05 Oct 2017

Will Hungary meet Europe's deadline to resolve the case of the CEU?

Hungary and the EU locked horns over the closing of Central European Unviersity six months ago. As the European Commission increases pressure, why does Budapest refuse to budge?

Ivett Körösi
Ivett Körösi Nepszava, Hungary
Source: Nepszava
Will Hungary meet Europe's deadline to resolve the case of the CEU? - NewsMavens
The main entrance to the CEU building in Budapest. Ok2play/Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain)

Why this story matters:

Hungary has been portrayed as the black sheep of the EU and the government in Budapest doesn't seem to be doing anything to change that. On the contrary, Viktor Orban's government seems to be manipulating the picture to gain political capital in Hungary. One of the favorite narratives of Orban's right-wing populist government is that Hungary is under attack: by Brussels, by "millions of migrants heading to Europe"and by Hungarian-born American billionaire George Soros.

The government has been trying to present itself as the defender of the nation. Thus it has declared war on Brussels, on migrants and on George Soros.

The biggest attack on the latter was the new higher education law passed in April to make it harder to give licenses to foreign-based universities. According to national and international critics, the new law was aimed at shutting down the Soros-founded, Budapest-based Central European University (CEU). 

The reaction was immediate: thousands took to the streets of Budapest after the existence of internationally renowned CEU -- one of the best universities in Hungary -- came under threat. Mass protests in April were the biggest in years. Locals were outraged and so was the international community.

Now, 6 months later, the issue has still not been solved. The European Commission launched an infrigement procedure against the Hungarian higher education law. With the case still unresolved, the EU has given Hungary a two week dealine to respond. European authorities are determined: Europe is facing its biggest crises since WWII, the last thing it needs are black sheep.

Details from the story:

  • The European Commission's infringement procedure against the Hungarian higher education law, launched in April, was stepped up this week. The commission wants the government to settle the issue so that the CEU can continue operating in Hungary.
  • The European Commission gave Hungary two weeks to respond. If the Hungarian government does not make any progress, the European Commission can bring the law to the Court of Justice of the European Union.
  • Based on recent statements by the Hungarian government, it is uncertain whether the government will eventually let the CEU operate freely.
  • The CEU has been extremely co-operative in this challenging situation and tried to meet the conditions of the Hungarian government, including that the CEU has to open a branch in New York alongside its campus in the Hungarian capital and secure a bilateral agreement of support from the government of the United States. The university recently signed a memorandum of understanding with Bard College to provide educational activities in New York. CEU hopes this will help provide a basis to end the affair.
  • The European Commission launched an infringement procedure against a so-called NGO-law in July, which requires all NGOs operating in Hungary to register if they receive more than 23,000 EUR in foreign funds each year. Many NGOs receive money from funds linked to George Soros so this Hungarian law is another attack against the billionaire. This procedure was also stepped up this week. In the case of the NGO-law, Hungary has one month to answer the Commission’s concerns.

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