Friday

14th Dec 2018

Soros' university forced out of Budapest, despite EU pledges

  • The US-accredited programs will move to Vienna, while CEU will keep its Budapest campus (Photo: CEU Hungary)

The Budapest-based Central European University, founded by US billionaire George Soros in 1991, said on Monday (3 December) it had been forced out of Hungary, after months of uncertainty.

CEU president and rector Michael Ignatieff called the move an "arbitrary eviction" that is a "flagrant violation of academic freedom" and threatened rule of law.

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

He also confirmed at a press conference in Budapest that CEU will move its US-accredited programs to Vienna from next September.

"CEU has been forced out," Ignatieff said. "This is unprecedented. A US institution has been driven out of a country that is a NATO ally. A European institution has been ousted from a member state of the EU."

The move is significant because CEU has been a centre of learning and given a chance for students from post-communist countries to gain a US graduate degree, with currently 1,200 students, and the institution has attracted students from over a 100 countries.

"It is a dark day for Europe and a dark day for Hungary," Ignatieff said.

CEU's forced move is also the latest sign of Hungary's nationalist prime minister Viktor Orban successfully pushing against his allies in the European People's Party (EPP) and in the US administration.

Orban has accused Soros of encouraging mass migration to Europe, which the US billionaire philanthropist denies. Orban's government also ran a media campaign accusing the government's critics of working with Soros.

In August, Soros's main foundation, called Open Society Foundations, was forced to move its operations from Budapest to Berlin.

Legal limbo

The CEU's legal status has been in limbo for over a year since Hungary's government introduced changes to a higher education law meant that a foreign-registered university could no longer operate in Hungary unless it also provided courses in its home country.

Critics said the legislation was designed to target CEU, which offers US degrees.

The CEU has said it has complied with all the new rules set by Orban's government, which has refused to sign off on an already-agreed document with the State of New York that would have allowed the CEU to stay.

The CEU said it could no longer wait and added that it was clear the government has no intention of signing the agreement.

The school said it would start enrolling students for US degrees in Vienna for the 2019 September academic year. Students who are already enrolled will complete their studies in Budapest.

The university retains accreditation as a Hungarian university and will seek to continue some teaching and research activity in Budapest, it added in a statement.

A 'Soros-style bluff'

Hungary's government called the move a "Soros-style political bluff", arguing that some of CEU's programs will remain in Hungary.

The European Commission launched a probe into the new legislation that forces CEU out of Budapest, but the case is still pending at the Luxembourg-based European Court of Justice.

No matter how the ECJ will rule later, that will have no impact on CEU's move.

A commission spokesperson said that the EU executive is "deeply concerned by the fact that the Central European University has decided to move to Vienna".

EPP silence

The fate of CEU was supposed to have been a "red line" for leaders of the centre-right EPP, which have struggled to rein in Orban, often dubbed the 'enfant terrible' of the party by its leader, Frenchman Joseph Daul.

But there was little response from EPP politicians on Monday to CEU's announcement.

EPP lead candidate for the European elections in May, Manfred Weber, who enjoys Orban's support, tweeted that he was "extremely disappointed by the refusal of the Hungarian government to agree with CEU on their double degree program".

"It is unacceptable that a university in EU today is forced to move elsewhere with their curriculum," the German conservative politician added and urged the ECJ to fast-track its procedure.

EPP leaders had hoped that Orban, who became an icon for far-right politicians in Europe, would tone down his rhetoric and not pick new fights with Europe's mainstream centre-right before the 2019 poll.

Frustration has grown with Orban within the EPP, whose more liberal-minded parties and lawmakers are fed up with the Hungarian "illiberal" leader.

But Orban does enjoy support within EPP, which is counting on the strong showing of Orban's Fidesz party at the May election to boost its numbers in the next European Parliament.

In September, the majority of EPP lawmakers in the European Parliament, including Weber, supported a resolution calling for the Article 7 sanctions procedure over concerns about rule of law in Hungary.

EPP leaders have offered an olive branch in the days leading up to the vote, urging Orban to compromise on CEU and legislation aimed at curbing civil society dealing with migration, and they would not support triggering Article 7. Orban did not oblige.

CEU rector Ignatieff also confirmed that despite the rhetoric, EPP and indeed the US administration have done little to prevent Hungary's government of pushing out the university.

"No leverage have been exerted on the Hungarian government from the outside, that's why we have to move this institution, where there is rule of law," he told journalists in Budapest.

