Hungary has sharply criticized the European Commission’s decision to choke off EU funds meant for Hungarian universities as “unacceptable and intolerable,” in what is only the latest spat in a drawn-out battle between the bloc’s liberal-globalist leadership and Hungary.
The European Commission, the bloc’s executive arm, announced last month that the European Union’s Erasmus grant funding program, which allows students to study abroad at partner institutions, would no longer be made available to 21 Hungarian universities, Reuters reports.
Additionally, the Commission stated that the same Hungarian higher educational institutions would no longer be eligible to receive funding for the EU’s Horizon Europe research exchange programs, a key funding program for research and innovation within the bloc. They are claiming that Hungary had nominated politicians close to the government to sit on the boards of these universities.
Commenting on the EU commission’s decision, Gergely Gulyás, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s chief of staff, said: “There has never been such an example in the EU,” and highlighted that active politicians sit on the board of trustees in Western Europe as well.
“What is happening with regards to Erasmus, from the side of the Commission versus Hungary, is unacceptable,” Gulyás said.
“We would like to find a fast solution,” he added, noting that Hungary’s minister in charge of EU funds would hold talks with the Commission in the week ahead.
Minister Gulyás said that if talks between the Commission and Hungary failed to resolve the issue, Hungary would finance the Erasmus programs for 2024 from its own coffers. He also mentioned that Hungary is ready and willing to bring the case before the European Court of Justice.
Hungarian Minister for EU funds Tibor Navracsics has called the Commission’s claim that the board of trustees exerts hard influence over the teaching and research work of universities untrue, saying that these activities are carried out independently of the board of trustees.
Minister Navracsics, who also serves as the chairman of the board of trustees of the public foundation that runs Veszprém’s Pannon University, recalled that the Hungarian government was aware of Brussels’ concerns, and noted that it changed the rules of public interest foundations to meet the EU body’s request. With the change, foundations are now also subject to the Public Procurement Act, and members of the board of trustees are subject to strict conflict of interest rules.