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

Letter to President Ursula von der Leyen

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To: Ms Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission

Budapest, 13 February 2021

Dear President von der Leyen,

During this week’s plenary session, the European Parliament took a remarkable step towards a more social, more digital and greener recovery by confirming, with an overwhelming majority, the political agreement reached on the Recovery and Resilience Facility Regulation last December.

The Recovery and Resilience Facility provides Member States with a unique chance to rebuild and revamp their economies and societies for the post-COVID world. It is an opportunity to build resilience and to embrace a digitalised and greener future. In order to recover from the crisis and meet the challenges of the 21st century, Member States should seize the opportunity offered by the RRF funding to free their economies of bottlenecks and refresh outdated policies and practices.

The Council’s approval opens the way for the formal signing of the regulation by the presidents of the ECOFIN Council and the European Parliament. Thus, it is time to focus all efforts on the preparation and submission of ambitious national recovery and resilience plans.

As it is clearly laid down in the regulation, “regional and local authorities can be important partners in the implementation of reforms and investments. In that regard, they should be appropriately consulted and involved”.

During the past couple of weeks, a great number of civil society organisations, local and regional authorities, social partners and youth organisations reached out to us, underlining the lack of involvement and consultation they experienced in the preparatory phase of the Hungarian national reform and recovery plan. On 9 February, 33 civil society organisations wrote a joint letter to Mr Szabolcs Ágostházy, Minister of State for European Union-funded Developments, who is inter alia in charge of the RRF preparation of the national recovery and resilience plan. Since the initiation of the joint letter, numerous civil organisations have co-signed the letter, and as of today, 51 organisations call for the widest and most meaningful participation of non-governmental organisations and professional communities in the consultation process. In an open letter sent by Mr László Kordás, President of the Hungarian Trade Union Confederation (MASZSZ) to Mr Sándor Bodó, Minister of State for Employment Policy, MASZSZ considered the documents prepared by the government on the use of EU recovery funds to be of insufficient quality and urged meaningful consultation.

The Recovery and Resilience Facility can only be effective if national governments conduct appropriate and comprehensive consultations with the widest possible range of relevant actors. Thus, it is our common interest and responsibility to avoid hollow consultations that could easily lead to the inappropriate use of this unique opportunity. As the summary of the conducted consultations will serve as one of the assessment criteria of the national recovery and resilience plans, an inadequate consultation can endanger the timely adoption and implementation of the national recovery and resilience plans.

Hungarian government officials have also announced that a significant amount, approximately 420 million EUR covered by the Recovery and Resilience Facility will be used to modernise Hungarian universities. While investing in education is a goal we share deeply, we are alarmed that this initiative was announced right after the government had started to eradicate the current, state-run structure of Hungarian universities and created an entirely new system where the universities will be operated by designated asset management foundations. Under current legislation, public funds from the national budget and managed by these foundations do not qualify as public money anymore. This would effectively preclude transparency and public scrutiny over these funds.

Let us express our deep concern over both the lack of proper consultation and the creation of shadowy structures to disburse EU funds. These developments could seriously jeopardise the timely and transparent disbursement of available resources and endanger Hungarian and European recovery from the pandemic.

We would respectfully like to ask you to closely follow the consultations led by the Hungarian Government and assess the summaries of the consultations to ensure that they comply with the rules set out in the legislation. We are convinced that it is of utmost importance to put a special emphasis on the evaluation of the conducted consultation process between national and local authorities.

Sincerely yours,

 

Gergely Karácsony, Mayor of Budapest

István Ujhelyi, Vice-Chair of the TRAN Committee, Member of the European Parliament

Képernyőfotó 2021-02-13 - 10.06.42Képernyőfotó 2021-02-13 - 10.06.54

Ujhelyi: issuance of vaccination certificates should be coordinated at EU level

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oltasiigazMSZP’s MEP will consult the European Commission and the Hungarian government in connection with the development of the vaccination certificate system, as the development of uniform regulations still seems uncertain, István Ujhelyi announced at his online press conference on Saturday.

