Saturday

16th Dec 2017

Hungary attempts to stifle Soros-founded university in Budapest

The Central European University, an intellectual hub in Budapest that was founded by billionaire philanthropist George Soros, has pledged to fight what it says is the Hungarian government's attempt to shut it down.

The top university, founded in 1990, says that a new draft piece of legislation on higher education - tabled on Tuesday evening (28 March) by the government of Viktor Orban - is "discriminatory" and "targets" the Central European Univeristy (CEU) to force them out of Hungary.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

"This is not just a Hungarian issue, it is about international academic freedom", CEU rector and president Michael Ignatieff said at a press conference on Wednesday (29 March).

"We will never close this university, we will maintain the continuity of our academic programs no matter what. [...] This is our home," Ignatieff said.

"CEU will resolve to all available legal remedies if it is passed," he added.

Ignatieff said the draft law has to be scrapped and called for safeguards on the university's legal status.

The Hungarian government said that stricter legislation was needed after it discovered that 28 foreign-linked universities were operating "unlawfully".

Besides CEU, the bill would also effect British, German and French schools in the country.

The draft law would require CEU to open a campus in the US, while it is solely focused on central and eastern Europe, and would bar it from issuing degrees in Hungary, also forcing it to change its name, the university says.

Hungary's human resources minister Zoltan Balog was quoted by Bloomberg as saying that the bill was prompted by "national security considerations" and the needs to ensure that the university courses meet "foreign policy priorities".

CEU operates under an agreement concluded in 2004 between the Hungarian government and New York state, which was then enshrined in a special law. It issues degrees accredited both in Hungary and in the US.

Representatives of the US, Canada, the Netherlands, Germany, Sweden, Norway and Romania were present alongside Ignatieff at Wednesday's press conference to show support for the university.

The US embassy in a statement called the university "an important success story" in the US-Hungarian relationship, and said that it enjoys strong bipartisan support in the US government.

"The United States opposes any effort to compromise the operations or independence of the university," the statement said.

Soros crackdown

The Central European University, that has an alumni of 14,000 students from 117 countries, is specialised in humanities and social sciences.

It is a major and symbolic postgraduate institution founded by Soros, who has poured hundreds of millions of dollars into central and eastern Europe, after the fall of communism, to promote the idea of an open society, and support the region’s transition from communism to democracy.

The targeting of CEU's is seen as part of a wider crackdown by the Orban government on organisations linked or funded by Hungarian-American financier Soros.

In January, a top official from Orban's ruling party said that NGOs funded by Soros should be "swept out" of the country.

Orban has been pursuing an illiberal form of democracy, championed in Russia as well, a country which has already expelled groups funded by Soros' Open Society Foundation.

If CEU is forced out, it would be a major blow to Hungary's reputation and to higher education in the country.

On Wednesday, the mayor of Vilnius, Remigijus Simasius, a CEU graduate himself, has already said in a Facebook post that the capital of Lithuania would welcome CEU if it were to be forced out of Hungary.

European Commission silent

The European Commission has so far been reluctant to criticise the draft bill.

A commission spokeswoman said on Thursday that the issue was raised at the college of commissioners the day before, but added that the EU executive does not comment on "drafts".

According to a source, commission vice-president Frans Timmermans raised the issue, and the Hungarian commissioner responsible for education, Tibor Navracsics, outlined the draft legislation in response.

"We will see how this project will develop," the spokeswoman said on Thursday.

Navracsics, a well-respected university teacher of political sciences is an ally of Hungary's prime minister Viktor Orban.

Orban received a scholarship in 1989 from Soros to study at Oxford.

EU stands aside as Hungary detains migrants

Commission is withholding action on Hungary's detention of asylum seekers, even as the Hungarian government tries to "stop Brussels" on immigration policy.

Soros-linked NGOs defy Orban purge

Hungarian NGOs funded by philanthropist George Soros have vowed to defy prime minister Viktor Orban’s plan to “sweep them out” of the country.

Soros to EU: Help 'new Ukraine' against 'new Russia'

US philanthropist George Soros has said the EU needs to support "new Ukraine" in its struggle against Putin's "new Russia". His words came as Ukraine's President ended a unilateral ceasefire with separatists in the east of the country.

