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CEU welcomes Bavarian offer, but wants legal guarantees

The Central European University (CEU), while welcoming a Bavarian offer of financial and technical support for a long-term partnership with the Technical University of Munich (TUM), says that it needs legal guarantees from the Hungarian government if the solution is to work.

“A door has opened,” CEU President and Rector Michael Ignatieff declared in a press statement, issued in the wake of an exchange of letters between Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and Markus Söder, minister-president of Bavaria, and following the suspension of Fidesz from the European People’s Party (EPP), in part due to its intransigent stance with respect to CEU.

On Wednesday, Orbán accepted the Bavarian provincial governmentʼs offer concerning scientific cooperation with CEU, Hungarian news agency MTI cited Florian Herrmann, the Bavarian minister of state for EU and media affairs, as telling German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung.

According to the proposal, initially broached last week by Manfred Weber, the leader of the EPP in the European Parliament, on his visit to Budapest, TUM would fund two faculties on democracy and governance at CEU. The Munich institution would also co-fund a third faculty which would operate as a foundation, Herrmann added.

Herrmann noted that Orbán had “guaranteed” that CEU would be allowed to continue its research and educational work in Budapest, adding that he believed the gesture on the part of the Hungarian leader was a clear sign that he wanted to dampen the controversy surrounding his Fidesz party within the EPP.

Ignatieff commented that although the latest development opens a door, whether it leads to a solution depends on whether the Hungarian government will ratify an international agreement guaranteeing the freedom of CEU to operate in Budapest as a U.S. degree-granting institution. Ignatieff pointed out that the Bavarian PM’s letter called for a “legal guarantee by the Hungarian government that the CEU can continue to award U.S. and European diplomas in Budapest.”

An earlier CEU statement last week declared that no partnership between the Budapest-based university and TUM is possible without definitive legal certainty about CEUʼs long-term status in Hungary.

Ignatieff said that CEU looks forward to working with the “three wise men” appointed by the EPP to ensure that the Hungarian government lives up to its commitments, while stressing that the latest developments do not change CEU’s plans in relation to Vienna, where the university will begin operations in September 2019.

CEU was compelled to move its U.S.-accredited degree programs to Vienna late last year, after the government insisted it had failed to comply with the amended law on higher education requiring educational activity in the universityʼs country of origin.

The law, passed in April 2017, triggered an international outcry and mass demonstrations at home, with critics arguing that it was specifically targeted at CEU because of its liberal bent and association with Hungarian-born investor George Soros, well known as the bête noire of the Hungarian government.