The European politician of MSZP reminded that the final document adopted also by the Hungarian PM at the last meeting of the European Council in early December had already addressed the issue: it called on the European Commission to develop a framework for coordinated implementation. “Since then, however, there is only silence. The government does not provide adequate information on this matter, either.”

“It is not known how and which professional organisations and communities had been involved in the preparation of this extremely important regulation,” Ujhelyi said, adding that although the Prime Minister and some members of the government have indicated that there would be a kind of ‘digital vaccination passport,’ but no one said anything about the details or the preparation process since.

However, according to Ujhelyi, in addition to implementing a mass vaccination plan as quickly and comprehensively as possible, this is one of the most pressing issues, as Member States will soon announce one after the other that EU citizens will only be able to cross their borders with a valid vaccination card. Moreover, there are already proposals in place to certainly introduce this obligation in the near future for sporting events, international festivals or even airlines.

According to the European politician of MSZP, the Hungarian government should respond as soon as possible regarding the way it wishes to deal with the situation of Hungarian citizens who are forced to travel due to their work or school obligations (for example: truck drivers, traders, commuters, students) but fall into the last categories in the vaccination plan made public recently. They will soon be affected by this type of restriction. “I am glad that, at the urging of the opposition and as a result of the demands of MSZP, the government has begun to take its task seriously and, albeit belatedly, they are finally working on the adequate preparation for mass vaccination.

However, if there is no proper European coordination on vaccination certificates, we will soon find ourselves in the same situation as in the spring, when Member State governments began to take action and close borders independently, which found the players in the economy unprepared and affected them adversely, for example, in tourism.

A responsible government must present its position on this,” said István Ujhelyi, emphasizing that as the first Vice-Chair of the European Parliament’s Committee on Transport and Tourism, he also wants to put pressure on the European Commission in order to achieve effective and properly coordinated regulation on the issue.

Budapest / Brussels – 09.01.2021.

Ujhelyi Turns to European Commission As Orbán-government Hides Vaccination Strategy

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ujhelyi_istvan_sm (1)Despite several inquiries, Socialist MEP István Ujhelyi has not received any substantive information on the details of Hungary’s covid vaccination strategy.

For this reason, he is turning to the President of the European Commission to find out what strategic plan the Hungarian Cabinet has submitted to Brussels in this regard, the politician of MSZP announced at his online press conference on Saturday. As a member of the European Parliament’s Committee on Public Health István Ujhelyi has repeatedly submitted requests for accessing data of public interest to the relevant ministries, but claims he has not received substantive response from anywhere.

The MEP indicated that while the Ministry of Human Capacities responsible for healthcare had responded that it was not competent in the matter, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Interior Affairs had set a deadline of 45 days instead of the statutory 15-day response, claiming that responding now would jeopardise performing emergency-related tasks. “What on earth are they on about? This is absolute nonsense,” assessed István Ujhelyi the government’s responses in his online press conference, adding that he had to turn to the European Commission because the Hungarian government is clearly sneaky and lying regarding the matter.

According to MSZP’s politician, “shocking professional mistakes” were made in connection with the government’s crisis management: the testing period, the acquisition of assets and the mitigation of economic damage, including the improvement of the situation of families, were “surrounded by lies”. According to Ujhelyi, the government is prevaricating about the vaccination strategy: the head of government had previously referred to it as an existing document; a government body said they were working on it, while the chief medical officer enigmatically called it “dynamically expanding”.

At his press conference on Saturday, the European politician of MSZP also complained that the leaders of the Hungarian government, unlike the future leaders of the United States or the current Heads of other European Member States, are not doing very well in terms of having people vaccinated and do not set a good example in this matter. “Viktor Orbán tries to fool people by stating he shall wait in line for his turn on the vaccination list. We all know who comes first in the queue, but we do not know their basis for classification or who decides on this issue at all.