"Academic freedom and rule of law are inseparable, we tried to make this clear to our European partners," Ignatieff said.

Asked whether Vienna would be safer where a far-right party is in the governing coalition, he said CEU has been "repeatedly assured at the highest level" that it would be welcomed.

The Washington Post recently reported that despite the bipartisan support for CEU in the US Congress, the American ambassador to Hungary, David Cornstein blamed Soros for CEU's forced move. "It had to do with two men," Cornstein said, adding: "It doesn't have anything to do with academic freedom."

Hungary to push ahead with 'Stop Soros' law on NGOs

The Hungarian government of Viktor Orban has said it will not wait until Friday, to hear a verdict of European legal experts on human rights, before going ahead with its bill curtailing NGOs who work with migrants.

Anti-Soros university bill sparks protest in Budapest

Thousands gathered around the Central European University on Tuesday to protest against a legislative bill that targets it, while the US embassy and the German president expressed their support for the institution.

Opinion

Orban’s unpatriotic attack on CEU

Hungary's prime minister, Viktor Orban, wants to see the closure of Central European University with recent legislative changes. But his actions are truly difficult to justify when thinking as a patriot.

EPP poised to pick lead candidate, amid struggle over Orban

The EU's largest political family has gathered in Helsinki to chose its lead candidate for the European election next May. They need to take on populists - but are struggling to deal with the 'enfant terrible' within their own ranks.

Opinion

EU foot-dragging puts rule of law at risk in Hungary, Poland

The European Commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, has yet to be heard on the forced eviction of the Central European University from Budapest to Vienna. Just months before crucial European parliament elections, EU leaders should not shy away from this debate.

Anti-semitism 'disturbingly normalised' in Europe

Almost 40 percent of European Jews contemplate leaving their home country because they no longer feel safe, and almost 85 percent say their number one concern in Europe is anti-semitism and racism, according to a new EU survey.

News in Brief

  1. EU invests €20m in AI software for self-driving cars
  2. Belgian PM 'not optimistic', urges 'no deal' Brexit preparedness
  3. Romanian president expects no Brexit summit in January
  4. Swedish MPs reject Lofven to lead new government
  5. EU commission's Selmayr 'must resign', MEPs say
  6. ECB to reinvest €2.5tn from eurozone stimulus
  7. Macron sails through no-confidence vote
  8. Protests erupt in Hungary over labour laws

Opinion

EU parliament vote strengthens whistleblower protection

We must not undervalue what a massive step the European Parliament vote represents. The hard work has paid off. We can take a moment to celebrate, but the hard work begins again for finalising strong protection for European whistleblowers.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersSeminar on disability and user involvement
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersInternational appetite for Nordic food policies
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Innovation House in Hong Kong
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region has chance to become world leader when it comes to start-ups
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit
  8. International Partnership for Human RightsRaising key human rights concerns during visit of Turkmenistan's foreign minister
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersState of the Nordic Region presented in Brussels
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General

Latest News

  1. EU needs election-meddling stress tests
  2. Russian and US obstruction was 'insult' to climate scientists
  3. EU-27 unimpressed by May, offer little on Brexit
  4. Rutte: New EU sanctions are informal 'Magnitsky law'
  5. EU summit hits asylum fatigue as deadlock continues
  6. Battered May seeks Brexit 'assurances' from EU
  7. Lost in Brexit chaos - abortion rights in Northern Ireland
  8. Court confirms EU illegally relaxed diesel emission rules

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs
  2. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  3. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  4. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  5. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs
  6. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  8. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow
  10. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  12. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordics Could Be First Carbon-Negative Region in World
  2. European Federation of Allergy and AirwaysLife Is Possible for Patients with Severe Asthma
  3. PKEE - Polish Energy AssociationCommon-Sense Approach Needed for EU Energy Reform
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to Lead in Developing and Rolling Out 5G Network
  5. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Economic and Trade Relations Enjoy a Bright Future
  6. ACCAEmpowering Businesses to Engage with Sustainable Finance and the SDGs
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersCooperation in Nordic Electricity Market Considered World Class Model
  8. FIFAGreen Stadiums at the 2018 Fifa World Cup
  9. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Work Together to Promote Sustainable Development
  10. Counter BalanceEuropean Ombudsman Requests More Lending Transparency from European Investment Bank
  11. FIFARecycling at the FIFA World Cup in Russia
  12. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament takes incoherent steps on climate in future EU investments

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us