"We'll have to see what's going to happen" – Navracsics on the exclusion of foundation-run universities from Erasmus programs
January 10. 2023. – 09:41 AM
If the European Commission (EC) should ask politicians to resign from the boards of trustees of the foundations running universities, the Hungarian government will take that into consideration, Tibor Navracsics told RTL News. The Minister of Regional Development and the Utilisation of EU Funds did not give specifics, but said that
"we'll have to see what’s going to happen".
The news came on Monday that universities in Hungary that operate as public trust foundations or are maintained by such trusts will not be eligible for Erasmus+ exchange programme funding from the European Union.
There are 21 universities in Hungary that operate in this form, and according to Népszava, the reason behind the decision is that the EC does not approve of the fact that Fidesz politicians have been given leading positions in these foundations. One of them is Tibor Navracsics, who is the chairman of the Board of Trustees of Pannon University.
Speaking to RTL News on Monday, the minister said that the EC has not objected to politicians sitting on the boards of trustees of the foundations in the negotiations so far. Navracsics said that the government had complied with all requests, so he hoped that this was just a misunderstanding and that the EC would not want to make Hungarian students pay the cost of its dispute with the Hungarian government.
The Ministry of Culture and Innovation reacted to the news in a statement issued via MTI, the state news agency. They write that the EC's December decision does not affect the exchange programmes currently running via public trusts with a public service task. Until the March deadline, the Hungarian government is continuing to negotiate the continued uninterrupted provision of funds for higher education. The current and 2023 exchange programmes are "financially secured, so students should not suffer any disadvantage".
According to the ministry's statement, the government has fulfilled all its commitments, so it does not accept the committee's “decision to discriminate against public trusts and the universities they maintain by excluding them from direct EU tenders. This will be clarified, similarly to other EU funds, by 16 March 2023.”
However, the Council of the European Union does not agree that the government has complied with all requests. They note that the scope of regulations about conflicts of interest has indeed been widened, but not sufficiently.
“Despite repeated requests from the Commission, the regulatory framework still does not prevent senior officials, including senior political leaders of the National Assembly and Hungarian autonomous bodies, from joining the boards of public interest trusts.”
- the Council's 15 December decision reads.
It also underlined that "the weaknesses of the regulatory framework, coupled with the new legislative developments actually exacerbate the potential conflict of interest that the corrective measures are intended to address, and for this reason these are not considered suitable to address the concerns initially raised by the Commission".
Opposition party MSZP (Hungarian Socialist Party) has also reacted to the news. In their press release, they say that the suspension of the Erasmus programme will lead to a falling behind of the Hungarian higher education sector, which was to be expected after the state "stepped out from among the important actors in higher education" with the introduction of the foundation system.
The party has written to János Csák, the minister responsible for higher education, asking him to start negotiations with the EC immediately.
As soon as the news broke, Momentum MEP Katalin Cseh immediately turned to the Commission, because in her opinion it was not right for the EC to punish Hungarian students.
"It is not right despite the fact that I have found the "fideszification" of universities scandalous and unacceptable from the very beginning – as it is one of the surest tools of corruption. Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó, for example, is a member of the trusteeship foundation of the University of Győr for 1.5 million HUF (3800 euros) gross per month. Filling up the management of public foundations with Fidesz politicians certainly does not serve the interests of Hungarian students."
- she wrote on Facebook.
Cseh says there are many ways to "sanction the corruption of the Fidesz government", but she does not consider preventing Hungarian students from studying abroad an appropriate means for this.
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