Tuesday

19th Nov 2019

Opinion

Hungary's hypocritical war on universities

  • Not listening. Viktor Orban's relentless crackdown against universities and liberal academic freedoms in Hungary are grounds for the EPP to expel his Fidesz party (Photo: European Parliament)

Following a tense meeting with Hungary's prime minister Viktor Orban 18 months ago, the president of the European People's Party (EPP), Joseph Daul, issued a clear warning: the EPP "will not accept that any basic freedoms are restricted or rule of law is disregarded."

Academic freedom must be respected, Daul said, adding that the EPP wanted the Central European University (CEU) to remain open.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 year's of archives. 30-day free trial.

... or join as a group

The CEU's announcement in late October that it may be forced to close up shop in Hungary because of the government's curbs on independent universities is a clear sign that Hungary has crossed this red line.

As the EPP meets in Congress in Helsinki this week, it should not let Daul's straightforward message be diluted in an internal struggle between hopeful leaders.

Voices in the Netherlands and Sweden rightly disputed Fidesz' place in the EPP.

Expel Fidesz now

The European People's Party should now take action and expel Orban's Fidesz for violating the EPP's own standards and values.

The Hungarian government's war on academic freedom, part of an overall pattern of attempts to silence critical voices and restrict independent thinking, deserves a strong response.

In April 2017, the Orban government amended Hungary's higher education law.

Seemingly neutral amendments imposed onerous obligations targeting foreign universities, including the requirement for them to have a campus in their country of origin and a for formal agreement between Hungary and the government in the country of origin.

The amendments, widely referred to as 'LEX CEU' because they so clearly targeted the university, came under international criticism by the Venice Commission, the Council of Europe's rule of law body, and in December 2017, the European Commission initiated a legal process against Hungary.

The university has since complied with all requirements, and a government delegation inspected its newly-created campus at Bard College in April 2018.

However, the Hungarian government has so far refused to sign the required agreement with the state of New York to secure CEU's future in Hungary.

Hypocritically, at the same time, it has signed agreements with 23 other universities to allow their continued operations in Hungary.

On October 25, the CEU announced that it would have no other choice than to relocate to Vienna unless the agreement with the state of New York – the foreign government unit involved - is signed by December 1.

Efforts to force the CEU out of Hungary appear to be nothing but Orban's personal crusade against the philanthropist billionaire George Soros, who founded the university in 1991.

The closure of one of central Europe's most prestigious and renowned universities would be a huge loss for Hungary.

But these assaults on independent universities point to a more sinister interest in limiting academic freedom and controlling what students are taught.

In July, the government banned gender studies from state university programmes and in October the Academy of Sciences, coming under increasing government control, scrapped two planned public presentations, one related to gender and the other to social media, that were part of a series of public lectures for a November conference.

The ban on gender studies is a good example of Hungary's war on academic freedom: while the state university, Eotvos Lorand University, was forced to remove gender studies from its program, CEU, as a foreign university, can still offer it.

In sum, no CEU, no gender studies in Hungary.

By scaring off and shutting down foreign universities, the government will have free rein to do away with programmes and courses deemed 'too liberal' by influencing, pushing, or forcing local universities to follow the government's preferred ideology.

These actions are undercutting and limiting academic freedom along the way.

The undemocratic measures, coupled with eight years of assaults on the rule of law, curbing the independence of the courts, imposing restrictions on media, and demonising nongovernmental organisations, have come to a point at which enough is enough.

In September, the European Parliament rightly triggered a political process under Article 7 of the EU treaty to address threats to rule of law in Hungary.

The EPP has an important role to play too.

At its Helsinki summit this week, EPP members should acknowledge that Fidesz, its Hungarian party member, does not embrace its values and principles.

The full-scale war on academia and critical and independent thinking and the longstanding attacks on the rule of law shows that it's time for the EPP to move from words to action and expel Fidesz.

Lydia Gall is the eastern EU and Balkans researcher at Human Rights Watch

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

Feature

'Macron vs Orban' is no quick fix for EU democracy

A Macron versus Orbans styled election battle might lift turnout in next year's European Parliament elections, but under laying democratic problems would remain, warn experts.

EU investment bank 'wide open to abuse by fraudsters'

Fundamental reforms are needed if the EIB is to become more accountable, democratic and transparent. Establishing a firm grasp on corruption to ensure that public money no longer feeds corrupt systems is a vital first step.

European beekeeping in crisis

Europe's bee population is dying. The number of pollinator species threatened by extinction is increasing each year, and human activity is the main cause.

News in Brief

  1. Hungary's new commissioner approved by MEPs
  2. Balkan coal power plants fail to meet emissions targets
  3. Belarus vote: zero opposition candidates elected
  4. Germany: Tehran should hold dialogue with protesters
  5. US ex-diplomat: Trump's 'historical mistake' on EU
  6. France's MoDem finance director indicted on EP funds
  7. Cyprus hopes for reunification talks in December
  8. Russian link to €406m crypto disappearance

'A game of roulette' - life as a journalist now in Turkey

Turkey has more journalists behind bars than any other country in the world. The authorities seem to equate journalism with terrorism: everyone has the right to express themselves, but, in their eyes, legitimate journalism is a threat to security.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersEarmarked paternity leave – an effective way to change norms
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Climate Action Weeks in December
  3. UNESDAUNESDA welcomes Nicholas Hodac as new Director General
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersBrussels welcomes Nordic culture
  5. UNESDAUNESDA appoints Nicholas Hodac as Director General
  6. UNESDASoft drinks industry co-signs Circular Plastics Alliance Declaration
  7. FEANIEngineers Europe Advisory Group: Building the engineers of the future
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  9. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  10. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  3. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  4. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  5. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  6. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  11. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  12. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us