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Former Fidesz MEP József Szájer sent a single-sentence letter to his party's director on Wednesday announcing his resignation from Fidesz after he was embroiled in a deepening scandal over his involvement in an illegal sex party broken up last week by Brussels police.
Szájer's resignation brings an end to his 30-year career in Fidesz, the party he co-founded with other liberal reformers at the time of Hungary's democratic transition in the late 1980s. Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, the party's leader, told pro-government newspaper Magyar Nemzet Wednesday that Szájer's actions "are incompatible with our political community."
"We will not forget or deny his 30 years of work, but his actions are unacceptable and indefensible," Orbán said. "After what happened, he made the only right decision by apologizing and resigning from the European Parliament and from Fidesz."
Szájer resigned suddenly from the European Parliament on Sunday, leading to speculation over what caused his unexpected departure. As we reported on Tuesday, Belgian press reports initially suggested Szájer may have been the MEP alleged to have fled an all-male Brussels sex party last week that was broken up by police for violating Belgium's strict pandemic rules.
Szájer later admitted to having been present at the party, but did not address the nature of the gathering and denied reports that he was in possession of illegal drugs - a claim contradicted by a Brussels prosecutor's office report indicating that police found ecstasy in Szájer's backpack after he fled the scene by climbing out a window and sliding down a drain pipe.
The scandal made headlines in Hungary and around the world as observers pointed out Szájer's role in crafting Fidesz's ultra-conservative policy, which has been openly hostile to the rights of LGBTQ people. On Wednesday, an article on the affair was the top post in the world news section of social media site Reddit. The post was titled, "An anti-gay Hungarian politician has resigned after being caught by police fleeing a 25-man orgy through a window."
Some observers speculated that the scandal could weaken Hungary's bargaining position in the EU as it continues to stand by a decision to veto the bloc's next seven-year budget over a proposed mechanism linking the payment of EU funds to rule of law standards.
Fidesz's fate within the European People's Party, the conservative European party group of which Fidesz is a member, was also called into question by the events. EPP president Donald Tusk posted on Twitter Wednesday, "What else should Fidesz do for all of you to see that they simply don’t fit in with our family?"
Szájer's colleagues in Fidesz, and Hungary's pro-government media, were less eager to discuss the events. The public broadcaster made no mention of the story as it broke on Tuesday, and later carried only Szájer's apology for participating in a "house party." Pro-government website Origo and the newspaper Magyar Nemzet also avoided mentioning the nature of Szájer's actions, and suggested that he had been the victim of a set-up by foreign intelligence services as payback for Hungary's conflict with the European Union over the bloc's next budget.
On Wednesday, Telex journalists attempted to question government ministers on the scandal as they arrived for a cabinet meeting in Budapest. After posing questions to Justice Minister Judit Varga and Deputy Prime Minister Zsolt Semjén, the journalists were ushered away by police and placed behind a cordon.
Speaking to 444, Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó claimed he had first heard about the Szájer scandal from media reports, and that he was unaware of his police encounter at the time of Szájer's Sunday resignation from the European Parliament. As 444's Péter Magyari writes, the foreign minister being in the dark on a Hungarian diplomat's personal scandals and criminal proceedings could carry serious national security risks.
More than 1,000 coronavirus deaths in seven days as total climbs above 5,000
More than 1,000 people have lost their lives to the coronavirus in Hungary in the last week as daily deaths continue to break records. On Thursday, 182 deaths were registered by the emergency task force, a new record following the previous record set on Wednesday with 165. The total number of coronavirus deaths in Hungary stands at 5,142.
The number of deaths on Thursday surpassed the total number of deaths in the month of September (166). The rate at which 1,000 deaths occur has hastened rapidly in recent weeks, and at the current rate, 6,000 total deaths are almost certain to be reached within the week.
- The total number of deaths reached 1,000 on October 14, seven months after the first confirmed coronavirus death in Hungary.
- Three weeks later, on November 4, the total reached 2,000 deaths.
