BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — Hungary's government will bring legal action against the European Union's executive arm if it cannot reach an agreement on EU funding for university study-abroad programs, a government minister said Thursday.
Speaking at a news conference in Budapest, Gergely Gulyas, chief of staff to the prime minister, said that a recent decision by the European Commission to cut funding for the Erasmus student exchange program at many Hungarian universities was “unacceptable and unbearable.”
Gulyas added that Hungary's government would provide financing for the program if EU funds do not arrive, but that it will take the case to the European Court of Justice if a compromise isn’t reached.
The funding cut, which would affect Hungarian students studying abroad through the EU's Erasmus program as well as funding for research at the majority of Hungarian universities, comes as part of a series of financial penalties the bloc has imposed on the government in an effort to bring it into line with rule of law and democracy standards.
The EU has indicated that Hungary's higher educations system — which since 2019 has undergone sweeping changes that has seen the control of universities transferred to publicly funded foundations often led by serving politicians — does not adequately protect academic freedom from political interference.
Gulyas insisted that Hungary had done everything requested of it by the Commission to prevent conflicts of interest in the leadership of higher education institutions.
Still, he said, if the Commission requests that senior Hungarian politicians not be permitted to serve on universities' boards of trustees, Hungary is willing to further modify its rules.
The EU has frozen more than 12 billion euros ($13 billion) of funds to Hungary over concerns that Prime Minister Viktor Orban has used EU funding to dismantle democratic institutions and enrich his allies.
Hungary has until March to implement more than two dozen reforms to bring it into line with EU standards and unfreeze the funding.