As we reported last week, in an unexpected move, the European Commission decided to suspend next year’s Erasmus programme funding for foundation-run Hungarian universities, citing rule of law concerns with regard to the composition of the said universities’ boards of trustees. Prime Minister Orbán, Minister of the PM’s Office Gergely Gulyás and other Hungarian government officials have rejected the Commission’s reasoning and called the move unacceptable. At his regular press briefing last week, Minister Gulyás made it clear that the Hungarian Government is ready to take the EC to court if no agreement is reached.
Magyar Nemzet obtained the letter that Tibor Navracsics, the minister without portfolio in charge of regional development and utilisation of EU funds, wrote to EU Commissioners Johannes Hahn and Mariya Gabriel. In it, the minister expressed his desire to urgently clarify the ‘misunderstandings’ that led to the European Union’s controversial measure.
According to Navracsics, if followed through, this step by the Commission will cause irreparable damage, and not just to Hungarians. Students from Hungary may not have the chance to gain valuable experience that would strengthen their identity as European citizens.
Minister Navracsics also highlighted in his letter that the Commission’s actions
‘violate Article 13 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, as they make it impossible for programmes, research projects, and trainings to go forward and disadvantage institutions and research fellows.
The decision of the Commission is destroying professional partnerships spanning decades, and restricts academic freedom.’
Minister of Foreign Affairs Péter Szijjártó also spoke up on the issue. He remarked on the hypocrisy of the European Commission, pointing out the fact that, similarly to Hungary, in many Western European countries active politicians are sitting on the boards of universities, and yet these countries are not faced with punishments from Brussels. Minister Szijjártó stated that the Commission is displaying clear signs of ‘Hungarophobia’ and a ‘brutal double standard’. He also pledged that should the Commission go through with its plans and cut funding for scholarship programmes for Hungarian university students, the Hungarian Government will cover the related expenses.
Former LMP co-chair, lawyer András Schiffer also expressed harsh criticism of the Commission. He told the radio station Spirit FM that, as opposed to the EU’s official narrative about rule of law concerns in relation to the Orbán government, it is in fact the European Commission that is threatening the rule of law in Europe when cutting the Erasmus funding. Schiffer pointed out that there has never been an EU rule in place which would give the EU any discretion over how a sovereign government organises its higher education. Schiffer stated that the whole controversy, started by a European Commission that ‘has never before had such talentless and idiotic leaders as now’, will hurt the EU more than the Fidesz administration.
We reported earlier that Prime Minister Viktor Orbán denounced the Commission’s decision as pure vengeance on public Kossuth radio last Friday. The PM did not mince his words and he stated that it is obvious by now that Brussels wanted a change of government in Hungary last year, and since they didn’t get it, they are now punishing the Hungarian people.