Hungary’s Orban says he’s still in vaccine talks with China, Russia, & Israel, as EU’s von der Leyen warns about unilateral deals

8 Jan, 2021 by

FILE PHOTO: Hungarian soldiers carry the first shipment of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines in Budapest. ©Szilard Koszticsak / Pool via REUTERS

The Hungarian prime minister has doubled down on pursuing talks with producers of Covid-19 vaccines, in defiance of a Brussels-managed procurement scheme. Viktor Orban is unhappy with the pace of vaccination the EU can support.

“If we only rely on the Western vaccines, the restrictions will have to be maintained for several more months,” he said in an interview on Friday, referring to his government’s decision to prolong lockdown measures until next month. “If we can find a safe and proven vaccine elsewhere, we can speed up the process.”

Speaking to Budapest-based Kossuth Radio, the prime minister reiterated that Hungary was negotiating with vaccine producers in China, Russia, and Israel over possible purchases. Meanwhile, the EU government is insisting that all vaccine procurements should go through Brussels and be subject to the regulatory decisions of the union’s drugs watchdog.

Orban pointed out that Britain, no longer an EU member, has benefited from diversifying its vaccine supplies. “The British, instead of letting Brussels do it, negotiated themselves and are in a much better state now,” Orban said.

Hungary may be among the EU members most vocally expressing dissatisfaction with the procurement scheme, but it’s not the only one going behind Brussels’ back. Germany announced on Monday that it had made a deal with Mainz-based BioNtech to supply 30 million additional doses of the vaccine which the company developed with Pfizer.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen gave a warning to side-dealing states on Friday, as she announced additional purchases of the Pfizer/BioNtech drug made by Brussels.

“The only framework we are negotiating in is as 27,” she said, referring to the number of EU members. “We do this together, and no member state on this legal binding basis is allowed to negotiate in parallel or to have a contract in parallel.”

Orban is well known for his euroscepticism and advocacy for keeping more powers in the hands of individual governments. In the interview, he said that the situation with vaccines “leads back to the fundamental issue that only those rights should be transferred to Brussels that we are certain will be better managed there.”