Why Does Improving Healthcare Violate Government Sovereignty?

I really don’t understand Fidesz. I cannot fathom why it is an affront to the sovereignty of the current government to want better healthcare in Hungary. This is what is happening: the government’s attitude to the European Health Union programme has so far been one of outright rejection, or at least reflexive knee-jerk reaction, when it comes to the possible extension of EU competence in the field of health. „No way should we let the EU tell us what to do” – that’s the extent of the government’s arguments.
But let’s zoom out first. Unfortunately, not many people know that the European Union operates in a way that in some areas it has exclusive competence (there are fewer of these, such as the customs union and competition rules for the single market), in others it has shared competence (for example, environment, transport, energy, migration) and finally, in others it has a minimal role, whereby it can only advise, propose, support and complement, but national governments have full authority.
These are areas of national competence that the Fidesz government will defend by the skin of its teeth to prevent anyone else from interfering. Because they know better what needs to be done there, what the people of Hungary need, and, besides, we are not a colony of Brussels, are we? Such areas include culture, tourism, education and civil protection.
You do not need any expertise in current affairs policy to see exactly what the government has achieved in the last twelve years with its unrestrained exercise of power in areas where it has had and still has full freedom of action. Culture has been taken over, cultural institutions, with very few real exceptions, have been filled with controversial and previously doomed to failure figures, and critical voices have been constantly squeezed out on ideological grounds.
There is no need to say much about tourism, either – which is, moreover, my European policy area – as everyone can see and knows exactly how almost every corner of the sector has been robbed and occupied, and how the profits that are no longer considered public money are being pumped in and out of it. Nor does the case of education need much explaining: competency measures are plummeting, teachers and students are protesting together for reform and recognition; twelve years of unbridled power have simply destroyed a national strategic area that represents the future of our children. Just for a moment, let’s toy with the idea that if Viktor Orbán and his entourage had given education the attention and support they have given football over the last decade, where our shared homeland would be. In Finland they would probably be showing documentaries about the Hungarian model.
The area of healthcare is an equally exclusive national competence. This means that everything that happens with public healthcare is the sole and exclusive responsibility, achievement or failure of the Hungarian government. The European Union, for the time being, could not, even if it wanted to, improve the quality of public healthcare directly and substantially, because EU rules – and, of course, the Hungarian Government – do not permit it.
The EU is doing what it can: one after another, we are launching comprehensive European strategic programmes, most recently the cancer strategy to fight tumour related diseases, or the mental health programme, which I also partly initiated. Health is also receiving more and more attention in Europe, but what and how much of this is perceived by the Hungarian public depends mainly on the Hungarian Government. The EU is really doing what it can: for example, it has now (thanks to a lot of work by many of us) opened up a budget of almost two thousand billion forints, from which the health organizations and institutions in the Member States can draw down funds in the coming years.
It is a matter of ensuring that Hungarian stakeholders can draw down as much of this money as possible and as efficiently as possible – to this end, I have invited health professional and advocacy organizations to a joint round table on 20 February.
However, it must be admitted that thick walls still need to be knocked down in order to implement the European Health Union, which I partly initiated, as widely as possible. An orange one, for example. The Fidesz government does not want to hear a word about the creation of a minimum set of quality requirements that all Member States would be obliged to meet, thus ensuring a uniform and high-quality level of public healthcare. The government is obstructing this, despite the fact that the parliamentary resolutions on this have been voted through by the Fidesz MEPs, but their own government is still opposed to this initiative.
In response to a written question from me, the former health government said point-blank that the expansion of the European Health Union and the introduction of quality standards in healthcare would be an intrusion into national sovereignty. Yes, you understand that correctly. Fidesz thinks that it is an infringement of the national sovereignty of the Hungarian people if someone wants to force them to have higher quality and guaranteed standards of public healthcare. But I think it is an affront to Hungarian sovereignty and pride that the Hungarian Government wants to spend less in real terms on healthcare than before, even in the recently submitted, rewritten budget. It really does seem that there is money for everything – from bomb posters to mobile phone company takeovers – but not for better protecting and restoring people’s health. If anything, this certainly cannot be called national governance.

István Ujhelyi
Member of the European Parliament
Founder of the Community of Chance

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