“The Prime Minister is absolutely in favor” of declaring a conflict of interest for ministers, in connection with them being university trustees, the Minister for Regional Development and EU funds told atv.hu. Tibor Navracsics added that the government may discuss the “Erasmus” proposal as early as this week to ensure that the EU-funded scholarship program remains available in Hungarian institutions.
Tibor Navracsics said that preparations are underway: first the proposals will be presented to the government, and then the European Commission will be consulted. An important part of the bill is that it includes a provision on the conflict of interest of ministers with university foundation trustees, i.e. that a minister could not be a trustee. Another question is the re-election of people holding this post, but this is still subject to consultation.
It is not yet clear exactly who cannot be a trustee, the European Commission has yet to agree on the scope of the role. So the question remains whether state secretaries and mayors can hold this role.
The government may decide on the issue as soon as this week, Navracsics said, confirming that the law on public interest trusts will have to be amended, which will be discussed by Parliament in March.
News came in January that Hungarian universities that operate as public trust foundations or are maintained by such foundations will not receive fresh grants from the EU-funded Erasmus+ exchange and Horizon Europe research and innovation programs. In total, the ban affects 21 Hungarian universities, including prestigious institutions such as Corvinus University, and Semmelweis University.
The EU has problems with the institutions’ operating model, which according to them, did not ensure the transparent management of EU funds, as neither public procurement nor conflict of interest rules applied to them.
Reacting to the situation, the Minister heading the Prime Minister’s Office said that when the agreement was reached with the European Commission, the Hungarian government acted as Brussels had requested in the case of conflict of interest rules. The codified text was also agreed upon and approved, and Hungary would have been open to adopting stricter conflict of interest rules, but no such request was received from Brussels, Gergely Gulyás argued.
Since the Erasmus program is very important to Hungary, Gulyás stated that if the Erasmus scholarship negotiations with the European Union do not lead to a result, the government will pay the cost of the scholarships. Hopefully, there will be no need for that, as Minister Navracsics had recently held “compromise-seeking” talks with EU commissioners for education and culture Marija Gabriel, and budget commissioner Johannes Hahn. After the meeting, Navracsics said that there is no threat to the continuation of the Erasmus+ education and Horizon Europe research programs, as applications for the calls for proposals are still open. He added that the Hungarian government can address the concerns of the European Commission about universities run by public trust foundations.
Featured photo via Facebook/Erasmus+