Opinion

The university so disliked by Orban

In a world with many new phrases like 'fake news' or 'alternative facts', Viktor Orban's government in Hungary is taking a more familiar approach to shutting down academic free expression in Hungary.

Pressure mounts on Hungary over university law

EPP group leader Manfred Weber calls for the European Commission to investigate Hungary, but the centre-right party still stands by prime minster Orban in the wake of international uproar over legislation targeting the Central European University.

Showdown EU vote on asylum looking likely for next June

Divisions on relocating asylum seekers remain entrenched following an EU summit. The east-west divide opens up the possibility of relying on a majority vote for a key asylum in June, further exacerbating disputes among opposing capitals.

News in Brief

  1. EU adopts 'track-and-trace' tobacco system
  2. Luxembourg appeals Amazon tax decision
  3. EU leaders agree to open phase 2 of Brexit talks
  4. Juncker: May made 'big efforts' on Brexit
  5. Merkel took 'tough' line on Russia at EU summit
  6. EU leaders added line supporting 'two-state' solution
  7. EU leaders agree to 20 European Universities by 2024
  8. Belgian courts end legal proceedings against Puigdemont

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Dialogue PlatformThe Gülen Community: Who to Believe - Politicians or Actions?" by Thomas Michel
  2. Plastics Recyclers Europe65% plastics recycling rate attainable by 2025 new study shows
  3. European Heart NetworkCommissioner Andriukaitis' Address to EHN on the Occasion of Its 25th Anniversary
  4. ACCACFOs Risk Losing Relevance If They Do Not Embrace Technology
  5. UNICEFMake the Digital World Safer for Children & Increase Access for the Most Disadvantaged
  6. European Jewish CongressWelcomes Recognition of Jerusalem as the Capital of Israel and Calls on EU States to Follow Suit
  7. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Boost Innovation Cooperation Under Horizon 2020
  8. European Gaming & Betting AssociationJuncker’s "Political" Commission Leaves Gambling Reforms to the Court
  9. AJC Transatlantic InstituteAJC Applauds U.S. Recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s Capital City
  10. EU2017EEEU Telecom Ministers Reached an Agreement on the 5G Roadmap
  11. European Friends of ArmeniaEU-Armenia Relations in the CEPA Era: What's Next?
  12. Mission of China to the EU16+1 Cooperation Injects New Vigour Into China-EU Ties

Latest News

  1. Catalonia, Brexit, and Uber on EU agenda This WEEK
  2. Macron and Merkel take tough line on Poland
  3. Eurozone future needs structural reforms, EU leaders told
  4. Showdown EU vote on asylum looking likely for next June
  5. EU stresses unity as it launches next phase of Brexit talks
  6. Polish PM ready for EU sanctions scrap
  7. Dutchman to lead powerful euro working group
  8. EU mulls post-Brexit balance of euro and non-eurozone states

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EPSUEU Blacklist of Tax Havens Is a Sham
  2. EU2017EERole of Culture in Building Cohesive Societies in Europe
  3. ILGA EuropeCongratulations to Austria - Court Overturns Barriers to Equal Marriage
  4. Centre Maurits CoppietersCelebrating Diversity, Citizenship and the European Project With Fundació Josep Irla
  5. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceUnderstanding the Social Consequences of Obesity
  6. Union for the MediterraneanMediterranean Countries Commit to Strengthening Women's Role in Region
  7. Bio-Based IndustriesRegistration for BBI JU Stakeholder Forum about to close. Last chance to register!
  8. European Heart NetworkThe Time Is Ripe for Simplified Front-Of-Pack Nutrition Labelling
  9. Counter BalanceNew EU External Investment Plan Risks Sidelining Development Objectives
  10. EU2017EEEAS Calls for Eastern Partnership Countries to Enter EU Market Through Estonia
  11. Dialogue PlatformThe Turkey I No Longer Know
  12. World Vision7 Million Children at Risk in the DRC: Donor Meeting to Focus on Saving More Lives