The European Commission believes that these higher education institutions have become private foundations controlled by Prime Minister Viktor Orban. His entourage ensures that a compromise with Brussels is possible.

The Infopark university and business district of Budapest (Hungary). (MAXPPP)

This is a blow for Hungarian students. The country’s universities are no longer eligible for Erasmus, the European Union-funded exchange program that allows students from across Europe to spend six months in another country. If the EU suspends its cooperation with 21 Hungarian universities – almost all higher education establishments – it is because Prime Minister Viktor Orban has transformed these places of education into private foundations, to build up a treasure trove of war in case he loses the elections.

Universities become the “slush fund” of a party

The Prime Minister has indeed endowed the universities with castles and state-owned properties, and placed them under the control of his ministers and his party. It doesn’t exist anywhere else in Europe. And for the European Commission, there is no question of giving Erasmus money – 40 million euros a year, all the same – to universities which have become the “slush fund” of a party and which have completely lost their independence.

Yet since 2004, the year Hungary joined the European Union, tens of thousands of young Hungarians have taken advantage of Erasmus. In 2020, there were 22,000. And tens of thousands of young French, Spanish and German people came to the country thanks to the program. Teachers also participated. The European Commission is also suspending until further notice other cooperation with the Hungarian authorities, such as the Horizon program, which funds research projects between European universities.

The government must propose changes

In response, Viktor Orban accused Brussels of wanting revenge on Hungarian youth. But his chief of staff indicated that Hungary was ready to compromise with Brussels. For months the European Commission has explained that Hungarian universities cannot be run by politicians from the ruling party, that there is a huge conflict of interest. The Orban government should propose changes in the management of universities. It remains to be seen whether these changes will be sufficient for Brussels.

What will happen to foreign students – French in particular – who would like to go on Erasmus in Hungary? Those who submitted their application before December 15, 2022 are not affected by this measure: they will be able to go to Hungary this year. But for those who wanted to apply in 2023, it is more uncertain. In Hungary, there are still universities that have not been privatized, such as Elte, the largest university in Budapest. There, Erasmus continues without problems. For the others, you really have to check with your university in France.