Tuesday

13th Nov 2018

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 18 year's of archives. 30 days 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

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 'Magnitsky Act' must bear its proper name

Sergei Magnitsky gave his life to fighting corruption. The least we can do is to honour his sacrifice in the name of the legislation that his heroism inspired.

All Quiet on the Eastern Front?

Russia is trying to foment a clash between Hungary and Ukraine over the territory of Zakarpattia in a potential crisis overlooked by EU leaders.

News in Brief

  1. Draft Brexit deal on London cabinet agenda on Wednesday
  2. EU proposes no visa for UK citizens after Brexit
  3. EU parliament 'deeply concerned' on Romania judiciary
  4. Macedonia's ex-PM flees to Hungary, seeks asylum
  5. Cyprus opens first new border crossings in eight years
  6. Putin's Austrian dance partner cancels Moscow visit
  7. Political deadlock over Sweden Democrat influence
  8. Court: Catalan referendum organisers must repay costs

Why 'Spitzenkandidat' is probably here to stay

The power of the parliament to 'appoint' the president of the EU Commission is new, highly-contested - and not universally understood. In fact, even some of the lead candidates to replace Jean-Claude Juncker are against it.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsRaising key human rights concerns during visit of Turkmenistan's foreign minister
  4. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSState of the Nordic Region presented in Brussels
  5. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  6. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  7. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General
  8. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs.
  9. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  10. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  11. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  12. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs

Latest News

  1. Merkel calls for 'real, true' EU army
  2. Italy defiant on budget on eve of EU deadline
  3. EU action on Hungary and Poland drowns in procedure
  4. EU unable to fully trace €1bn spent on refugees in Turkey
  5. Romanian leaders trade jibes over upcoming EU presidency
  6. EU warns Romania not to abuse GDPR against press
  7. EU 'Magnitsky Act' must bear its proper name
  8. Fear of nationalist surge marks European memorials

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  3. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow
  5. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  7. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNordics Could Be First Carbon-Negative Region in World
  9. European Federation of Allergy and AirwaysLife Is Possible for Patients with Severe Asthma
  10. PKEE - Polish Energy AssociationCommon-Sense Approach Needed for EU Energy Reform
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to Lead in Developing and Rolling Out 5G Network
  12. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Economic and Trade Relations Enjoy a Bright Future

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us