Hungary denounces EU decision to cut off funds to universities

FILE PHOTO: European Union flags flutter outside the EU Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium June 17, 2022. REUTERS/Yves Herman/File Photo

BUDAPEST (Reuters) -Hungary on Thursday branded a European Commission decision to cut off some Hungarian universities from EU funding as unacceptable, saying it had met EU requests for change.

The European Commission said in December it would hold back all 22 billion euros of EU cohesion funds for Hungary until its government met conditions related to judiciary independence, academic freedoms, LGBT rights and the asylum system.

The EU Erasmus funding sponsors thousands of students' and teachers' stays at foreign universities. The Commission said Hungary had not changed its practice of nominating politicians close to the government on to boards of 21 tertiary colleges.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban's chief of staff, Gergely Gulyas, told a briefing that the Commission decision, which affects institutions run by so called "public trust foundations", was unjustified as Hungary had met Brussels' requests for change.

Gulyas said that if negotiations with Brussels did not resolve the issue, Hungary would finance the Erasmus programmes for 2024 itself.

He also said Budapest was willing to take the case to the European Court of Justice as a last resort.

"What is happening with regards to Erasmus, from the side of the Commission versus Hungary, is unacceptable," Gulyas said.

"We would like to find a fast solution," he added, saying that Tibor Navracsics, the minister in charge of EU funds, would hold talks with the Commission next week.

Gulyas said Hungary would have accepted a demand from the Commission not to have active politicians or mayors on the board running the foundations, but there was no such request.

(Reporting by Krisztina Than and Gergely Szakacs; Editing by Toby Chopra and Nick Macfie)

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