In litigation on the rule of law, Brussels and Budapest are starting a new standoff where knowledge is transmitted. Gradually over the past two years, the major Hungarian universities have been placed under the control of private foundations close to the government. A “cultural fight” taken on by Prime Minister Viktor Orban, the aim of which is to roll back the liberal influence deemed too dominant in certain university circles. The European Commission responded, at the end of December, by putting funding for the Erasmus + program in the balance, as well as the Horizon Europe program on research and innovation. Brussels has informed the competent authorities that the credits are suspended for any new request made after mid-December.
This decision has serious consequences for the 21 higher education establishments concerned, including the prestigious Corvinus University in Budapest. In 2020, 22,622 Hungarians benefited from the Erasmus+ program for some 40.5 million euros. The suspension of payments is one of the first tangible consequences of the decision to freeze 55% of the cohesion funds allocated to Hungary (i.e. 6.3 billion euros) as long as it has not demonstrated the sincerity of the reforms, especially against corruption.
Brussels had asked Budapest to review the management of its universities. The EU considered that the new model governed by foundations did not guarantee the proper use of European funds, as it did not meet the rules on public procurement or the requirements to prevent conflicts of interest. Under pressure, the Hungarian parliament agreed to do the necessary in the fall. On the other hand, he did not, as requested, rectify a provision allowing political leaders – mainly Fidesz elected officials in power – to join the boards of directors of the famous trust foundations. Brussels is not prepared to pay public subsidies to establishments as long as relatives of Viktor Orban, who are also employees of these structures, have all the powers to direct the money where they see fit. For example, Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto receives a monthly salary of one and a half million forints (€3,765) as a board member of Széchenyi University in Gyor, RTL revealed. Hungary. The suspension of European funds will not be lifted until this aspect is corrected.
Since his return to power in 2010, Viktor Orban has tried to make universities an instrument of power. In 2019, the government closed the Central European University (CEU) founded in 1991 in Budapest by the American-Hungarian financier George Soros, its sworn enemy. In 2020, the government placed the University of Dramatic and Cinematographic Arts (SZFE in Hungarian) under guardianship, angering students, opponents and artistic circles. Then he did not hesitate in 2021 to roll out the red carpet to create in Hungary, by 2024, the first European campus of Fudan University in China, whose headquarters has since 2011 hosted a course for future spies. .