Hungary’s takeover to stay ahead of the EU
The Hungarian parliament, dominated by a two-thirds majority of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz party, on Tuesday April 27 approved the transfer of a wide range of assets from the state, universities and other public institutions, towards new foundations allied with the government.
Critics and opposition parties have said the move strengthens Orbán’s grip on power and funnels public goods to party-affiliated organizations ahead of next year’s elections, which the Fidesz government is expected to face. to his most serious challenge since coming to power in 2010.
the approved by parliament the creation of more than a dozen of these new foundations, whose endowments include state assets ranging from real estate, stakes in blue chip companies and a football stadium. Bloomberg Financial Newswire estimated their value at billions of euros.
The majority of foundations will oversee state universities, and their governing boards include close allies from Orbán – in some cases government ministers.
“It is about the organized theft of the assets of the Hungarian people”, declared Gergely Arato, deputy of the opposition, during the parliamentary debate.
Daniel Hegedus, member of the German Marshall Fund in Berlin, told EUobserver that the government has three goals: “divergent public assets so that even after an election they can keep them, which makes it harder for the anti- EU fraud. [OLAF] to take a close look at the use of EU funds and to reform higher education – which also means keeping it under party control “.
The Orbán government argued that this decision was a necessary modernization of the higher education system.
The Hungarian government’s communications office, in a statement to EUobserver, said that “all the assets that these foundations have can only be used for public purposes, for higher education activities, and they do not become private property in any form “.
Government officials also said the reform had nothing to do with the 2022 elections.
But MEPs also expressed concerns that the foundations will make it impossible to track EU funds planned to support Hungarian higher education.
In its draft stimulus package, Hungary wanted to channel one-fifth of EU grants from the EU’s stimulus fund towards the modernization of universities, which would be overseen by the foundations.
A dozen MEPs from Green, Liberal and Left parties sent a letter to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Monday April 26, warning her that 20% of EU funds from the EU’s recovery fund Union available to the country “would disappear into opaque funding structures” and “which aim to further destroy academic freedom and institutional autonomy in Hungary”.
They called on the head of the committee not to allow EU funding to go through these structures.
French Green MEP Gwendoline Delbos-Corfield, one of the signatories, told EUobserver that parliament already had “great concerns” over the use of EU funds, where “transparency is a huge problem”.
Hungary has repeatedly been at the top of the list of OLAF member states in which irregularities were found in EU funds between 2015 and 2019.
“We will have a hard time proving the misuse of EU money – it’s very smart of them, if we can prove it bluntly, we can fight it. If they apply this system, it it is much more difficult to fight it “. said the MEP.
Delbos-Corfield added that the move is part of the Orbán government’s roadmap of using “hybrid organizations” to avoid scrutiny.
She cited the example of KESMA, the large media foundation close to Orbán, which runs a conglomerate of nearly 500 media organizations, and which escaped EU investigation because the market distortion did not occur. could be proven.
EU leaders approved a new mechanism last December, which makes EU funds conditional on respect for the rule of law if EU funds are directly involved.
However, the mechanism is stalled after Budapest and Warsaw only accepted the EU’s stimulus fund and long-term budget if the mechanism is not implemented before the European Court of Justice rules. on this subject.
Poland and Hungary have challenged the mechanism in the Luxembourg-based court, and even with a fast-track process, it is unlikely to be triggered before Hungary’s elections next spring.
“The Hungarian government has been ahead of the EU for 10 years, and at first it was understandable, but for a year or two their actions could be anticipated,” Delbos-Corfield said.
“ Hybrid regime ”
The education overhaul comes after the Budapest government effectively forced the Central European University to leave, to move to Vienna.
Meanwhile, the Orbán government plans to build a Budapest campus of the Chinese Fudan University with Chinese entrepreneurs, funded by a € 1.25 billion loan from China.
Freedom House stated in its report On Wednesday, Hungary suffered the biggest drop on record since the US-based NGO began assessing democratic states in 1995.
He said Hungary had witnessed “unprecedented democratic deterioration over the past decade”.
Hungary’s international communications bureau rejected the report’s findings, calling Freedom House a pro-migration organization funded by US billionaire George Soros, Orbán’s longtime critic.