Moreover, we all know that the prime minister was not so polite when he campaigned with the flu vaccine, which later turned out to be in short supply, ”Ujhelyi said, adding that he would get himself vaccinated as soon as he had the opportunity.

“We have a right to know exactly what the government’s vaccination strategy includes, and on what schedule, in what scope, and with what background capacity the government plans to administer vaccines! There are human lives at stake, hundreds die every day! Without honest communication, society will be plunged into a more serious health and livelihood crisis,” the European politician of MSZP stressed. István Ujhelyi added that the government does not provide adequate information on how it can help, for example, citizens who are forced to travel for business or commercial reasons, but are expected to be admitted to the destination countries only with a vaccination certificate.

“Thanks to the European Union, we have a vaccine; Fidesz should only have laid a suitable vaccination plan and a campaign to encourage vaccination on the table. They failed at both,” said the European politician of MSZP.

Budapest / Brussels – 02.01.2021

Establishment of European Health Union Supported by Overwhelming Majority

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_LEZ1439More than two-thirds of those surveyed, 71 per cent, support the implementation of the European Health Union concept in Hungary, according to a joint study by Publicus Institute and the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats, the S&D Group in the European Parliament, presented at an online conference on Wednesday.

According to the survey of 2,500 people in the first days of December, 39% of Hungarians have heard of the European Health Union’s program, which aims to eliminate inequalities and establish closer coordination between Member States’ public healthcare systems.

After the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, the concept was first adopted by the Social Democratic Group of the European Parliament, based on the initiative of MSZP MEP István Ujhelyi, who consulted with Hungarian and international professional organisations during the development of the program. The S&D Group then expanded it and transformed it to its own health strategy.

The comprehensive program of the European Health Union was finally launched by the European Commission, who was the first to develop the concept through epidemiological and drug-strategy decisions. As it was also endorsed by the European Council in its recent conclusion, widespread implementation of the program seems certain in the coming years.

The joint study by S&D and Publicus also clarified that the implementation of the European Health Union is mainly supported by opposition voters; 56 per cent of the Fidesz electoral base would rather not have it. Those who feel the most positive about the concept are the voters of MSZP and Momentum (97-97 per cent), but it also has high support among DK (94 per cent) and Jobbik (93 per cent) voters, too. Most supporters were measured between the ages of 30 and 44 (84 per cent), the lowest rate of health union supporters, but still two-thirds majority, was found between the ages of 18 and 29 (66 per cent).

The research also showed that a large majority of voters agree that Hungary should spend much more on healthcare than at present (88 per cent); having minimum quality standards in health care that must be provided to citizens in all Member States also has overwhelming support (87 per cent). Fewer supporters, but still a majority (64 per cent) said that it should be the European Union that determines how much Member States should minimally spend on health services. The research also revealed that so far only 28 per cent of Hungarian voters are aware that the program of the European Health Union was initiated by a Hungarian MEP, István Ujhelyi: admittedly and understandably, this number exceeded 60 per cent among DK and MSZP voters.

The joint survey of Publicus and S&D Group also looked at the ways and extent to which Hungarians’ perceptions of the European Union would change if the Health Union program were implemented: a total of 61 per cent responded positively, 13 per cent negatively and 23 per cent were neutral. Another important lesson learned from the research is that while 49 per cent of respondents said it was not good for the EU to get involved in more and more things, 63 per cent agreed that it was better if in addition to domestic regulation in a given area (such as healthcare) EU regulation also existed.

Regarding the standard of public health care in Hungary, 61 per cent of the respondents were not satisfied; in fact, according to them, the conditions have worsened in recent years. Only Fidesz’s base denies this trend: 82 per cent of pro-government voters are satisfied with the conditions experienced in health care; in fact, they believe that the standard of care has improved in recent years. The research also revealed that a significant majority of voters (73 per cent) believe that more and more people should pay for private care because they do not receive the necessary care in state-owned medical facilities, while 80 per cent of voters clearly believe that the coronavirus epidemic has shown the weak points of the healthcare system.

