Zoltán Kovács, State Secretary for International Communication and Relations, has noted the success of Hungary and countries of the region in handling the first wave of the novel coronavirus epidemic.
In an interview published by US weekly Newsweek’s Country Report section, Kovács said the first wave of the pandemic had been handled very effectively by Hungary, together with the other Visegrad Group (V4) countries but the second wave is different, with a different pandemic situation.
The state secretary added that the V4’s collective performance in terms of controlling the spread of infection, the number of people infected and hospitalized, and fatality rates stood out as a positive example by global comparison.
During the first wave, Hungary initiated a special legal order which many believed was controversial, but “in comparison with, say, Italy or France, what we did in Hungary isn’t unlike what you’ve seen in Western Europe”, Kovács said, adding that during the pandemic in the spring, the Hungarian parliament continued in session which helped effective protection.
“The same is true for the economic package we have introduced: we believe that compared to intervention by governments in Western Europe and across the world, the Hungarian package is also a positive example,” he said. The government’s primary goal continues to be to protect, save or create as many jobs as possible, Kovács said.
“The philosophy through which we have addressed economic problems over the past 10 years has been a new one. The principle behind this is that we need as many jobs as possible to be able to support all the other elements of the economy: growth, investment, monetary issues and so on,” he said.
In August, Hungary recorded higher employment numbers than in January, which Kovács said was probably because of the effectiveness and the nature of the Hungarian government’s intervention. “We are proud of it and that remains in the focus of economic job creation intervention by the Hungarian state”, he added.
In response to a question about Hungary attracting direct foreign investment, he said that whereas in the 1990s, investment was mostly attracted by cheap labour and a comparatively cheap economic environment, the government is now much more interested in high value-added industries and investments. Such investments not only help investors from the perspective of high-quality competitive Hungarian labour, but also help the economic environment of Hungarian small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), he added.
The state secretary said the new industries that Hungary was focusing on were information technology and renewable energy. “There is a very conscious government effort behind this: our base is nuclear energy. We are extending the lifespan of our existing nuclear plant and we are building two new reactors in Hungary to provide the basic energy that we need,” he said. “In addition to this, however, solar technology is going to be the second leg of Hungarian energy security.”
Kovács said that in terms of sustainability, which comes together with the European policy for carbon emission reductions, “we believe that Hungary is performing well”. Hungary does not exploit its full quota for carbon emission, he said. “Our decisions in the field of energy will contribute toward that goal,” he said. “In this respect, nuclear power plays a major role and we believe that the goals of the EU cannot be met without nuclear energy. Our decisions, which were taken before the very ambitious new goals of the EU were set, are also proving to be right from that perspective”, he added.
In response to a question concerning the benefits of regional integration, he said the V4 formation had not come about by accident but had historical roots. “The initiative goes back to immediately after the fall of communism but has only fully blossomed in the past couple of years. The reason for this has been the discovery that the historical roots of cooperation are deep enough to provide the basis for our cooperation within the EU,” he added.
It has become obvious that central Europe’s historical, sociological and economic foundations and legacies are strong enough to define it as a separate region within the EU, like Scandinavia, the Benelux states, or the Franco-German axis, he said. Kovács said cooperation between countries in the region was very good in handling the coronavirus epidemic and in energy industry. “We are focusing on infrastructure, including energy infrastructure – gas, oil and electricity lines,” he added.