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Hungarian Parliament passes ‘lex CEU’ law

Hungary’s Parliament has passed legislation modifying the law on higher education in an expedited procedure. The legislation threatens to put an end to the operations of the Central European University in Hungary, according to online news portal index.hu.

Hungaryʼs governing Fidesz-KDNP coalition needed only one week to table and pass the new legislation, which has been met with strong international condemnation from academics, professionals and politicians of every hue. Parliament voted in favor of the legislation with 123 votes for (from the governing coalition) and 38 votes against, including the opposition Socialist Party, LMP and seven independent MPs. The 38 MPs of far-right opposition party Jobbik did not vote, and nor did the Democratic Coalition’s MPs, who have been boycotting Parliament.

The legislation, which has been tagged "lex CEU" in the media due to aspects that exclusively hurt the operations of the Central European University, is still due to be signed by President János Áder. Additionally, online news portal index.hu notes, it is expected to be taken to the Constitutional Court, with green party LMP promising to challenge the measure.

Under the legislation, any foreign-funded university institution in Hungary can only operate in the country once the government of the source country and Hungary have signed an intergovernmental agreement, while the legislation also specifies that the given university must have operations in its source country.

The Central European University, which was founded in 1991 by Hungarian-American philanthropist and financier George Soros, known as a strong critic of the present Hungarian government, has insisted it has been specifically targeted since the proposal was tabled exactly a week ago. The Hungarian government, however, has insisted that the legislation only aims to make the system more transparent.

Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán toned down his opinion on the matter somewhat yesterday, compared to his strong comments about the university on Friday, which CEU rejected immediately

“The Hungarian government will be guided by goodwill, as will most certainly the government of the United States of America, so thereʼs no reason for anybody to be nervous,” Orbán told journalists Monday. “Weʼll discuss with the Americans what they would like,” he added.

Thousands of protestors gathered in front of Parliament Sunday to support the CEU, and organizers of the demonstration promised to continue protests unless the government removes its education proposal from the table.