organizations, support services, student and adult advocacy groups. (Same process in every memberstate is recommended)

  1. MORE EU = BETTER HEALTH

All possible EU programmes, instruments and European budgetary resources should be used to promote health programmes, including prevention campaigns and professional mental health initiatives. To this end, I call for a strategic consultation of both the European and the Hungarian professional and civil society organizations concerned.

  1. COMPREHENSIVE CAMPAIGN

An EU wide comprehensive campaign is needed to promote mental health protection, including the use of mental health support provided by professionals. People need to be made aware that it is “NOT UNCOOL to consult a psychologist or a mental health professional; in fact, continued maintenance of our mental health is essential to preserving our physical health.

  1. MORE TIME

We need to reduce the overall workload of professionals, but at the same time increase the amount of time spent on children. In the current law (CXXIX of 2013 – on the regulation of education), school psychologists are required to work 22 hours a week, which should be increased to 30 hours a week, or 6 hours a day, in stages, to allow more time for children. However, the latter can only be achieved and expected if the state creates the necessary infrastructure, human resources and funding as soon as possible.

  1. MORE PROFESSIONALS

One of the first steps to alleviate the shortage of professionals is to amend the relevant legislation to broaden the range of professionals available and to allow, for example, the inclusion of qualified mental health professionals in the school psychology network.

  1. MORE TRAINING

To overcome the shortage of professionals, training needs to be strengthened by reviewing the current role of higher education in psychology and mental health. Access to undergraduate psychology courses should be made easier for professionals who already hold a higher degree in a related field (e.g. mental health, pre-school teacher) by ensuring that, if they apply, their relevant professional degree is sufficient credit for automatic admission to the undergraduate course.

  1. PREPARING FOR THE START OF SCHOOL

It is of the utmost importance that mental health support for teachers and other professionals working with children should be available on an ongoing basis in the future. Specific, targeted training should be provided now, already before the new school-year starts in September, for teachers in nursery schools and schools on how to deal with the phenomena associated with covid and its mental effects: what to do, how to deal with it themselves and when to refer to a specialist.

  1. DEDICATED YEAR – 2022

As part of the comprehensive campaign, I call for EU Member States to launch a “European Year of Mental Health” in 2022, building on the experience of the covid period, with targeted programmes to strengthen mental health protection and develop cooperation between Member States in this field.

Budapest/Brussels – 2021.05.24.

Tamás Jordán: “The Orban-regime does not understand how Karácsony has the courage to be calm!”

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eree“They are starting to be afraid” – this is how the actor Tamás Jordán explained the government’s vehement attack on Gergely Karácsony, who is running for prime minister.

The Actor of the Nation spoke about this in the latest episode of the video series of Socialist MEP István Ujhelyi entitled HETI KETTES UJHELYIVEL (Weekly Two with Ujhelyi). Tamás Jordán makes no secret of his support for the current mayor in the race for prime minister, which is why his name is among the founders of the 99Movement announced by Karácsony.

In the video discussion on social media, the actor said, among other things, that he does not understand why some people think it is okay that billions of forints are disappearing in the country. “I am friends with Gergely Karácsony, I have always respected what he does. I think he’s the right person to put things in order (…) You don’t always have to fight with a snarl, you have to listen to the other party, as well. Karácsony is looking for compromise even where it’s impossible, and this suggests that he will find a common ground with the country.

His programme is also based on the need to unite this divided country,” Tamás Jordán said in the video. During his conversation with István Ujhelyi, the actor added that he believed the current authorities were attacking the MSZP-Dialogue candidate for prime minister because they don’t understand “what makes him so brave that he dares to be so calm?”

In the latest episode of WEEKLY TWO WITH UJHELYI, the mental health package of proposals advocated by István Ujhelyi is also discussed, which Jordán also called important and assured the MEP of his support. He said that there is a general sense of panic and desperation in the world of theatre because of the livelihood problems caused by covid restrictions.

“There are so many desperate, hopeless artists,” he added, agreeing that mental health support should be strengthened and expanded as soon as possible. The European programme of free train passes for 18-year-olds was also discussed in the video interview, and the actor unexpectedly also recited an Endre Ady-poem that is poignantly relevant to Hungary today.