- 11 days later, on November 15, the total reached 3,000 deaths.
- 9 days later, on November 24, the total reached 4,000 deaths.
- 8 days later, on December 2, total deaths were at 5,142.
The number of hospitalized patients and those on ventilators have remained relatively stable for the last two weeks. However, it is unclear whether the high number of deaths could be contributing to the stability in these numbers as the deceased leave hospitals and come off ventilators.
At a government press conference on Thursday, Viktor Orbán's chief of staff Gergely Gulyás repeated claims that Hungary's death rate is below the EU average per 1 million inhabitants. However, these claims include data from the pandemic's "first wave" in spring, when Hungary fared well. In the last two weeks, Hungary's per capita death rate is the 4th highest in the European Union.
In a podcast this week for state radio Kossuth Rádió, a guest suggested that spreading garlic and onions on the inside of the nose, around the eyes, and on the face and hands could help to protect against the coronavirus. (There is no scientific basis to suggest household food items are effective in preventing coronavirus infection - ed.)
Pre-registration for coronavirus vaccinations to be launched next week
The government will launch a website next week where Hungarians may pre-register to receive coronavirus vaccinations, Gergely Gulyás said at a press conference Thursday.
In addition to the launch of the site, vakcinainfo.gov.hu, pensioners will receive registration cards by mail which they can return free of charge, Gulyás said. The government has reserved some 50 billion forints (€140 million) worth of vaccine from various suppliers, he said.
Hungary is the only country in Europe to receive initial doses of Sputnik V - the Russian vaccine hailed in August by Russian president Vladimir Putin as the world's first - which Hungary is currently testing for safety and effectiveness. Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó has said that negotiations are ongoing with Russia on the possible production of the drug in Hungary.
Sputnik V has not been assessed by the European Medicines Agency (EMA), the European Union's medicines regulator, and critics have questioned Russian claims that it is 95 percent effective.
This week, a spokesperson for the European Commission announced that Hungary would be permitted to issue Sputnik V without approval by the EMA, using a legal loophole which allows countries to distribute unapproved vaccines in an emergency, Politico reports.
"This comes, of course, with the liability for the member state," spokesperson Stefan De Keersmaecker told reporters. "As far as we are concerned, we are very much in favor of an authorization through the EMA."
Another EC spokesperson said that the Russian vaccine must be kept within Hungary's borders.
In addition to Hungary's pursuit of Sputnik V, Szijjártó says the government has reserved 12 million doses of vaccine from manufacturers in the United States and Europe, including British-Swedish pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca and the joint U.S.-German vaccine from Pfizer-BioNTech. On Thursday, the United Kingdom became the first country to approve the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, and plans to begin issuing vaccinations as early as next week.
EU could move ahead with recovery fund despite Hungary and Poland's veto
European Union officials are considering ways to push ahead with a €750 billion economic recovery package without the participation of Hungary and Poland, which have both vetoed passage of the funds alongside the bloc's next seven-year budget.
A senior official in the European Commission told the Financial Times that 25 member states could implement the recovery package next year to act as a "bridge" until Hungary and Poland drop their veto, which has held up €1.8 worth of funds to EU countries.
Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki met in Budapest last week where they reaffirmed their intention to stick by their veto. The two countries oppose the so-called "rule of law mechanism" in the budget which would link payments of EU funds to member states' adherence to democratic standards.
Orbán travelled to Warsaw on Monday to meet again with Morawiecki, and the two leaders said they were awaiting new proposals on breaking the stalemate from the rotating German presidency of the Council of Europe. Any new agreements must align with European treaties and budget frameworks laid out during an EU summit in July, a Polish spokesman sad.
Speaking on Monday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel indicated that she would be willing to forge compromises with Hungary and Poland over the stalemate, suggesting changes could be made to the rule of law mechanism despite declarations by many member states and MEPs that they would not budge on the conditions.
"That...is exactly the task of politics, to turn apparent incompatibilities into a result with which everyone can live," Merkel told a videoconference of EU affairs lawmakers on Monday.