At the conference presenting the findings of the study, MSZP MEP István Ujhelyi mentioned, among other things, that the overwhelming support of the European Health Union made all the work and efforts he had made in this regard in the recent period worthwhile. “When I put the concept’s first discussion paper on the table earlier last year, very few believed it could come true. Now, however, we are talking about the steps and areas in which the European Commission is beginning to develop this comprehensive concept.

“The right to health is a fundamental human right, so it is unacceptable for there to be significant discrepancies between the healthcare systems of EU Member States. The results of the current research give new impetus to the continuation of the work, I trust that the Hungarian government will also recognise that the European Health Union should not be rejected, but supported and further developed, as this is clearly the interest of all Hungarians,” said István Ujhelyi.

At the conference, head of Publicus Institute András Pulai emphasized, among other things, that there was a serious divide in the assessment of the current situation in Hungarian healthcare based on party preference: pro-government and opposition voters had radically opposing views. According to Pulai, the opinion of “uncertain” voters without party preference may be the most dominant in assessing reality, the vast majority of whom agree with the opposition’s perception of reality, that is, they describe the situation of Hungarian healthcare as bad and deteriorating.

When presenting the comprehensive research, the head of Publicus Institute also pointed out that difficulties in accessing public healthcare are mainly experienced by the less educated and those with low salaries; i.e. the most vulnerable have the least access to adequate care.

At the online event, Head of the traumatology department of Orosháza Hospital Dr. Zoltán Szelényi spoke about the fact that Hungarian healthcare was unfortunately among the worst in the EU, citing the low number of years spent in health as an example, in which Hungary also performed poorly. Szelényi emphasized that the improvement of the health condition of the population also brings about an increase in GDP, that is, investing in healthcare also has a positive effect on the economy. The head physician added that the establishment of the European Health Union would certainly help to improve health systems in the EU, thus, it would be worth to extend its implementation to areas such as prevention.

“The EU is a community of values and not just a community of interests, therefore the European Health Union is indeed an important and forward-looking, value-based initiative,” said President of the Hungarian Medical Chamber Gyula Kincses, at the online event. He stressed that the coronavirus epidemic had given a kind of boost to the pioneering initiative of István Ujhelyi, which is why its feasibility had accelerated. In connection to this, Kincses noted that, as part of the program, it would be beneficial to establish coordinated EU action in harmonising the reporting of the epidemic, as this, in his opinion, could help to protect more effectively.

According to Gyula Kincses, full harmonisation and standardisation of health systems can only be the result of a long and cautious process, however, the creation of service and quality minimums in the European Health Union concept, for example by creating a knowledge base of successful protocols, could be a serious step forward.

Details of the joint research of S&D and Publicus Institute are available at the following link: https://publicus.hu/blog/a-tobbseg-tamogatja-az-europai-egeszsegugyi-unio-letrehozasat/

Budapest / Brussels – 30.12.2020.

Ujhelyi: Hungarian Government Could Demand Billions More from Brussels to Help People

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20151016ujhelyi-istvan-foglalkozas-foto-fototemaIn January, the opportunity will be there again for the Hungarian government to request EU funding to help employees in trouble.

For the time being, however, the question is whether Fidesz will use this opportunity, said MSZP MEP István Ujhelyi at his online press conference on Monday. The Socialist politician said that he had addressed a written question to EU Commissioner for Employment and Social Rights Nicolas Schmit, who had recently informed him that the remaining free funds would be made available to Member States who had applied for the SURE-program, including Hungary, in a second round of applications, with a total value of around € 9.7 billion.

Ujhelyi said that the Hungarian government should indicate its intention to apply as early as January as well as the purposes for which it intends to spend this extremely favourable EU loan.

