European Commission launches infringement procedure against Hungary’s attack on university

European Commission launches infringement procedure against Hungary’s attack on university
Prime Minister Viktor Orban (left) has proclaimed Hungary an "illiberal democracy", which is seen by critics as moving Hungary closer to Russian President Vladimir Putin's type of regime.
By bne IntelliNews April 27, 2017

The European Commission has launched an infringement procedure against Hungary over amendments to its higher education law.

The legislation is widely perceived as specifically targeting the Central European University, which has aroused Prime Minister Viktor Orban's ire for offering a liberal education, and because it was founded by US-Hungarian financier and philanthropist George Soros, who also funds various liberal NGOs in Hungary.

The attack on the US school has sparked mass condemnation and protests at home and abroad. The EU executive said the law conflicts with EU tenets of freedom to provide services and the freedom of establishment, as well as academic and business freedoms.

In a speech in front of the European Parliament on April 26, Orban called the accusations "unfounded". By way of evidence, he quoted CEU rector Michael Ignatieff's recent statement to the university staff. "We would like to emphasise that the existence of the Central European University is not threatened by anything, the university will continue to operate under any circumstances,” Orban repeated. The PM argued that, in light of this statement, "the charge is baseless. The situation is absurd".

The European Commission announced on April 26 that it has sent Hungary a formal letter as the first step of the infringement procedure. The Hungarian government has one month to reply – half the usual time allotted – after the Commission fast-tracked the procedure.

Brussels said it will continue pursuing a dialogue with Hungary on other outstanding concerns, including in the field of asylum. The Commission noted it will follow closely the draft law on the registration of NGOs "which has also raised concerns".

On April 26 the Commission also published a four-page rebuttal to Budapest’s multi-million-euro "Stop Brussels" information campaign against the EU, saying the consultation contained six claims that were “factually incorrect or highly misleading”.

Fidesz's latest illiberal moves have put pressure on the EPP grouping of centre-right European political parties to discipline or even eject the party from its ranks, though the grouping is expected not to do so because it would erode its position as the largest bloc in the European Parliament.