European Commission criticizes illiberal policies in Hungary
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European Commission criticizes illiberal policies in Hungary

The new law enacted by the Hungarian government this week against foreign-accredited universities has aroused protests in Hungary and serious concerns by the international community. European Commission vice-president Frans Timmermans said yesterday (12 April) that the Commission will examine whether the law is compatible with European law and values. Timmermans promised that a legal assessment will be completed as soon as possible and that next steps on any legal concerns by the Commission will be considered by the end of the month.

“The recently adopted Higher Education Law is troubling many people in Europe’s academic community, as well as politicians across Europe and beyond. It is perceived by many as an attempt to close down the Central European University (CEU),” Timmermans said.

He also referred to European President Jean-Claude Juncker who said earlier this week that he does not like the decision.

Over 1,000 scientists, including 2 Nobel Laureates, from over 30 countries have signed a letter to Hungarian authorities calling on the government to withdraw the proposed legislation and “maintain academic freedom and scientific excellence”.

The United Nations special rapporteur for freedom of opinion said that the new legislation was “likely to violate the central precepts of academic freedom in a free society.”

The legislation requires that universities operating also outside the EU should meet certain general conditions such having a campus in their other country of operation, where comparable degree programs would be offered. This is currently not the case for CEU and the condition is seen as targeting especially CEU.  

The Central European University in Budapest was founded in 1991 by Hungarian-born Holocaust survivor and philanthropist George Soros. It has nearly 1,800 graduate-level students in social sciences and law from more than 100 countries and about 370 faculty members.

George Soros has been pictured as an “enemy” of Hungary. By attacking Soros as a symbol of global capitalism the Hungarian government is nourishing anti-Semitic stereotypes and justifying its clampdown on academic and media freedom.

Another controversial legislation in Hungary concerns the funding of so-called ‘foreign’ Non-Governmental Organisations. Draft legislation was tabled by the government party last week.

“It is very much on our radar screen. We will be following it closely,” Timmermans said. “There can be legitimate public interest reasons for ensuring transparency of funding, but any measures need to be proportionate and must not create undue discrimination within the EU.”

A new asylum law that was adopted by the Hungarian parliament at the end of March also raises serious doubts about compatibility with EU law, according to Timmermans.

The Commission states that it also continues to be attentive to the situation of the Roma in Hungary, and in particular to the “timely resolution of the concerns we have expressed about discrimination against Roma children in education”.

Roma children are often put in segregated schools or classrooms. This is an issue that has not been resolved since 2004 when Hungary and other countries in central-eastern Europe joined EU.

M. Apelblat

The Brussels Times