At the press conference, MSZP’s European politician recalled that the SURE-program was launched this spring to help protect jobs and employees affected by the coronavirus epidemic, including by supporting reduced or part-time employment or even wage supplements for the self-employed. Of the 100 billion euros, many Member States requested funds, but Ujhelyi said that Hungary asked for surprisingly little: while the Czech Republic claimed 2 billion euros, Poland 11 billion euros and Romania 4 billion euros, the Hungarian government could only bring a 504 million euro budget from Brussels.

At the press conference, the politician of MSZP said the Hungarian government had to be “encouraged” to apply for this amount of money at all, and later they even tried to refuse to tell exactly what it would be used for. Ujhelyi pointed out that the government is post-financing, among other things, the temporary tax relief granted to small taxpayers and the short-term extension of family benefits from the EU loan requested under the SURE program, but it was also used to finance the oayment of the one-off benefits to health care workers (which MSZP proposed initially and the government finally introduced it).

“We applied for little money in the first round, but thanks to our successful lobbying, now is another opportunity for the government to step up again and bring home another amount from Brussels. It is time for Fidesz to finally address people’s real problems instead of constant propaganda and lying. Lay on the table proposals made by the opposition, such as programs jointly developed by MSZP and the trade unions to help employees.

You go, Government!

Start working and governing finally,” stated István Ujhelyi, adding: he expects the Hungarian cabinet to make it clear as soon as possible for what purposes and in what amount they want to apply for EU support from the reopening framework.

Budapest / Brussels – 28.12.2020.

Ujhelyi: DiscoverEU to Be Re-launched with 400 Million Euro Budget

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ujhelyi_interrail_fit_800x10000It has officially become part of the European Union’s budget for the next seven years, so after the coronavirus pandemic, the free train pass program for young Europeans will be re-launched with a roughly 400 million euro budget, said Socialist MEP István Ujhelyi, mentor of the DiscoverEU program, at his online press conference on Saturday.

The basic idea for “FreeInterRail” comes from two young German activists, Vincent-Immanuel Herr and Martin Speer, who a few years ago proposed that the European Union surprise all young Europeans with a free train pass on their 18th birthday. The proposal was first embraced and supported by István Ujhelyi, Member of the European Parliament, who stood by it until its implementation. In recent years, hundreds of young Hungarians have been able to take advantage of the opportunity; the success of the program is well illustrated by the fact that almost ten times more youngsters registered for season tickets in Hungary than the number available and the program recently won a European quality award.

At the press conference Ujhelyi highlighted that during the pilot period of the program, more than 350,000 young Europeans applied for the opportunity, more than 70,000 of whom got the free train passes. The European politician of MSZP considered it an important success that the financial framework for Erasmus+ was not only maintained but extended in the next seven-year EU budget, and that the financial envelope of the DiscoverEU program was now included in it.

According to Ujhelyi, the result of long and “excruciating” lobbying is that the project distributing free InterRail passes is now registered as an official program. In this, he said, the support of leader of the People’s Party Group leader Manfred Weber and former EU Commissioner Tibor Navracsics was also an important help.

Ujhelyi added that he has been urging the Hungarian government to join the program for a long time and to provide free train passes for young people over the age of eighteen every year from the state budget, which would cost about HUF 9 billion a year, according to the Socialist politician. Ujhelyi said the government had not yet responded to any of his proposals in this regard, however, several municipalities had already joined the program and bought free passes for local youth from their own budgets.

Thus, for example, in the towns of Ajka and Veszprém; in the latter place, the Fidesz-majority assembly purchased Interrail passes worth HUF 1 million on the basis of a joint motion by the mayor delegated by Fidesz and the leader of the socialist group in the municipality.

Budapest / Brussels – 19.12.2020

EU Funding for Hungarian Job Protection En Route, But Who Shall Benefit from It?

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Plenary Session week 44 2015 in Strasbourg

More than seventy billion forints worth of EU funds will be transferred from Brussels tomorrow under the European Job Protection Program. This is the first tranche of the EUR 500 million, or roughly HUF 180 billion, individual loan package approved for Hungary. The only question is: who is to get any of it?

