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But statements so far fall short of U.S. calls to suspend the legislation.12 April 2017
On Sunday, tens of thousands of people marched through the streets of Budapest, protesting the new education law enacted by the country’s governing Fidesz party that, among other things, requires foreign universities to maintain a campus in their home countries (the United States in CEU’s case). Critics view the law as intentionally designed to shut down CEU, given that its founder, Hungarian-born millionaire and philanthropist George Soros, is a sworn enemy of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban.
“We’re urging the [Hungarian government] to suspend implementation of the law,” U.S. State Department acting spokesman Mark Toner said at a press briefing on Monday, the same day when Hungarian President Janos Ader officially signed the law, Hungary Today writes.
The EC debate was initiated by a group of lawmakers in Brussels calling for disciplinary actions against the Hungarian government, according to Reuters. Carlos Moedas, the European Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation, said he was “deeply concerned” by the law, which “may set an unwelcome precedent for the autonomy of academic institutions in Hungary.”
"This is a dirty little law. All it does is mark the government's least favorite NGOs with a yellow star," Akos Hadhazy, an opposition lawmaker, told Reuters, making a reference to the symbol worn by Jews in Nazi Germany.
In response to the international backlash, the government sent Education Minister Laszlo Palkovics to Brussels to defend the law. “We don’t want to have universities that are just issuing diplomas based on any kind of accreditation without any control,” Palkovics said, New Europe reported. Orban expressed similar views, Hungary Today writes, quoting him as saying that, so far, “CEU enjoyed an unfair advantage over Hungarian universities.”
For now, however, the EC has refrained from condemning the law outright, or invoking the EU’s rule of law procedure to push Hungary to redraft the legislation, with Timmermans saying a full investigation first needs to take place.
“We need to be absolutely convinced before we start challenging a member state because we believe they are not in line with EU legislation,” he said, as quoted by The Guardian.
Some fear that an inquiry will lead nowhere and fall into a pattern of comparatively mild responses from Brussels to moves that critics say clearly demonstrate democratic backsliding.
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