According to Joep Bresser, Policy Officer of Neth-ER, an organisation that represents the interests of Dutch education and research in Brussels, the European Commission and the Member States want to protect the EU budget against violations of the rule of law. The EU has for many years been looking with suspicion at developments in Hungary. At the end of 2022, Brussels approved a bill, that has been in force since December.

How much money is involved?

“All in all, the country risks losing 6.3 billion euros in EU subsidies until 2027. According to the European Commission, the Hungarian universities in question have received around 52 million euros in Horizon research grants since 2014. In 2020, Hungary got roughly 60 million euros in Erasmus+ grants. The country will have an opportunity to get EU subsidies once again only when the Orbán government improves the situation.”

Why are the Hungarian universities being punished now?

“The universities in question have been run by public foundations in recent years, with sitting politicians of the conservative Fidesz party of President Viktor Orbán on the Supervisory Board. For a long while, the EU has been expressing its concerns over this conflict of interests and over Orbán’s intervention in other areas of society, such as the press.”

Is there not a risk that the EU will also hit the remaining critical academics in the country with sanctions of this kind?

“Yes, that’s the major dilemma. Universities and educational institutions play an important role in driving the social debate. Students and researchers are the likely victims. They are the very people you want to bring in contact with people in other countries. The fact that it took so long to reach consensus on withdrawing the funds shows that it wasn’t an easy decision.”

Is there also a risk to exchanges of Erasmus students?

“Hungarian institutions are no longer eligible for project applications submitted after 16 December 2022. Exchange projects that were in place at that time will run for a further two years. After that, exchanges between those universities will no longer be possible, according to the National Agency Erasmus+. That applies to the Netherlands as well. Unless the situation in Hungary improves.

According to Neth-ER, Dutch higher education institutions worked on nearly 100 projects with the 21 Hungarian educational institutions in the last few years. The Dutch institutions have received 74 million euros in grants for those projects.