While it is standard practice in the EU for politicians, ministers, and even members of the European Parliament to sit on the supervisory boards and boards of trustees of higher education institutions, the European Commission is going after Hungarian universities run by foundations for the same practice and, as a consequence, penalizing young Hungarians by potentially denying them the opportunity to participate in the EU-funded, Erasmus scholarship program.
While EC leaders like Mariya Gabriel and Eric Mamer deny allegations of using Erasmus funds as a stick against the Hungarian government, arguments about “conflict of interest” cannot be taken seriously when we note that in addition to their political posts, many German and Austrian politicians hold academic positions.
Heiko Maas, minister for economic affairs of the German state of Saarland, was also listed as an alternate member of the supervisory board of the Saarland University Hospital in 2013, according to the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. Additionally, the state's Finance Minister Stephan Toscani and Minister for Social Affairs, Health, Women, and Family Andreas Storm both served on the university clinic's supervisory board.
As for Austria, the federal government appoints members to some university councils based on the recommendation of the minister for education, science, and research, the candidates mainly include people who have held positions in the federal or provincial governments before being appointed to university senates.
Just in 2022, the Austrian government appointed Matthias Vogl, head of Department III of the Ministry of the Interior, and Angelika Schätze, head of Department I of the Ministry of Finance, to the Senate of the University of Innsbruck.
And Sigrid Berka, head of the Ministry for European and International Affairs' Management Department, has also been appointed by the federal government to the Senate of the University of Klagenfurt.
Or we could mention the director of the Lower Austrian Government's Department for Science and Research, Martina Höllbacher, who was appointed to the Krems University Senate for Education.
The list goes on and on, and this is only Germany and Austria.
The EC’s action against Hungarian universities are clearly not what they claim to be. More importantly, punishing thousands of Hungarian students to further a self-serving political agenda is unjust and creates a harmful precedent.
This we cannot tolerate – nor should any other member state.