Brussels/Budapest – 21.05.2021.

Ujhelyi: Future of FreeInteRail Pass Scheme Secured on Long Run

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ujjeeAnother success, another important milestone in securing the future of the free InterRail season ticket programme that I mentor: the European Parliament has just adopted by a large majority in its plenary session the framework budget for the Erasmus+ programme for 2021-2027, including the DiscoverEU programme for free train passes.

It as an important and hard-fought achievement that the Erasmus+ funding envelope will be almost double the one for the previous period: it is now around €28 billion, which helps increase the number of people benefiting from Erasmus+, expand the range of grants for learning abroad and simplify accessibility. For me, it is an historic success that, despite the efforts of many opponents, we have managed to include the free InterRail pass programme in Erasmus+, which will ensure the long-term operation of this pioneering programme, at least for the next seven years.

Therefore, thousands of young Hungarians will again be able to benefit from free train passes in the coming period, with this year’s combined application opening in October; travel will be possible after the epidemic has passed, of course. This year alone, around 1 100 young Hungarians will be able to apply for the passes, including those who missed out last year due to covid restrictions.

The idea for “FreeInterRail” came from two young German activists, Vincent-Immanuel Herr and Martin Speer, who proposed a few years ago that the European Union surprise every young person in Europe with a free train pass on their 18th birthday. I was one of the first people to take on the initiative and supported it until implementation, with EPP Group President Manfred Weber and former EU Commissioner Tibor Navracsics also on board, which played a major role later on. During the pilot period of the programme, more than 350,000 young Europeans signed up, of whom more than 70,000 received a free train pass. The success of the initiative is also demonstrated by the fact that the number of oversubscriptions for the passes available in Hungary was almost ten times higher than the number of applications received, and the programme has won numerous awards, including the European Excellence Award.

MEP István Ujhelyi

Brussels/Budapest – 19.05.2021.

 

Gergő, You Can Count on Me!

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uikg2I want to live in the kind of country that Gergely Karácsony painted yesterday. Where freedom, peace and, oh how this word has disappeared in the last ten years, humanity reign at last.

Where it is not a narrow party elite that decides who is a true Hungarian, who is a true patriot, who can get a tobacconist’s store, who can apply for an EU tender, who can even get to breathe. I too want a Hungary where not a privileged elite of 1 per cent rules everything, but where government decisions finally serve the interests of the 99 per cent. It was heart-warming to listen to Gergely Karácsony talk about rebuilding the republic, restoring the rule of law and reparations. There was no trace of hatred, arrogance or anger towards people who think differently in his words. He spoke with a voice of humanity. We have not heard such speeches for a long time.

If there is anyone who can finally bring some peace to this country that has been dragged into an intellectual civil war, it is Gergely Karácsony. If there is anyone who, with his openness and his willingness to compromise (much attacked, still one of his outstanding values) can finally bury the trenches left after the Orange Storm, it is Gergely Karácsony. Because next year, we need not just a change of government, but a change of era and regime. The reunification of the country and the nation, and the dismissal of the few who are chewing the country’s body to the bone. The 99 per cent referred to by Gergely Karácsony are not right-wing or left-wing, they are simply Hungarian. We, all of us. I know for a fact that there are many in the upper echelons of Fidesz who are ashamed to add their names to this plundering, this hedonistic robbery. I know exactly how many of Fidesz’s supporters are also sickened by the plastic aristocracy of the National Cooperation System’s (NER) elite, by the luxury bought with public money, by the expensive high-life of cheap people. This 1 per cent, the predatory elite, must be removed next year and put to rest, and there is room for everyone else in the 99 per cent: because we are all needed to reunite the country. Finally, the divisions can come to an end.

I want to live in a country led by Gergely Karácsony. Because his knowledge, experience and humanity will make Hungary a better place. You may say that I am biased, because we have known each other since we were fourteen years old, we were schoolmates at the Tóth Árpád High School in Debrecen. But this is more than supporting an old friend. As a family man with six children, a Hungarian MEP, a proud social democrat and a proud Hungarian patriot, I stand behind Gergely Karácsony in his capacity as a candidate for Prime Minister, and join the 99Movement he has launched and announced. Gergő, you can count on me!

