17 Jul, 2020

Katalin Cseh: Working on the frontlines of both COVID-19 and European politics

Katalin Cseh from ALDE member party Momentum in Hungary was elected as MEP in the 2019 European elections, and was part of ALDE’s Team Europe during the electoral campaign. A trained medical professional, Katalin Cseh answered the call of Hungary’s health authorities and volunteered in the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic.

This interview was originally published in our bi-annual Liberal Bulletin, which you can find in full here.

Why did you decide to go back to practicing medicine during the COVID-19 crisis?

I believe that in times of crises, we all must do what we can to help. When the Hungarian health authorities put forward a call for medical volunteers, it felt only natural to respond. I am a physician by training and was working as a doctor prior to my election to the European Parliament last year, so I am perfectly aware of all the difficulties and issues, such as shortage of staff, our healthcare system has to deal with, even in ordinary times. We politicians often demand more action and more sacrifices from others. Now, it is time for us politicians to take action and make sacrifices. If I have the needed skills, to me it is a moral obligation to offer my services to the community that placed its trust in me by electing me to represent them.

I currently work part-time in the emergency department of a Budapest hospital, while also fulfilling my MEP duties through teleworking. It feels great to help! COVID-19 is a tremendous challenge for our societies, and healthcare is one of Hungary’s most vulnerable points. Our healthcare system has been weakened due to chronic underfinancing, the absence of meaningful healthcare reforms, and the vast exodus of healthcare professionals to other countries with better working conditions. The pandemic came on top of all that, so I knew that every helping pair of hands is needed in the frontlines.

How will you be able to use this experience in your work at the European Parliament?

I think it is absolutely necessary for me as a politician to have very firm anchors in my community, to know the real needs of people and to stay connected to reality. My experience at the hospital during this crisis is a great reminder of why I decided to go into politics in the first place.

I see all the hard-working doctors and nurses, but also other essential workers: bus drivers, shopkeepers, delivery workers and others who carry the weight of our collective burden in these trying times – and who in return are seldom valued according to their merits. I know how it feels to go to work without knowing what is waiting for you there, the uncertainty, the worry – and it pains my heart that in Hungary, many workers in these sectors don’t even earn a living wage. We certainly need to reconsider our priorities.

This crisis makes it crystal clear how inequalities – in this particular case, inequalities in public health – damage the European community. If a country, a region, or even a town becomes a weak link, all of us will feel the effects. I am a firm believer of the ‘Health in All’ policy, but now we need to work on this more than ever before. The EU must strengthen its competences in healthcare and public health, so that we can respond faster and help citizens more effectively. It is truly baffling to see eurosceptic politicians complain about the shortcomings of the European response: after all, they were the ones who fought tooth and nail against granting the EU the powers that enable us to provide better assistance to those who need it the most.

From your perspective, given this crisis, what is the question we should be asking but are not?

I think we should be asking ourselves two key questions: what should Europe look like after the COVID-19 crisis? And how can we become better versions of ourselves?

As a member of the European Parliament’s Committee on Regional Development, I also participate in brainstorms on the future of the Cohesion Policy and the Multiannual Financial Framework. What we need is an ambitious package, a real European Marshall Plan that is based on solidarity, competitiveness and that follows the priorities of the European Green Deal, so we can truly respond to the needs of our citizens. I am also involved in the drafting process of a Health Position Paper together with my colleagues from the Renew Europe Group, which I hope will strengthen Europe’s joint healthcare capacity. And not just our ability to overcome challenges caused by COVID-19, but also when it comes to preparing for future pandemics.

What is the difference in mindsets on COVID-19 between your colleagues in the European Parliament and colleagues in the medical sector?

The sense of urgency for both groups is very different. Healthcare workers don’t see resolutions, treaties or interparliamentary negotiations; in times like these, they are only interested in results, speed and effectiveness of care. While in the European institutions we can easily spend weeks, even months, cutting red tape, setting up mechanisms and negotiating across borders, in the field it feels like help is not arriving, medical equipment is stuck at the border and there is a shortage of life-saving medicine. In the frontlines, success is measured by the number of saved lives, not by electoral victories.

We all should realise what is really at stake now, and create a stronger, faster, more ambitious, and more equal Europe.

You can follow Katalin through below links. 

TWITTER: @katka_cseh
FACEBOOK: csehkatalin.momentum
INSTAGRAM: katkacseh

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