Hungary, at daggers drawn with Brussels on the rule of law, was condemned, Tuesday, October 6, by the European justice for its law on foreign universities which forced the Central European University (CEU), founded by the American financier of Hungarian origin George Soros, to relocate most of his activities to Vienna.
The European Court of Justice has ruled that Budapest’s demands on CEU and other foreign universities are discriminatory. She asked Hungary to respect European rules. Luxembourg judges followed the advice given by the Advocate General in early March. The conditions introduced by Hungary to allow foreign higher education institutions to operate in its territory are “Incompatible with Union law”, the court said in a statement.
The Central European University (CEU) founded by George Soros, bête noire of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, in November 2019 moved most of its activities to the Austrian capital due to new legislation obliging foreign universities established in Hungary to have a campus and courses in their country of origin. The law also requires the conclusion of an international agreement with the State of origin of the establishment. The CEU was founded under the laws of the State of New York.
This prestigious private higher education establishment, of liberal inspiration, which was located in the heart of Budapest, had welcomed, since 1991, 14,000 students from all over the world, handpicked, to study – in English – under conditions exceptional, often jealous of the local university community. Private status, it operates thanks to an endowment worth 550 million euros from the American financier, which notably allows scholarships to be awarded to a large majority of students. In twenty-five years, the CEU has formed a generation of elites, now in power across central Europe, including in Mr. Orban’s government.
Violation of the rule of law
The requirements of the new Hungarian legislation collide with the provisions of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union relating to academic freedom, the freedom to establish higher education institutions and the freedom to conduct business, argues the Court in his decision.
Accused by the Europeans of violating the rule of law, Viktor Orban’s government regularly finds itself in the hot seat. The European Parliament accused Budapest of “Serious violation” EU values and has activated a procedure under Article 7 of the Union Treaty, which can in theory lead to sanctions. The first report on respect for the rule of law in EU countries presented at the end of September by the European Commission turned out to be very critical for Hungary and Poland, two countries where the consequences of justice reforms are provoking of “Serious concerns”.
Member states have approved a mechanism to make the payment of European funds conditional on respect for the rule of law, a first in the EU. Hungary and Poland voted against.