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EC launches infringement procedure against Hungary over education law amendments

The European Commission said Wednesday it has launched an infringement procedure against Hungary over amendments to the higher education law approved by lawmakers early in April, state news wire MTI reports. The legislation has been criticized for its perceived targeting of the Central European University, triggering a wave of mass protests in recent weeks.

The amendments require foreign colleges and universities in Hungary to operate on the basis of an intergovernmental agreement and to have a campus in the country in which they are based, noted the MTI report.   

The EC said on Wednesday it had 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 Unionʼs legal obligations under international trade law.”   

The EC said it had sent a “letter of formal notice” on the matter to Hungary, marking the first step in an infringement procedure. The Hungarian authorities will have one month to respond to the ECʼs legal concerns.

The Central European University, which is accredited in both the United States and Hungary but has just one campus, in Budapest, earlier said the changes to the higher education law would make its continued operation in Budapest “impossible.” CEU called the legislation “discriminatory” and said that it “targets CEU directly.”  

“The new law puts at risk the academic freedom not only of CEU but of other Hungarian research and academic institutions,” said a press statement released by CEU following the passing of the legislation.

CEU has called the government’s attention to the wave of support for CEU and for academic freedom received from noted academics, Nobel laureates, university presidents, the U.S. Department of State, academic organizations, student groups, and ordinary citizens in Hungary and around the world.

In mid-April, European Commission First Vice-President Frans Timmermans had warned Hungary that the country risks being sued in court over changes to higher education law, as well as its policies with respect to non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and asylum rules, wire service Reuters reported at the time.

Hungarian-American financier and philanthropist George Soros, who founded CEU in 1991, is set to meet with EC President Jean-Claude Juncker to discuss the amended education legislation in Brussels on Thursday, MTI reported.