You can find the 99Movement’s website here: https://kilencvenkilenc.hu/

After the Hungarian PM’s landmark speech in Tusványos in 2014, in which he proclaimed his desire to turn Hungary into an illiberal state, as a MEP I pledged to draw the public’s attention to the crimes of this regime in an open letter every week. This is the 298th  time I ring the bells of alarm, as it still seems necessary. And also, because as a radical European Democrat, it is my duty to do so.

István Ujhelyi

Member of the European Parliament

16 May 2021.

Hungary Cannot Be in Opposition to Europe 

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18029Hungary cannot be in opposition to Europe, we will reshape the European Union together, said MSZP MEP István Ujhelyi, at the Socialist Party’s Europe Day online press conference on Sunday.

István Ujhelyi stressed that the European Union is built on cooperation between nations, providing protection from autocratic political leaders or external threats. It is in the interest of us, Hungarians, to remain members of the EU, but to be members of a changing community that can ensure peace, security, welfare, economic cooperation and the everyday livelihood of its people.

He announced that MSZP would join the conference on the future of Europe, launched by the three top EU institutions. The aim of the process is to hold a series of discussions that will bring about a reformed and transformed Europe of the future.

István Ujhelyi also announced a series of dialogues with well-known experts on a month-by-month basis to discuss what kind of Europe would be best for the ideas that fit MSZP’s programme. The topics he listed included the European minimum wage programme, the European health programme, climate policy, transport policy, tourism and whether harmonization is needed between Member States in the fields of education and the social sector.

MSZP co-president Ágnes Kunhalmi called the EU one of the most wonderful achievements in history and stressed that the aim of the Community’s creation from the very beginning was to preserve and create peace.

She pointed out that the European Community had and still has to face many challenges, which its members have to shape. Examples of such challenges include climate change, drastically widening social disparities, pandemics and the rise of global capital, which often leaves workers vulnerable. Integration needs to be deepened and nation states need to work more closely together; a closed, nation-state policy cannot provide effective responses to the challenges, she said.

“We brought Hungary into Europe and we will do our utmost to ensure that this Community survives”, she said.

She called it promising that despite “Orbán’s anti-Brussels policy”, the vast majority of Hungarians still saw their future in the EU and would join the Community today, too.

“We should not fear that Orbán would lead Hungary out of the European Union, because Hungarians will veto that.” Rather, we should be afraid that the new radical right-wing tendencies will try to paralyse and limit the European Union’s capacity to act, in order to maintain and finance their authoritarian power while “hiding behind nation-state sovereignty,” she said.

She said that when Viktor Orbán and the prime minister’s radical right-wing allies exclude their political opponents from the nation, when they stigmatize those who disagree with them, dehumanize their political opponents and “try to block the alternation of political regime again and again”, “it has very often led to war in history.” According to Ágnes Kunhalmi, one of the big stakes of next year’s elections is “whether we can free Europe from the authoritarian Orbán regime.”

09.05.2021.

 

Fidesz Sees Statistics, We See People

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pexels-karolina-grabowska-4471316 (1)A truly decent and strong leader does not try to come across as infallible, but as one who is able to recognize, acknowledge and correct his mistakes.

Fidesz’s constant bellicosity and never-ceasing, violent success propaganda have completely corrupted the operators and faithful servants of this system. In addition to its appalling arrogance, Orbán’s so-called National Cooperation System (NER) has now shown its even darker and uglier face during the epidemic: its cold inhumanity. It was already abundantly clear that all the icing they put on themselves only serves to cover up their true selves: they talk of a nation while excluding anyone from it; they trumpet the slogan “the homeland before all” while robbing it blind and chewing all its flesh off its bones like a herd of hyenas, with no shame at all.

