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European Commission disturbed by Hungary's CEU moves, could sue for violating EU law and values

14.4.2017 8:54
Thousands of people came to Budapest in April 2017 to support the Central European University remaining in Hungary. (PHOTO:  Facebook,
Thousands of people came to Budapest in April 2017 to support the Central European University remaining in Hungary. (PHOTO: Facebook, "I Stand With CEU")

On 12 April the European Commission (EC) expressed concern over recent steps taken by the Hungarian Government, especially its controversial law on higher education. EC Vice-President Frans Timmermans threatened Budapest with the possible launching of yet another infringement proceedings over the issue.

Budapest says it sees the accusations from Brussels as the EC's "revenge" for the country's view of the migration problem, which differs from that of the EC. The steps taken by Budapest, according to the EC, raise doubts as to whether the law adopted is in accordance with the legislation and the shared values of the European Union.

Individual cases of possible violation of EU norms will be assessed by the EC by the end of this month. The EC has primarily concerned itself with the controversial law on higher education, an amendment to which was approved last week by the Hungarian Parliament and then signed on Monday by Hungarian President János Áder.

The EC has also discussed a Hungarian bill on the foreign financing of NGOs, an asylum law facilitating the systematic detention of all asylum-seekers, and how Hungary applies the ban on discrimination when it comes to Romani children accessing education. The EC, according to Timmermans, will assess any possible negative impact of the new Hungarian law on higher education on the EU's principles of freedom of movement for finances, goods, people and services.

The investigation should be completed "as soon as possible", and Timmermans said the EC is considering whether to adopt its own next steps by the end of this month also. Despite the EC's critical assessment, Timmermans also noted that from a formal perspective, there are still not yet any "systematic threats to EU law and shared values" in Hungary.

The recently-adopted amendment is, according to commentators, aimed against the Central European University (CEU), which in 1991 was established in Hungary by the American billionaire of Hungarian origin, George Soros, who is a critic of Hungarian Prime Minister Orbán's Government. The amendment imposes several new requirements, such as the requirement that a foreign university operating in Hungary also run a campus in the country of its origin.

The law also establishes that foreign universities may only award titles in Hungary if the Government of Hungary and that of the relevant foreign country (in the case of CEU, the USA) sign the relevant agreeements within half a year from the amendment taking effect. Reuters reports that thousands of Hungarians protested yesterday in the center of Budapest against this suppression of education and freedom of thought, adding that the event was the fourth demonstration of its size in two weeks.

Orbán, who is doing his best to introduce what he has called "illiberal democracy" into the country, is facing growing resistance before the next elections scheduled for April 2018. Hungarian Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó told the MTI wire service in Warsaw, Poland that Timmermans' accusations are "poor" and that the reason he has made them is the fact that Hungary has introduced what he called an "effective solution for illegal migration" on its territory despite the fact that the EC holds a different opinion of that issue.

Polish Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski then also assured the wire service that Poland rejects "European Commission blackmail in all its forms". The EC, according to Waszczykowski, is exceeding its powers because its calling is to defend the EU's basic values, not to "oversee all events in the Member States".

Hungarian Government spokesperson Zoltán Kovács declared that what he called the "attack" from Brussels is supposed to pressure Budapest into agreeing with quotas for the redistribution of immigrants and reopening its borders. Hungary will not be abandoning its negative positive on immigration, Kovács said.

Reporting by Polish television channel TVN 24 emphasized that the EC has not yet launched any official proceedings against the Hungarian Government for violating EU norms the way it has against the Polish Government. Timmermans, according to TVN 24, has explained this by saying the difference is that unlike Warsaw, the Hungarian Government is not refusing to negotiate with Brussels over its concerns, so Brussels prefers to engage in dialogue with Orbán on what direction he intends to lead Hungary in and whether the country does actually share EU values.

ČTK, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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