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‘Lex CEU’ amendment could be probed by EC

The European Commission is reported to be launching a probe into amendments to the law on higher education the Hungarian government submitted and had passed by Parliament in a fast-track procedure on April 4, sparking demonstrations and condemnation as the move is seen targeting the Central European University in particular, and academic freedom in general.

(Photo: Habib M’henni / Wikimedia Commons)

European Commission First Vice-President Frans Timmermans announced the EC’s plans at a press conference on Wednesday, Hungarian news agency MTI reported from Brussels. The EC also warned Hungary that the country risks being sued in court over changes to higher education law, policies with respect to non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and asylum rules, wire service Reuters reported. “We will review all these issues closely in the April infringement cycle,” Reuters cited Timmermans as saying.

Timmermans said the EC will examine whether the amendments to  Act CCIV of 2011 on National Higher Education adhere to the basic principles of the EU, as many observers believe the changes threaten CEU with closure. The amendments may infringe EU freedoms such as the freedom to provide services or the freedom of movement and residence within the Union, MTI reported.

“Central European University has been a pearl in the crown of Central Europe in forming a new generation of European leaders that see East and West as geographical denominations, not moral or political denominations,” Timmermans was quoted by wire service AP as saying.

According to reports, Timmermans noted that the Hungarian government has always been open to dialogue and cooperation in the past, and that the time has come for the EC to start a political dialogue with the Hungarian government, MTI reported.

Commenting on Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s expected participation in the plenary session of the European Parliament at the end of April, where the Hungarian leader will be able to address concerns with respect to Hungary, Timmermans adopted a positive tone, according to reports, insisting that he believes they will be able to find solutions for the disputes. However, he warned that if not, then the European Court of Justice will make its final decision. 

Regarding the Hungarian government’s latest “national consultation” on EU issues, promoted by advertising billboards and posters with the slogan “Let’s stop Brussels!”, Timmermans said the European Commission will come up with its own answer related to the campaign, though he declined to outline further details, according to reports.

Speaking at a press briefing in Budapest, government spokesman Zoltán Kovács said that Brussels “has to come to a decision” regarding issues of migration in the second half of this year, and that its “attack” aims to pressure Hungary “to accept the migration quota and to lift the border seal,” according to MTI. Hungary is ready to discuss problems, but will not change its standpoint on migration, Kovács added.

Timmermans has been a prominent critic of the Hungarian government, going so far as to suggest in a recent newspaper interview that both Hungary and Poland represent a threat to democracy in the European Union.