€12.5M has been set aside by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán for Hungarian universities impacted by EU’s Horizon Europe funding freeze

The Hungarian government is supporting research projects affected by the Horizon Europe funding freeze by setting aside almost €12.5 million. Although it is not a long-term solution, it helps provide funding and support research in the short-term.

What is the five billion HUF “self-reliance” fund?

Announced on 14 March, the five billion HUF “self-reliance” fund will finance the Hungarian partners in European consortia.

This comes when the Horizon Europe funding freeze affects 34 universities and cultural institutions managed by public trust foundations. However, according to the EU, these foundations breach several rule of law principles.

The Council of the EU chose to ban these institutions from accessing any new Horizon Europe or Erasmus+ funds from 16 December onwards.

If the EU’s Horizon Europe funding freeze remains in place, Hungarian partners cannot sign the grant agreement. But they will still be able to use money from the €12.5 million substitute fund as associated partners.

Applications have been made from almost all impacted universities

Almost all the universities involved have made applications, but the exact number is not known.

Researchers in Hungary have expressed their concern that the fund is not sustainable. Members of the Hungarian Academy Staff Forum (HASF), an association of researchers, have also anonymously had their say on the funding.

‘What happens next year? This substitute funding is kind of a way to extinguish a fire, but it won’t solve the underlying problem in the long-run’

One member commented, “What happens next year? This substitute funding is kind of a way to extinguish a fire, but it won’t solve the underlying problem in the long-run.”

Dániel Deák, professor of international taxation and EU law at Corvinus University of Budapest, added, “We need a corruption-free institutional environment, and then Hungarian participants will be welcomed by the EU partner institutions.

Another member of HASF stated, “It is a great relief for the teachers and researchers working [at the universities] that they are not left out of the consortia. My opinion is that we should not condemn this gesture precisely for the sake of our colleagues, as it supports their participation in the tenders they have already won.”

There are wider concerns about rule of law breaches

There are wider concerns about rule of law breaches in Hungary which have come after the triggering of the EU conditionality regulation against Hungary back in April 2022.

Brussels and Budapest have been discussing this issue regularly since April 2022 and Hungary representatives are due to meet EU officials every three months to provide updates. Currently, there is no deadline in place to guide any kind of resolution.

‘There is no regulatory deadline’

Balazs Ujvari, a spokesman for the European Commission, said, “We have talked about June or July, [when] if everything is resolved, then any impact could be avoided, but there is no regulatory deadline.”

Orbán believes Hungary will reach an agreement with the EU

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán addressed the public trust foundation dispute during a speech on 9 March.

Orbán is hopeful that Hungary will reach an agreement with the EU. He also accused the EU of trying to take away Hungarian foundation-run universities’ competitive advantage as they are “directly involved in government decision-making through the state secretaries and ministers.”

“It may be that the boards of trustees need to be changed, and perhaps we’ve already changed them. But we must not give up the advantage of being linked in, of direct communication, and of Hungarian universities being an integral part of economic development,” the Prime Minister concluded.

The government does not want to change the law to solve the problem

This interpretation that the role of the boards is to provide a direct link from universities to the government is different to previous rhetoric, which set out that the Hungarian government has claimed the trustees are completely independent.

A HASF member said this “influence” that the government has gained over the universities is why it is working so hard not to restructure the public trust foundations.

“The problem could be solved easily if the government changed the laws around the public trust foundations, but they don’t want to,” the member explained.

“They managed to gain some influence in the system and that’s why they are trying many things, one of which is this substitute funding, but they don’t want to lose this indirect influence over universities.”


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