Back in the spring, during the first wave of the coronavirus epidemic, I called on the Hungarian government several times to make the widest possible use of the resources available through the European Union’s crisis management, for example by the drawdown of funds from the Employment Protection Fund (SURE program).

At first, the Fidesz government denied even the existence of these EU support instruments, but over time they were forced to admit that they had applied for a credit line worth billions of forints from a program to help finance expenditures related to reduced working hours and similar measures. It is particularly noteworthy that, as it turned out from the details of the disbursement, Fidesz will now also finance the one-time benefit of five hundred thousand forints paid to healthcare workers from this loan, which was originally demanded by MSZP for the employees of the sector.

But the same is true of the exemption for small taxpayers taxing under the KATA system, which the government also intends to cover from this Brussels resource.

Fidesz continues to hide the technical or other substantive reasons that led to the acceptance of the Hungarian government’s application with a significant delay and with some reduction in the amount initially requested. Similarly, we still have to wonder why Fidesz MEPs recently did not vote in the European Parliament for a resolution that would have made this transitional financial instrument constantly available due to the growing impact of the epidemic.

For the time being, however, the biggest question continues to be who will benefit from this concessional EU loan and to what extent the Hungarian state will help. There is concern that this time once again only the NER’s (Orbán’s National Cooperation System) pets and oligarchic financiers will be able to benefit from the support.

I therefore call on the government to account item by item which companies can access the loan, which medical equipment purchases they wish to post-finance from this budget, which state-owned companies ‘costs of special measures’ and which ‘measures to protect the health of public officials’ will be financed from this envelope.

István Ujhelyi

Member of the European Parliament

Budapest / Brussels – 30.11.2020.

MSZP: Government must guarantee COVID-vaccine free of charge!

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c1_1998131_201007113934“We are fed up with the government’s lies and promises, so we call on them to make it clear: are COVID vaccines that are bought for public money guaranteed to be free for the public or not?” Socialist MEP István Ujhelyi asked at his online press conference on Sunday.

The European politician of MSZP recalled that Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said in a recent radio interview that the first dose of the coronavirus vaccine may arrive in Hungary at the end of December, which will first be given to chronic patients and vulnerable elderly people. According to Ujhelyi, contrary to the claims of Fidesz propaganda, the government was not able to prepare in time to provide routine flu vaccinations to the population in sufficient quantity and quality, so it is a minimum requirement that they announce as soon as possible when and what vaccination strategy will guarantee a safe COVID vaccine for applicants.

“It is a national issue of paramount importance that access to vaccination be free of charge and not available through good contacts or some form of financial privilege,” said István Ujhelyi.

The MSZP politician recalled that the European Commission had recently announced that the steps needed for national vaccination strategies had been identified and that a common reporting platform would be set up in Brussels for better coordination. At the press conference, István Ujhelyi also said that he had recently addressed a written question to the government regarding the vaccination strategy and vaccine procurement, in response to which Secretary of State Csaba Dömötör stated that the Hungarian government had joined the joint EU vaccine procurement mechanism launched by the European Commission and when the appropriate vaccine is ready, Hungary will receive 6.5 million vaccines for HUF 13 billion.

The MSZP politician called it supportable that the government was part of the EU procurement processes, but at the same time he said that the as of yet uncertain quality vaccine businesses of government’s ‘seeker and raider buddies’ outside the EU, in Russia and China were redundant. Ujhelyi pointed out that a spokesperson for the European Commission had just made it clear the other day that European citizens could only be vaccinated with a vaccine that had received an EU license; and the Commission has already contracted a total of one billion COVID vaccines for European citizens with six companies.

The Socialist Member of the European Parliament emphasized that on many occasions he had asked the government in vain to respond regarding free access to the future vaccine, and Csaba Dömötör did not make a clear statement in his reply, either. Ujhelyi therefore again called on the cabinet to make a clear statement as soon as possible about the COVID vaccine to be procured from public funds being free for all.

Brussels, 01/11/2020