Hungarian rector blasts ‘dangerous dynamic’ of Horizon exclusions

Corvinus head says Brussels is undermining European integration through exchange, as it has by pushing away the UK and Switzerland

February 1, 2023
Person blows fire during a performance in Hungry to illustrate Hungarian rector blasts ‘dangerous dynamic’ of Horizon exclusions
Source: Alamy

The European Union’s decision to stop authorising research and academic exchange funding for most Hungarian universities is part of a “dangerous dynamic” of Brussels-imposed exclusions, a leading rector has claimed.

The bloc said in December that neither public trust foundations nor the 21 universities they fund could sign new EU grant agreements, including for Erasmus+ or Horizon Europe, amid concern about the political capture of Hungarian foundation boards by loyalists of the ruling Fidesz party.

But Előd Takáts, rector of Corvinus University of Budapest, criticised what he saw as a growing weaponisation of academic collaboration and funding across Europe. Both Switzerland and the UK remain excluded from Horizon Europe amid ongoing political spats with Brussels, and as a former principal economist for the Bank for International Settlements in Basle and a visiting professor at the London School of Economics, Professor Takáts has seen the impact first-hand.

“There are three examples: us being number three, Brexit is number two, but the first is actually Switzerland. In all cases, there was some decision on the non-EU side. [But] I see a dangerous dynamic that is now more on the EU side, which is turning off scientific cooperation and student exchange,” Professor Takáts told Times Higher Education.

The economist argued that the EU’s willingness to bring academic relations into political disputes was “unwittingly, unknowingly undermining European integration”. “Small, in isolation innocent-looking, steps can have a major negative consequence when added together,” he said, comparing the gradual detachment to Europe’s descent into the First World War, as described in Christopher Clark’s The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914.

“That is not to criticise the EU’s right and duty to defend its financial interests, to defend integrity,” he continued. “The criticism concerns specific programmes and very specific collateral damage.”

Professor Takáts insisted that his comments were “not about the big money, it’s a pro-European cry”. Hungary’s government has claimed that no Erasmus+ exchange students will be affected in 2023 because agreements had been signed before the freeze, and it has promised to ensure the “continued smooth provision of funding for higher education until the March deadline”, the point by which it must demonstrate to the EU that it has started rule-of-law reforms.

Professor Takáts predicted that Corvinus – one of 21 universities funded by public asset management foundations, which critics say are run by party loyalists – would lose about €2 million (£1.8 million) over the next six months. But he said he was more concerned about the loss of opportunities to improve intercultural understanding, instancing his training at Princeton University in the early 2000s. “You make friends with people who you thought would be fundamentally different, and they are not,” he recalled.

On 26 January, Hungary’s EU commissioner, Tibor Navracsics, said the country’s government would agree a deal with a bloc to end the funding freeze. He reportedly told the Hungarian state news agency, MTI, that the government would make the EU’s required rule changes for university oversight boards.

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