EU coronavirus vaccines strategy is a failure, says Hungary's Viktor Orbán

Viktor Orbán said Budapest would now go it alone rather than wait for the EU scheme to provide jabs. - Reuters
Viktor Orbán said Budapest would now go it alone rather than wait for the EU scheme to provide jabs. - Reuters

Britain’s vaccination strategy has been far more successful than the European Union’s failed and slow response to the coronavirus pandemic, Hungary’s prime minister has said.

Viktor Orbán said Budapest would now go it alone rather than wait for the doses secured by the EU, which negotiated for supplies as a bloc.

Mr Orbán defended his decision to approve and buy Russia’s Sputnik vaccine separately to the joint EU effort to procure jabs, which he branded “a bad decision”.

He said: “It’s now clear that it was a bad decision. The United States, Britain, Israel and Serbia are far ahead of us EU Member States,” Mr Orbán told German news website

“We’ve sought to do something together that we could have managed more successfully on an individual basis – take a look at the examples of Britain or Serbia.”

Mr Orbán, who has long been at loggerheads with Brussels over migration and the rule of law, said, “We shall exercise our national powers, and provide for ourselves.”

“Brussels is following its own logic. They don’t have a strong enough sense of the importance of speed, so they’re slow in issuing permits and have no power over suppliers.”

Britain used faster emergency authorisation procedures to approve vaccines than the EU. The UK negotiated to secure the doses alone after rejecting an offer from Brussels last year to join the EU scheme.

27.47 doses per 100 people have been administered in the UK, compared to just 6.12 across the EU. In Hungary 6.7 doses per 100 people have been handed out, while 5.7 jabs have been given in France and 6.1 in Germany.

Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission president, has repeatedly defended the decision to negotiate as a bloc, despite a row following supply shortfalls from AstraZeneca.

She said the strategy ensured smaller member states had access to the jabs earlier this month. She told MEPs that it would have been “the end of our community”, if larger, richer countries had snapped up all the vaccines instead of securing them jointly as a Union.

Mr Orbán said, “We don’t exactly know what’s happening in Brussels, or in the heads of the Brussels bureaucrats. But I do know that every person who dies is someone’s father, mother, brother, sister or child. This consideration overrides European politics.”

EU leaders will call for the continuation of tight coronavirus restrictions, including bans on non-essential travel such as holidays on Thursday, four days after Boris Johnson set out his roadmap out of lockdown.

They will call for the acceleration of “authorisation, production and distribution of vaccines, as well as vaccination, in the weeks and months to come”, according to leaked draft conclusions for their Thursday video summit.

Hungary was able to secure the Sputnik vaccine, which has not been authorised by the European Medicines Agency, because the Russian jab is not part of the EU’s joint procurement programme.

EU-Russian relations are strained after the jailing of opposition leader Alexei Navalny and Moscow’s expulsion of diplomats from Germany, Sweden and Poland.

EU foreign ministers agreed on onday to impose sanctions on at least four Russian officials in response to Mr Navalny’s jailing.

Mr Orbán rejected any suggestion that geopolitics should be put above getting as many vaccines as possible, as quickly as possible.

He said, “There’s no such thing as an Eastern vaccine or a Western vaccine: there are only good vaccines and bad vaccines.

“If the Hungarian authorities find a vaccine to be safe and effective, they will permit its use. From that moment on, for me it’s a Hungarian vaccine, with which I can save the lives of Hungarians.”

Mr Orbán also appeared to blame EU leaders for contributing to Brexit by overruling London and Budapest’s opposition to Jean-Claude Juncker’s candidacy for European Commission president in 2014.

“You can’t behave like that with one of the world’s largest economies, a nuclear power and a member of the Security Council. Was it worth it? ,” he said.