For the NER, even now, it is more important to maintain the propaganda of success, to keep on winning, to keep on showing the winner, than to face reality or simple human humility. It is their manic driving force to be seen as infallible, as being flawless, and that everything happens according to their plan and script. While the rule of law mechanism has entered into force, at home they say that they had it removed. The government’s registration verification portal collapsed spectacularly, yet they did not say that “we messed up, but we will fix it quickly.” Instead, they said that someone had launched a vile overload attack on it. They said that they had “dragged the epidemic onto the ground and it now went in defence mode;” in reality, the third wave had quickly struck after that, and it was deadlier than ever before. Although we have the highest number of people dying of the epidemic in proportion to the population, they say that it should not be counted as such, but by a larger sample projected over previous years. Excuse me? But there was an even more shameful twist when the record number of deaths was explained as “data jam”; For Fidesz, the thousands of people who have passed away are just a data jam. For us, there are human lives and human tragedies behind every number.

And let us stop here for a moment. I’m an old hand at politics; I’ve seen a lot, I’ve put up with a lot. I really like sharp debates, and when they hit me, I get even more hardened. But the government, the leading figures of NER, have now crossed a line with their inhumane attitude that was completely unimaginable before. And from which there is no turning back, only moral and humiliating failure. In recent months, more than twenty-six thousand people have died as a result of the epidemic. Just from the epidemic. Twenty-six thousand Hungarians have passed; so many families have been. shattered, so many destinies torn apart. This is not a statistic! This is not a series of numbers that the toffs of the propaganda ministry will bend until it is – as the head of the Fidesz government called it ‘tenable’! The self-satisfyingly sickening insistence of the governing parties on maintaining the image of ‘we are first in everything’; has now turned into something so inhuman that will render this crew utterly unacceptable. From the grumbling, frothing secretaries of state to the role-less, human- faced, but quietly assisting bridge men.

It is simply incomprehensible why they are incapable of even a modicum of humility, a second of humaneness and a sincere respect for the deceased. They are incapable of acknowledging that, as decision-makers with absolute authority, they are responsible for the fact that more than 26 000 people have already lost their lives in this epidemic. It is a testament to their cold immorality that they grasp at every straw, every mispronounced sentence, and the media poodles sent blow headline balloons promptly, chasing the easier prey of the opposition with cameras, to distract, to deflect, to blame it all on others. I have seen many things from Fidesz, and I admit that some of their political moves have even impressed me at times, but the kind of honourless dishonesty that they are capable of committing now, even in an epidemic situation that has claimed the lives of thousands of Hungarians, is simply disgraceful. There is room for many things in political games, in the competition for communication and power, but not this kind of vile behaviour. The Prime Minister of Fidesz recently said that he would measure the success of the epidemic management by the number of lives saved. And now, when the nation has already lost a city’s worth of lives, he is laughingly juggling with the statistics like a cardboard statesman. The least a true leader could do at such a time is to bow his head with dignity, stand up with humility and apologize to the nation he serves. Taking responsibility and acknowledging our failures is not a weakness, it is  an exemplary virtue. There are 26,000 reasons why it should be done. The people behind the numbers would deserve it.

25.04.2021.

Antibody Testing For All Vaccinated Persons!

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174544142_4409222472425238_3156954601905768171_nDespite calls from health professionals, teachers, parents and students for the government to postpone full attendance education, Fidesz has only partially listened to the voices of stakeholders and the opposition: from tomorrow, kindergartens and junior schools will reopen.

It is obvious that the government is trying to take into account social and economic reasons as well as epidemiological ones, and as a policy-maker I can understand that. At the same time, it is clear and obvious that if the government had a normal, open and constructive approach to the matter, social dialogue on such important issues would be much more effective and easier. Unfortunately, however, Fidesz is unable to shed its arrogance, condescending talk and superiority complex. Even at a time like this. While one day they are saying that, contrary to what everyone else thinks and asks for, there is no risk whatsoever in reopening schools and holding graduation exams as normal, yet in less than twenty-four hours they are already deciding to cancel oral graduation exams, and then, a few days later, to keep school students at home. Total chaos.

I am a father of six, a militant social democrat and a pro-vaccinationist. There is no need to prove the latter, only the most despicable claim and the most ignorant believe the opposite. Some of my children, ranging from older to very young like the pipes of organ when lined up, are graduating from high school, some are in middle and primary school, and some are in kindergarten; that is why we pay close attention to covid news.

