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EU opens a legal case against Hungary

The European Union opened a legal case against Hungary on Wednesday over a threat to close a Budapest university founded by George Soros, an accusation the country's leader rejected as unfounded. The EU's executive Commission sent Budapest a formal notice, saying a new Hungarian higher education law violated academic freedom and democratic values, and gave it a month to respond.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban gave an initial response shortly afterwards, rejecting accusations Budapest was threatening the Central European University (CEU) and dismissing the Hungarian-born Soros as a "financial speculator".
At a European Parliament debate on Hungary, Orban clashed with deputy Commission head Frans Timmermans, who said Brussels was also worried with his stance on asylum-seekers, a draft law on non-governmental groups (NGOs) and the rights of the Roma.
"The single biggest miracle in my lifetime is the fall of the Berlin Wall ... and that Hungary became one of the democratic nations of Europe," Timmermans said.
"That is something that was done by the Hungarian people themselves, striving for freedom. Protecting their freedom, however, is now a common European task."
The CEU case is the latest in a string of Orban policies in ex-communist Hungary that have left Brussels and many EU states exasperated by what they see as his authoritarian tendencies.
Budapest has said the legal changes were needed to prevent foreign universities from issuing dubious diplomas.
Orban, in power since 2010, has often bashed the EU and repeatedly clashed with non-governmental organisations sponsored by Soros, who promotes a liberal and internationalist worldview that the nationalist-minded Hungarian leader dislikes.
He said he strongly opposed the philanthropist's support for opening Europe more to immigration, but said Hungary was committed to the EU.
"In many aspects, we are unhappy with how the EU works," he said. "When we criticise the EU, it's because we want to correct these mistakes and we want to reform the European Union."
The CEU, a respected graduate-level institution, has stood as a bulwark of liberal thinking in Hungary and across eastern Europe since it opened in 1991 after the fall of Soviet-backed communism in the region.
Its president, Canadian Michael Ignatieff, appealed this week to Brussels for help.
Orban's critics say the move against the school is part of his broader push to stifle dissenting voices and put independent institutions - including the judiciary, media and NGOs - under closer government control.
Belgian liberal Guy Verhofstadt, a leading member of the European Parliament, told Orban his policies were protectionist, nationalist, illiberal and paranoid, and they reminded him of those in the communist-era Hungary.

"First, on the basis of an in-depth legal assessment of the Hungarian Higher Education Law of 4 April, the European Commission concluded that the law is not compatible with the fundamental internal market freedoms, notably the freedom to provide services and the freedom of establishment but also with the right of academic freedom, the right to education and the freedom to conduct a business as provided by the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, as well as with the Union's legal obligations under international trade law. The College therefore decided to take legal action and sent a Letter of Formal Notice to the Hungarian Government on the Hungarian Higher Education Law. The Hungarian authorities will now have one month to respond to the legal concerns of the Commission," reads a statement released by the Commission.
The tight-lipped Commission has also taken issue with Hungary's "Let's Stop Brussels!" national consultation. They are reviewing how to respond to the Hungarian government's statements, which they say are misleading Hungarian citizens.
The European Commission published on Wednesday its response to the false claims in the Hungarian Government's 'Stop Brussels' national consultation which was launched in April 2017. The Commission considers that the consultation is based on several factually incorrect or highly misleading claims and allegations.
A small group of pro-Orbán protesters appeared outside the European Parliament in Brussels Wednesday as Prime Minister Orbán participated in an EP debate on "the situation in Hungary." The protesters, holding flags bearing the insignia of the Fidesz-funded civil organization Civil Unity Forum (CÖF), stood opposite an anti-Orbán demonstration by alumni and sympathizers of the embattled Central European University.
The pro-Orbán protest was headed by CÖF founder and spokesman László Csizmadia, who told Hungarian state media at the scene that the demonstration represented the interests of the Hungarian majority, which doesn't want "a usurer" to dictate Hungarian internal affairs from outside. (Csizmadia was presumably referring to the European Union.)
CÖF demonstrators chanted "Ria, Ria, Hungária!", a chant associated with extreme-right nationalism and football hooliganism, and sang the Hungarian National Anthem.
Csizmadia expressed his dismay that Hungary has fallen under such attacks for its decisive actions in protecting the European Union against "economic immigrants and the terrorists arriving among them." He also blamed George Soros for conspiring with civil and charitable organizations to harm Hungary and import migrants into Europe.
"Sometimes those forces get stronger against Hungary which can't tolerate that the V4 countries, the old socialist countries, more strongly insist on their freedom than those Western countries that have lived a good life," Csizmadia said.
The CÖF demonstration was broken up by Brussels police, as the demonstrators had only acquired a permit to protest for the following day. MEPs heading to the parliament's plenary session reportedly applauded as the CÖF demonstrators disbursed. According to, Brussels police had trouble explaining to the demonstrators that their permit was only valid for the following day as the demonstrators' foreign language proficiency caused confusion. also reported that Csizmadia and a reporter for the pro-government website Pesti Srácok arrived in Brussels by plane, an irony in light of pro-government media accusations that massive demonstrations in Budapest in recent weeks had been organized by George Soros and included demonstrators flown in for the protests by the billionaire. Socialist MEP István Újhelyi called on CÖF to issue a declaration of who financed its protest trip to Brussels.
The Hungarian Civil Liberties Union (TASZ) released a statement Wednesday afternoon declaring its solidarity with CÖF, declaring that a protest cannot be disbursed based solely on lack of a permit.
"The disbursal of peaceful events because of a lack of an application is contrary to the European Convention on Human Rights," TASZ wrote in defense of CÖF on its Facebook page.
TASZ is one of the civil organizations that receives funding from George Soros' Open Society Foundations that has been specifically targeted by the Orbán government and its proposed law on NGOs. Orbán defended his government's crackdowns on NGOs at Wednesday's plenary session in Brussels.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 26 April 2017 19:17

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