Ministers resign from boards of trustees of foundations operating Hungarian universities

February 09. 2023. – 11:49 AM



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The Hungarian government spent the last three days at a three-day cabinet meeting in Sopron. On Thursday, Gergely Gulyás, the PM’s Chief of Staff reported to the press at a briefing about the decisions that were made.

Undoubtedly, the biggest announcement Gulyás made was that relating to “the situation with the EU”, Hungary would like to reach an agreement with Brussels as soon as possible.

The government has always been willing to make reasonable compromises that do not harm Hungary's interests, he said, and announced the resignation of Judit Varga, Csaba Lantos, János Lázár, István Nagy, Péter Szijjártó and Tibor Navracsics from the boards of trustees of the foundations that run universities.

Gulyás also said that the same is expected of the state secretaries, deputy state secretaries and government commissioners.

In response to a question on whether board members of the foundations should be appointed for a fixed term rather than for life, Gulyás said: "It was fine the way it was", but added: “However, if changes are needed at the request of the European Commission, the government is also open to changing the rules and making the term of trustees fixed-term.”

Gulyás promised that a bill on this would be tabled once an agreement is reached with the European Commission. The minister does not yet know who will remain on the boards of trustees, because Brussels has not yet clearly spelled out its expectations.

The news broke in early January that Universities in Hungary that operate as public trust foundations or are maintained by such foundations (a total of 21 institutions) will not be able to receive fresh grants from the Erasmus+ exchange programme funded by the European Union. The ban also applies to the Horizon Europe research and innovation framework programme. According to Népszava, the decision was motivated by the fact that "the Orbán government continues to keep foundation-run universities under the control of Fidesz politicians.

Following talks in Brussels on the matter, Minister of Regional Development, Tibor Navracsics had said that “Hungary was ready to eliminate the incompatibility points which have caused concern and due to which the European Union has temporarily suspended the future funding of Erasmus+ and Horizon Europe programs.” He projected that the issue might be solved as early March.

On the Szekler flag and Romania

On Tuesday, the Romanian Foreign Ministry summoned the Hungarian ambassador in Bucharest to express its displeasure over the social media post of Zsolt Németh, chairman of the Hungarian Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee, who wrote that: "the Szekler flag will be flown on the facades of Hungarian public institutions as long as the Romanian state allows its free use without any restrictions throughout the territory of Romania!"

Commenting on the affair, Gulyás said that the Hungarian government had not received any indication from Romania that the display of the Szekler flag on the Hungarian Parliament was problematic. Hungary is a free country, so any community is free to use its flag, except for authoritarian symbols, Gulyás said. He added that in Hungary an indigenous ethnic minority would never be punished for using its own symbol and neither would the ambassador of their native land to Hungary be summoned.

Who can win the war in Ukraine?

About the war in Ukraine, Gulyás said that Viktor Orbán believes that only Russia can win the war, while most world leaders think this is not certain at all.

Gulyás did not detail what the Hungarian prime minister was basing his assumption on, but added that it was certain that Europe was on the losing side, even if it was not at war. As long as we pay ten times as much for energy as the US, we can only be losers in this war, he said.

"The Hungarian government keeps talking about the importance of declaring a ceasefire, but that would mean that Ukraine's lost territories remain lost. Is that what they see as a good ceasefire?" Telex asked. Gulyás replied that they consider acceptable what Ukraine considers acceptable, and they don't presume the right to say such things about another country, and added that Hungary condemns the violation of territorial integrity.

On the corruption case at the Ministry of Justice

The question of the transcripts of the Völner-Schadl case was brought up, specifically the fact that they make it clear that the Ministry of Justice was aware of the method of appointing bailiffs. Gulyás answered that there is no evidence that this was the case, and in any case, it is the testimonies of one or two people who complain that they were forced to suffer this procedure.

Asked how Judit Varga could not have known what was happening in her ministry, Gulyás replied that "State Secretary Völner was assigned to Judit Varga", she was not the one who appointed him, so her responsibility cannot be implied. Gulyás does not see why the Völner affair should have any influence on Varga. A few days ago, Telex asked Justice Minister Judit Varga to comment on the content of the transcripts, you may watch the video here.

Hungarian media is diverse

“Balázs Orbán, the PM's political director recently said that whoever controls the media in a country controls the thinking of that country. Who do you think controls the media in Hungary?” – Telex asked. Gulyás replied: Nobody. The Hungarian media is diverse, the European media is monochromatic, in Hungary there is freedom of speech. Everyone can find an editorial office that writes about their hatred of the government, and something like that would not occur in Western Europe. Gulyás said Orbán's (Balázs) idea "is not interpretable in Hungary, but it's otherwise an excellent thought".

Gulyás said he was not present at Viktor Orbán's recent off-the-record meeting with foreign journalists, which was covered differently in several papers.

When Telex inquired why the Prime Minister doesn't hold such meetings with Hungarian journalists, Gulyás replied: "because that would lead to even more misunderstandings."

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