Now, when primary schools and junior schools reopen tomorrow, it is difficult to make a responsible and good decision about whether to allow your child back into the community, as the epidemic is still taking nearly 300 people a day, the number of infected people is still sky-high and experts say that the current virus can cause serious complications with young children. The situation is still not a game. Mature, credible and responsible government decisions would have been needed so far, too, but perhaps even more so at this critical time.

The fact that many of our fellow citizens have already received their first vaccination, and some their second, is a cause for optimism; but it should not lead us to be careless. In the coming weeks, thanks both to joint EU procurement by European governments and to shipments from the East, vaccines will be arriving in massive quantities. At the same time, there have been a number of medical publications on the possibility that the Chinese vaccine may be less effective than expected, and there have also been professional question marks over the so-called ‘Western’ vaccines.

The Hungarian government has said that there is no financial limit to protection, so there should certainly be no obstacle to the state providing free antibody testing for all vaccinated Hungarian citizens, roughly on the 20th day after the first vaccination, but only with (blood) tests that provide a reliable result. In connection with the Chinese Sinopharm vaccine, several medical experts have already suggested that antibody testing with 500-600 vaccinated people could provide reassuring proof of the efficacy of the vaccine and could dispel the doubts that have now arisen.

However, my personal view is that this antibody testing should be carried out under state coordination not only for the Chinese vaccine but for all vaccines currently used in Hungary. This would both reassure the Hungarian public, which is burdened with doubts, and provide a sound basis for the government deciding on the lifting of restrictions, as well as providing valuable medical information for researchers.

Not to mention the fact that it would increase the willingness to get vaccinated more than anything else. I do suppose that with a pro-vaccination government, I am knocking on an open door with this proposal, right??

dr. István Ujhelyi

Member of the European Parliament

18/4/2021

Coronavirus Update: Mental Health Action Plan Needed!

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covidstressOnce again I feel compelled to write to you about something that is rarely talked about (and what does not even occur to the state leadership), despite the fact that it would require substantive action and also on the government’s part.

In the context of the severe COVID pandemic, we focus primarily on the physical symptoms and effects of the disease, although numerous studies have proven that there are serious mental health problems associated with the coronavirus; some of which we cannot even assess for the time being.

As a member of the European Parliament’s Public Health Committee, I am in active, almost day-to-day contact with health professionals who are drawing attention in growing numbers to the dangerous impacts of the so-called covid stress and the long-lasting psychological effects of the coronavirus. Based on the health data available to me as a politician responsible for the field, it can be said in general that the incidence of depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder has significantly increased in recent months in Europe and thus in Hungary as well.

According to a survey carried out in many European Member States, for example, 58% of people have symptoms of psychological disorders due to restrictions and lifestyle changes, such as sleep disturbances, lack of energy, anxiety, fear, but one in ten people have already reported anxiety panic attacks. The same survey showed that people with mental health problems most often do not turn to a specialist but try to solve the situation together with their family members and friends instead: barely 18 per cent of them sought a general practitioner, and only 10 per cent actually sought an actual mental health professional to deal with the problem.

All available related research confirms that one of the most vulnerable groups is the current teenagers (the covid generation) whom the virus forces to stay between barriers and walls at the worst possible stage of their lives; even experts cannot say at present how this will impact them in the long run; it is possible that the more serious mental and the related physical problems will only occur much later.

Just imagine for example how many young Hungarian teenagers had to spend the switch between primary and secondary school in obligatory quarantine, with the physical minimization of social contacts. Not to mention the unreasonable closing of all facilities when in fact there are a number of institutions (zoos, open-air theme parks, cinemas, theatres, open terraces of restaurants) that could effectively operate under cautious and thoughtful restrictions, providing some opportunity for recreation.

For the time being, the Hungarian government has brushed off concerns raised about this by stating that school psychologists are available if needed, but I am convinced that, in fact, much more would be needed. A mental health action plan needs to be developed as soon as possible, specifically to address and provide coordinated help in case of mental injuries caused by the virus situation, social structures changed as a result of the epidemic, confinement, fear of infection, reduced capacity to work due to the economic crisis or psychological difficulties due to lost jobs.

