Tag: hungary

EU court rules against Hungary over law that targeted Soros-affiliated university | World news

The European Union’s highest court has ruled that changes by Hungary to its law on higher education, which effectively forced a university founded by George Soros to leave the country, were not in line with EU law.

The European court of justice (ECJ) ruled against prime minister Viktor Orbán’s government, saying in the ruling that “the conditions introduced by Hungary to enable foreign higher education institutions to carry out their activities in its territory are incompatible with EU law”.

At the heart of the conflict is the fate of the Central European University (CEU) established by Soros, a Hungarian-American financier. Under pressure from Orbán, it had to relocate most of its main activities to Vienna from Budapest, where it had been operating since the early 1990s.

Orbán has been a vocal critic of Soros for years, arguing that the billionaire philanthropist is intent on undermining European values with his liberal views on migration, claims Soros has denied. Orbán’s ideological aim of creating an “illiberal state” is also in contrast with Soros’s ideal of an “open society”.

Soros called the ruling “a victory for the fundamental values of the European Union”, but he acknowledged it would make little difference for the university.

“The decision comes too late for CEU,” Soros said. “We cannot return to Hungary, because its prevailing laws don’t meet the requirements of academic freedom.”

Hungary’s justice minister, Judit Varga, reacted to the decision by saying that any EU court ruling would only be applied “in accordance with the interests of the Hungarian people” and said the CEU was seeking to get advantages other Hungarian universities did not have.

Among the legal changes Hungary imposed was tying the operation of foreign universities in the country to a bilateral agreement between the Hungarian government and the universities’ country of origin. Foreign universities were also compelled to carry out educational activities in their home countries. That forced the CEU to move to Vienna.

The EU court ruled that by imposing such conditions, “Hungary has failed to comply with the commitments” under the framework of the World Trade Organization and acted in contravention of the provisions of the EU’s charter of fundamental rights.

In light of Orbán’s views on Soros, the amendments to the academic rules were widely seen as targeting CEU. The EU commission launched an infringement procedure in April 2017 against Hungary in the wake of the changes. It subsequently referred Hungary to the court of justice in December 2017.

Under such a ruling by the ECJ, the member state is legally forced to immediately comply with the court’s judgment, and if it refuses, the EU commission can seek to fine it.

Varga told the state news agency MTI that “all universities in Hungary must comply with the legislation equally”.

She said the law affected dozens of foreign institutions operating in Hungary, but most of them had no problem complying with this legislation, referring to the CEU as a “mailbox” institution.

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E.U. Court Rules Against Hungary Law Targeting Soros-Funded University

BUDAPEST — The European Court of Justice ruled on Tuesday that Hungary had violated E.U. rules by changing legislation in 2017 that effectively expelled an American university founded by the billionaire financier George Soros from the country.

“The conditions introduced by Hungary to enable foreign higher education institutions to carry out their activities in its territory are incompatible with E.U. law,” the court’s ruling said.

The decision was the latest effort by the European Union to curb growing authoritarianism by the government of Prime Minister Viktor Orban, but is unlikely to have much impact on the ground in Hungary.

The ruling leaves no room for appeal, and requires Mr. Orban’s government to change the legislation to come in line with E.U. laws. If Hungary does not amend the law, the European Commission, the bloc’s executive arm, could request that the high court impose fines on the Hungarian government until it does so.

But the expelled institution, Central European University, is unlikely to restore its former setup in Hungary. Michael Ignatieff, the university’s rector, has said that it will be anchored in Vienna, where it has moved the bulk of its operations.

“We cannot return to Hungary, because its prevailing laws don’t meet the requirements of academic freedom,” Mr. Soros said in a statement on Tuesday. “The Hungarian government continues to trample E.U. law, with the latest victim being the world-renowned University of Theatre and Arts,” he added, referring to a Hungarian university that was the site of student protests last months over the increasing influence of Mr. Orban’s government in the school’s affairs.

Andras Lederer, a program coordinator with the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, a human rights organization in Budapest, said the Central European University case highlighted the need for the European Commission to step in early and suspend legislation it objected to until the bloc’s high court could give a ruling on the matter.

“If that would have happened in the case of C.E.U., the university would still be here,” he said.

Founded and endowed by Mr. Soros after the fall of communism, Central European University was a hub of liberal thought in a region long under authoritarian rule. But after Mr. Orban’s government amended Hungary’s Act on Higher Education to force the university to meet an array of new requirements, Central European University found itself in legal limbo.

The new legislation essentially stripped the university of its ability to grant U.S. diplomas in Hungary, thereby largely preventing it from being able to operate within the country. Central European University currently conducts only a few academic and archiving activities in Budapest.

In its ruling on Tuesday, the European Court of Justice said that the law’s requirements constituted “a means of arbitrarily discrimination” against institutions like Central European University.

Mr. Orban’s government has vigorously defended the legislation, with one minister saying in 2017 that it was not in Hungary’s interest “to allow international influence attempts aimed at making life difficult for the democratically elected government or president.”

Mr. Orban, whose coalition

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E.U. rule-of-law report angers Hungary, Poland

The release of the report coincided with a preliminary agreement by European diplomats to tie access to E.U. funds to respecting the rule of law, as negotiations on a $2.1 trillion E.U. spending package accelerate in the coming weeks. Defenders of principles such as an independent judiciary and a free press have accused the European Union of enabling illiberal leaders by failing to cut off the money that props them up.

“We are trying to open a new chapter in defending and promoting the rule of law in the E.U.,” said Vera Jourova, the bloc’s rule-of-law chief. “Deficiencies often merge into an undrinkable cocktail, even if individual ingredients seem to be fine.”

The European Union was founded as a club of democracies, but it has struggled to intervene over the past decade as leaders in Hungary and Poland backed away from democratic commitments.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has imposed stringent controls over his country’s judiciary, channeled public advertising funds to pro-government media outlets and squelched opportunities for opposition voices to operate within Hungarian society.

And since Poland’s Law and Justice party won power in 2015, it has taken steps to place political allies inside courtrooms, convert publicly funded media outlets into pro-government mouthpieces and threaten critics with legal peril.

“Poland’s justice reforms since 2015 have been a major source of controversy,” the E.U. report said. The report also characterized judicial independence in Hungary as “a source of concern.”

Both governments have already faced the threat of E.U. sanctions for their actions, but they have been able to use voting rules to defend each other and stifle significant consequences.

Each has complained about being singled out unfairly by fellow leaders for actions they say are legitimate because they were empowered by their citizens to run their countries.

In part as a response to those criticisms, the European Commission, the executive arm of the European Union, decided to assemble portfolios about every country in the bloc, cataloguing the state of corruption, checks and balances, justice and media freedom in sometimes dry legalese. Each country will face more detailed audits in the coming months and years.

Poland and Hungary came in for the toughest criticism, but the report also voiced concerns about corruption and the independence of the judiciary in Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Malta, Romania and Slovakia.

Of those countries, all but Malta are former members of the communist bloc. But even countries with longer histories of democracy came in for some criticism: Austria, for example, was dinged for a lack of rules on how its government allocates its relatively high levels of state advertising to private media outlets.

Hungarian and Polish leaders both blasted the effort, saying they would found their own international rule-of-law institute to impose some counterprogramming on what they said was a biased message from E.U. headquarters in Brussels.

Orban on Tuesday denounced Jourova for an interview she gave to Germany’s Spiegel newsweekly last week. In it, she said: “Mr. Orban is fond of saying

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