Hungary’s gov’t bows to EU in university row

Effective Feb. 15, several ministers of the government of Hungary will step back from the boards of trustees of foundations operating the country’s 21 universities to meet the European Union’s (EU) conflict of interest concerns, Gergely Gulyas, head of the Prime Minister’s Office says.

“We also expect all government officials to act in this way,” Gulyas said, adding that state secretaries, deputy state secretaries and government commissioners would also resign.

The involvement of politicians active in Hungary’s ruling Fidesz party in the boards of public interest trusts was one of the reasons why the European Commission said on Dec. 21, 2022 that the country would no longer be eligible for the EU’s Erasmus+ and Horizon 2020 grant funds that allow students to spend terms at partner educational and research institutions abroad.

According to Gulyas, the government of Hungary has “always been ready to make sensible compromises with the EU.”

Last December, the government led by Prime Minister Viktor Orban concluded a deal with the EU on unfreezing several billion euros in funds, but the European Commission decided to hold back some 22 billion euros (23.7 billion U.S. dollars) until the government implements 27 so-called “super milestones” — reforms to address rule of law and judicial independence issues.

Hungary’s parliament has already adopted a package of laws but will have to adopt more by the end of March in order for the EU cohesions funds to be unfrozen in April.

Gulyas said on Thursday that the government was also open to changing the rules and making the term of university trustees fixed rather than for life as it is today.

The EU has issues with the universities’ operating model because, in its view, neither public procurement nor conflict of interest laws apply to them, which would ensure the transparent management of EU funds. ■

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