For a long time, the government has been deceiving Hungarians with the despicable lie that they cannot implement the long-promised pay rise for teachers because „Brussels has withheld EU funds” and because „left-wing opposition MEPs are using all means to block” the increase in teachers’ salaries with EU money. These government statements can be easily and clearly refuted, and in response to my written question EU Commissioner for Employment and Social Affairs, Nicolas Schmit has recently officially confirmed that EU funds for teachers’ pay are, in fact, available now and that their swift use depends solely on the Hungarian government. I bring you the details below.
First of all, let us be clear that in the first version of the Human Resource Development Operational Programme Plus submitted by the Fidesz government to use traditional EU budget resources, there was not a single word about the planned pay rise for teachers. It was only included in the later rewritten document under pressure from interest groups and opposition MEPs. It is therefore a blatant lie that it is opposition MEPs – myself, for example – who are blocking this process, as it is precisely thanks to us that it was made possible at all. Let us also shed light on how the Fidesz government is fooling teachers and Hungarian people in this matter: they are saying that, because of the freezing of funds due to problems with the rule of law, it is not possible to increase teachers’ salaries from EU money for the time being. (We will set aside for the moment the fact that if the government wanted, it could do this with domestic funds by a single decision, it just chooses not to.) The government is lying as the actual withholding of part of the EU funds – due to Fidesz’s crimes – does not directly concern the funds for teachers’ pay raises. The above-mentioned EU Commissioner Nicolas Schmit confirmed this in a letter he wrote to me recently in response to my written questions on the matter.
In it, the EU Commissioner clarifies, among other things, that the money for teachers’ pay raises would be financed by the government through the Human Resource Development Operational Programme Plus, for which the funds would be drawn from the European Social Fund Plus. This operational programme is not affected by the suspensions. In his letter, Schmit confirms that only 55% of the commitments under the three Cohesion Fund programmes have been suspended and that „the gradual increase of the teachers’ salaries co-financed by the European Social Fund Plus is not impacted by it.” So, let me add this for clarification: under the previous agreement between the EU and Hungary, this money is safe, and the government could spend it for the originally intended purpose if it so wished. However – let’s just tell it like it is – after teachers have taken a strong stand against them and their insane policies, they are obviously not paying them out of petty political revenge.
In his reply to me, the EU Commissioner also pointed out that the funds needed to cover the technical costs of the additional operational programme, including the increase in teachers’ salaries, have already been made available to the Hungarian Government. This means that, based on the letter, there is in fact no real obstacle to the programme being implemented, for instance, with the promised increase in teachers’ salaries. While, for the time being, the Hungarian State is indeed not being paid the bills for the implementation of the programme due to the dispute about the rule of law, there is, in fact, no declared threat to the compensation for these, as the freeze does not affect the funds in question. In other words, the government could without further ado advance the promised wage increase, knowing for sure that the subsequent financing of this amount is secured. This would not be unprecedented either, as the government has already spent a significant part (some 20 per cent) of the frozen Recovery Fund in advance: HUF 8 billion of it has been pre-financed, for example, to Lőrinc Mészáros’ power supply company.
“I would like to reassure you, that improving the attractiveness of the teaching profession has been a long-standing call in the European semester and is a priority in the 2021-27 programming period for the European Commission. Since the programme adoption, my services are continuously discussing with the responsible Hungarian authorities to successfully and effectively implement the agreed measure. As one of the conditions for success is a meaningful social dialogue between Hungarian authorities and the largest teachers’ trade unions, there is also close interaction with these trade unions. I look forward to continuing our cooperation and further exchanges in the area of European Social Fund Plus financing in Hungary,”said the responsible EU Commissioner, Nicolas Schmit, in his response to me.
In light of all this, I am of the clear and firm opinion that it is petty revenge on the part of the Fidesz government not to pay the teachers’ pay raises from the available EU budget and it is utterly pathetic to blame the left-wing opposition for this. It is clear and obvious that the funds are available and secured, and the government could prefinance the pay increase at any time if it wanted to. The government’s evasiveness and denial are particularly pathetic when they themselves have previously boasted that they are prepared to do so at any time in other cases. For example, during a government briefing on the freezing of funds, Cabinet Minister Gergely Gulyás said outright that the suspension of funds would not cause a loss of resources, because „since there is pre-financing here at home, there is no problem when EU funds arrive later.” Well, dear government, go on and start pre-financing things then! Pay all the money that is due to Hungarian teachers! Stop this childish and ridiculous pretence; if you indeed put Hungary first, then do your job!
After the Hungarian Prime Minister’s landmark 2014 speech in Tusványos, in which he proclaimed the illiberal state, I vowed that as an MEP I would write an open letter every week to warn the public of the crimes of the system that had been built. For the 401st time, I am ringing the bells of alarm and will continue to do so tirelessly for as long as it is necessary. Because we must give our shared homeland a new chance.
MEP István Ujhelyi
Member of the European Parliament
Founder of the Community of Chance