Hungary: 21 universities to be cut off from Erasmus+ and Horizon funds

Agriculture university affected by funding cut-off, consumers increasingly saving on groceries, declining agroeconomical figures from 2022 and weather endangers horticultural production again - Our weekly briefing on agriculture, food and nature news in Hungary

Beeld: ©Fred Romero
The Corvinus University of Budapest is one of the 21 institutions that will be affected by the recent decision to cut off funds from public trust fund universities.

Public trust foundation universities in Hungary to be locked out of Erasmus+ and Horizon funds

The news portal Né reported on Monday that new projects at the universities currently run by public trust foundations in Hungary will not be able to receive funds from the EU-backed Erasmus+ and Horizon education exchange and science funding framework programs.

The decision was taken by the Council on December 13, 2022, when they froze almost one-third of Hungary’s funding for the 2021-2027 period over corruption concerns.

The decision affects 21 universities managed by so-called public interest trusts. These include, among others, the Hungarian University of Agriculture and Life Sciences (MATE), the Corvinus University of Budapest, the University of Debrecen, the University of Pécs, Semmelweis University, the University of Pannonia, University of Szeged, and the University of Sopron.

We reported on the privatization of MATE two years ago. reports that the Corvinus University alone received €3.6 million for 11 projects between 2014 and 2020 from the Horizon 2020 program. In 2020, the university won the bid as consortium lead for a €4 million project.

Népszava reports that the cut-off will be applicable to projects evaluated after December 15, 2022. According to Hungary Around The Clock, the Culture and Innovation Ministry commented that it does not accept the decision. The ministry also commented that Erasmus+ programs will be able to continue undisturbed in Hungary this year, reports Hungary Matters.

Magyar Nemzet reports that Minister for Regional Development and EU Commissioner Tibor Navracsics called the move “discriminative.” The Mr. Navracsics commented that although the Commission expressed concerns in the past, “these were handled,” which is why the government “does not understand this decision.” Commissioner Navracsics also told Magyar Nemzet that he will ask Commissioners Johannes Hahn, in charge of budget and administrative matters, and Mariya Gabriel in charge of culture, education and youth, to provide information about their concerns as well as ways that these can be remedied.

According to Hungary Around the Clock, opposition reactions differed following the decision. Most opposition politicians agree that the senior Fidesz cabinet members should not be included in key university foundations’ boards of trustees. However, the Momentum party opposed the exclusion of Hungarian universities from the Erasmus program, with the party’s EP MEP Katalin Cseh commenting that she disagrees with the ruling despite the fact that she considered the process of including senior Fidesz politicians in universities “scandalous”. Anna Donáth, Momentum EP MEP commented in a Facebook post that Hungarian students locked out of the Erasmus+ program “because of the government’s mistakes” is “unacceptable” and that with her colleague MEP Cseh, they have sent a letter to the European Commission to ask for “finding the right tool to enforce the independence of universities in Hungary.”

Hungarians ramp up saving on groceries

The economic news portal reported at the end of last week that the latest data by the Central Statistical Office (KSH) on retail commerce in Hungary shows a marked decrease in consumers’ willingness to spend on groceries.

In November, retail trade was 0.6% higher than a year before, however, this figure was distorted by large amounts of fuel purchases at gas stations while the price cap on gas was still in effect. In fact, commerce at gas stations was 27.7% higher last November than in November, 2021.

The sales of food stuffs dropped by 6.7%, and in the “mixed grocery store” category, sales decreased by 8.6%. highlights that this only refers to volume and not prices since with 22.5% inflation in November, consumers paid 26.5% for food in stores than a year before.

Last week we reported that Hungary’s food inflation was tenth-largest in the world in December according to the World Bank.

Hungary is the EU’s sixth-largest wine producer

Eurostat recently published new figures on wine production in the EU in the year 2021. According to the statistics, the EU’s largest wine producer is Spain with 5 billion liters of wine, or 29% of the total production value. Italy and France are second and third in the list with  ~5 billion and 3.4 billion liters (28% and 20%, respectively), while Germany produced 1.3 billion (7%). Portugal produced 0.7 billion (4%) of the EU’s wines in 2021, while Hungary was responsible for 0.3 billion (2%) of the total production.

Eurostat’s overview data sheet can be found here. Here’s our detailed overview of Hungary’s entire viticulture sector from a few years ago.

Agriculture figures took a nosedive in 2022

Recent figures by the Central Statistical Office (KS) show that Hungary’s total agriculture production output decreased by 19% in 2022.

The total value of the country’s agriculture output increased by 15% last year. However, this value is distorted by skyrocketing prices, which increased by 42 on average throughout the agriculture industry in Hungary.

Compared to 2021, crop cultivation decreased by 28% in total. Out of all plant-based sectors, maize cultivation fell by 57%, oats by 51%, rapeseed by 38%. The figures of sunflowers, rye and wheat decreased by 35%, 32% and 18%, respectively. Potato production, which was already comparatively weak in Hungary, decreased by 16%. The harvest figures of barley decreased by 10%.

In total, animal feed crops dropped by 9.7% and horticultural products also plummeted, by 7.88%. Grapevines saw the smallest decrease, 1.9%.

The production of other crops, and permanent crops like fruits remained mostly at the same levels as in 2021, with the exception of peaches, which saw a 65% increase to the baseline of 2021 (when spring cold snaps had virtually destroyed the entire harvest).

In the animal sectors, production decreased by 6.1%, out of which live animal production figures decreased by 8%, and the production of animal products fell by 2%.

Labor input decreased by 2.3% and entrepreneurs’ profits also decreased, by 3.1%. The news portal reports that these losses were exacerbated by the government’s failure to prepare the agriculture industry for severe droughts over the last 12 years of governance.

Mild winter weather endangers horticulture production

The National Meteorological Service reports that the warm, spring-like weather observed in the beginning of January might lead to damages in horticultural fruit production in the spring.

According to the Meteorological Service, although the beginning of January is statistically the coldest part of the year, 2023 started with a record warm weather, which is not likely to change in the next 8 to 10 days. This disturbs crops’ vegetational cycles. Capillary action in fruit trees starts early, which is makes them vulnerable to later cold weather and cold snaps in the spring. Similar weather patterns led to devastating frost damages in Hungarian orchards in the spring of 2021.

In terms of precipitation, the situation seems to be better than it was in the beginning of 2022. Total precipitation from the past 30 days is higher than the multiannual average for the period. In the preceding 90-day window, there are greater differences in rain patterns, in the North-West and in the South-East of the country, precipitation levels are too low.

The winter period is crucial in replenishing water levels in the soil. A particularly windy and dry winter last year contributed to the devastating drought of the summer of 2022.

Image credit: Budapesti Corvinus Egyetem by Fred Romero via Flickr. The image was shared under the Creative Commons 2.0 license.