NY Governor Cuomo ready to negotiate on CEU

History

New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced on Wednesday his readiness to enter into discussions with the Hungarian government to continue the relationship with the State of New York that enables the Central European University (CEU) to keep operating in Budapest. CEU welcomed the governorʼs statement.

Under the Hungarian government’s recently adopted legislation, the target of heavy criticism both at home and abroad, CEU is threatened with possible closure. Under the new law, the Hungarian government needs to negotiate with the government of the home country of a foreign educational institution operating in Hungary.

“This legislation directly contradicts the 2004 Joint Declaration with the State of New York, which supported CEUʼs goal of achieving Hungarian accreditation while maintaining its status as an accredited American institution,” Cuomo said in the statement. “The Government of Hungary has stated publicly that it can only discuss the future of CEU in Hungary with relevant U.S. authorities, which in this case is the State of New York,” Cuomo noted, adding that he welcomes the opportunity to resolve this matter and to initiate discussions with the Hungarian government without delay.

Cuomo said he regards CEU as “a symbol of American-Hungarian cooperation and a world-class graduate university that is chartered by the State of New York. For more than 25 years, this institution has provided tremendous value to Hungary and to its diverse student body representing more than 100 countries.” 

The statement added that it is in the best interests of everyone to keep CEU in Budapest as a “free institution.” The statement added that the governor is ready for discussions with the government in order to “continue the New York State-Government of Hungary relationship and ensure that the institution remains a treasured resource for students around the world.”

However, as Hungarian news agency MTI notes, the amendments to the higher education act stipulate that in instances in which the central government of a federal state is not authorized to recognize the binding effect of an international agreement, such an agreement will be made on the basis of a preliminary agreement with said government.

CEU welcomes Cuomo’s statement

CEU welcomed Cuomo’s statement, which the university described as timely, since Hungary has until today to respond to the European Commission’s letter of formal notice that it has launched infringement proceedings.

In addition, the European Parliament’s resolution of May 17, in which it cited a “serious deterioration of the rule of law and democracy” in Hungary as justification for triggering the Article 7 procedure against Hungary, called on the Hungarian government to enter into negotiations with the U.S. authorities to find a resolution to the dispute surrounding CEU.

At the same time, CEU stressed that the “U.S. State Department confirmed yesterday that the U.S. federal government has no legal competence to negotiate on higher education, which lies within the authority of individual American states. Governor Cuomo’s statement therefore opens the path for negotiations.”

Pressure grows on Hungarian government

As an added pressure to the looming threat of Article 7, the United States Department of State urged the Hungarian government earlier this week to start negotiations on CEU.

“The Government of Hungary should engage directly with affected institutions to find a resolution that allows them to continue to function freely and provide greater educational opportunity for the citizens of Hungary and the region,” the State Department said Tuesday regarding changes to Hungaryʼs higher education act. The press statement urged the Hungarian government to suspend implementation of the recently amended higher education law, claiming it places “discriminatory, onerous requirements” on U.S.-accredited institutions in Hungary and threatens “academic freedom and independence.”

The statement at the same time stressed that the U.S. government “has no authority or intention to enter into negotiations on the operation of Central European University or other universities in Hungary.”

On the Hungarian side, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Péter Szijjártó told Reuters on Monday that the Hungarian government has no intention of withdrawing the amendment to the higher education act. He stressed that the government is proposing talks and waiting for a response from the U.S. administration as the American side has not yet named their negotiator.

Responding to the Cuomo press statement, ministry spokesman Tamás Menczer said Kristóf Altusz, the Prime Ministerʼs commissioner for the matter and the negotiator in charge of talks, has outlined a proposed schedule for talks and has been waiting for an official response from the U.S. for three weeks, according to Hungarian news agency MTI.

“A press statement is a far cry from an official response,” Menczer added.

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