The network of school psychologists should be expanded with an appropriate range of mental health professionals, while concrete solutions and initiatives should be launched by the government, in particular to provide effective and meaningful support to the younger generations, by involving professionals, organizing online events, involving and training teachers and workers in the sectors concerned.

As an MEP who also focuses on the health sector, I wanted to get to know the National Mental Health Program, which was commissioned by EMMI (Ministry of Human Capacities) in 2018, but so far neither its content nor its fate has become particularly public. Whether by rethinking this government program, which I , for one, am not yet familiar with, or as part of a separate government action plan, substantive steps must be taken as soon as possible to preserve mental health.

We’ll defeat the virus, but if we don’t pay attention to its other long-lasting impacts, it can stay with us for a long time to come. I am confident that the government will finally pay sensible attention to the opposition proposals and take the necessary steps in this regard as well.

dr. István Ujhelyi

Member of the European Parliament

28 February, 2021

60,000 Europeans to Get Free Interrail Pass This Year

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967The mentorship group of DiscoverEU (FreeInterrail) has been officially formed by Members of the European Parliament today. At their first meeting on Monday, the responsible EU Commissioner announced that the application will be open to 60,000 young Europeans this year, retrospectively including 18-year-olds who had not had the chance to travel last year due to the COVID19 pandemic, the leader of the mentorship group, MEP István Ujhelyi said after the meeting.

The original concept of “FreeInterRail” comes from two young German activists, Vincent-Immanuel Herr and Martin Speer, who a few years ago came up with the idea that the European Union should surprise all young Europeans with a free train pass on its eighteenth birthday. The proposal was first embraced by István Ujhelyi, who supported the project all along up to its implementation, in which EPP Group Chairman Manfred Weber and former EU Commissioner Tibor Navracsics also played a significant role.

During the pilot phase of the program, more than 350,000 European youngsters applied for the opportunity, more than 70,000 of whom were granted free train passes. The success of the program is well illustrated by the fact that the program won many awards, such as the European Award for Excellence. In the EU’s next seven-year budget, the free InterRail pass program (under the name DiscoverEU) has been granted its own budget in the framework of Erasmus +, ensuring its future in the years to come.

The online discussion was also attended by EU Commissioner for Culture, Education and Youth Mariya Gabriel who announced that 60,000 young Europeans will get the opportunity to apply this year. Applicants will also including those who were eighteen last year but due to restrictions introduced in combatting the pandemic could not get to travel around Europe. The new round of applications is expected to be held in October, following the much hoped-for lifting of travel restrictions. Mariya Gabriel also said that they would make the usage period of tickets more flexible and also want to ensure the safety of young people traveling on as broad a scale as possible. The EU Commissioner said that a priority for DiscoverEU was to be an integrated and useful part of the Erasmus + program, therefore the role of education and knowledge dissemination is set to be increased. Mariya Gabriel added that ‘meet-ups’ would be organised in all Member States to promote and develop the program, and that young travellers would be attracted to areas that are currently less popular tourist destinations. In connection with the latter, she said they wished to to establish meaningful cooperation with regional museums and local cultural institutions.

Speaking at the online event, Martin Speer thanked Members of the European Parliament for their support and the work of the European Commission, indicating that DiscoverEU was the perfect proof of the EU being open to citizens’ initiatives. “Don’t give up! The time for traveling in Europe will be back,” said the young German activist who first came up with the concept of FreeInterRail.

Director-General of the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) Alessandra Priante also ensured the mentorship group and the DiscoverEU initiative of her support, which she said she believed could give a meaningful boost and impetus to European tourism once the pandemic was over.

“Undoubtedly, this is one of the European Union’s most progressive and most promising programs. I am proud to have been a part of its implementation and to be a mentor in its development,” said MEP István Ujhelyi. He recalled that he had repeatedly urged the Hungarian government to be a partner in the program and let Hungary be the first European Member State to provide free train passes for young people over the age of eighteen every year at the expense of the state budget. According to the politician of MSZP, this would cost about 9 billion forints a year.

Ujhelyi added that several Hungarian cities and settlements have already joined his initiative, for example, Ajka and Veszprém had bought free train passes from their own budgets to make them available for local young people.

Brussels- 15.02.2021