Yesterday, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán participated in a plenary session of the European Parliament in Brussels (you can read about his remarks at the session here). His comments, especially those surrounding the controversial “Lex CEU” legislation, as well as his government’s recent “Stop Brussels!” billboard campaign, garnered heated responses from EU politicians, academics, and CEU itself.
EU Politicians React to Orbán
In a charged speech on the floor of the European Parliament, Guy Verhofstadt, a Belgian Member of the European Parliament (MEP) and leader of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe Group, addressed Mr. Orbán directly.
Referring to their first meeting in 1989, Verhofstadt reminded Orbán that, once, the Hungarian PM had himself espoused more liberal beliefs, and had in fact been studying on a scholarship from none other than George Soros Himself. Since then, the Belgian MEP told him, “You changed. You dumped your democratic principles, and in a certain way you say it openly.”
Continuing, Verhofstadt issued a searing condemnation of Orbán’s political policies, telling him that
The list is long for what you have done. Harassing NGOs. Chasing away critical media. Building walls…and now you have decided to close down a university…how far will you go? What is the next thing? Burning books also?…And what I see more and more is not a proud conservative, because in the meanwhile, you have become a proud conservative. No, I see a sort of modern day version of old communist Hungary. Economic protectionism, excessive nationalism, the surge of an illiberal state. And you see enemies everywhere of the Hungarian state…It’s like Stalin or Brezhnev are back. But now in Hungary.
Verhofstadt ended by accusing the Hungarian PM of having violated “every single one” of the EU’s founding principles, which Hungary agreed to when it joined the Union in 2004. He also advised Orbán to think of his place in history, asking
Is it not the time to ask yourself in your soul how you will be remembered in the future? Do you want to be remembered as somebody that liberated your country, Hungary, from communism; and that you did. Or do you want to be commemorated as an eternal enemy of our open, European, democratic society? That’s the choice you have to make now.
You can view the video in its entirety below:
The European Commission also released a document, entitled “Facts Matter,” in order to “set the record straight” regarding the falsehoods contained in the Orbán government’s “Stop Brussels!” campaign and national consultation literature. Going point by point through the consultation questions, the Commission provided evidence to refute the “factually incorrect or highly misleading” claims found within (You can read the document in its entirety here).
And, in a show of support for CEU, European Commission President Jean Claude Juncker met with the university’s founder, Hungarian-American billionaire George Soros. Soros will also be meeting with a number of other EU dignitaries later today and over the course of this week.
European Commission Infringement Procedure Launched
In addition to verbal criticism, the European Commission has launched an infringement procedure against Hungary over the recent amendments to its higher education law tightening rules governing the operations of foreign universities in the country, an EC spokesperson announced on Wednesday.
Critics of the law have said it puts the operations of Budapest’s Central European University under threat.
The spokesperson said the EC has sent Hungary a letter of formal notice on the matter, which officially launches the procedure.
Margaritis Schinas said the EC would continue its dialogue with the Hungarian government on matters on which they are at odds, including migration. He added that the EC would also keep monitoring a bill before parliament on the transparency of civil groups funded by foreign donors.
The Central European University itself responded to the Hungarian Prime Minister’s claims in the European Parliament that the new amendments to Hungary’s higher-education law, which have triggered a series of massive protests in Budapest and elsewhere, do not target CEU. Regarding Orbán’s claim that the amendments merely “abolish privileges and loopholes,” the university responded that
This is also false. For weeks now, we have been asking the government to name the specific privileges possessed in the past by CEU and the rights given now to all Hungarian universities. Unfortunately the Prime Minister failed to answer these questions again. CEU worked hard to gain accreditation — issuing diplomas is not a privilege. The measures claimed to benefit the Hungarian universities met with robust protest across the entire Hungarian education sector. This is because the new law and the way it was adopted shows disrespect to Hungarian higher education and to academic freedom.
In addition, CEU praised the European Commission’s decision to launch infringement proceedings over the ‘Lex CEU’ legislation. The school’s President and Rector, Michael Ignatieff, also expressed his hope that “that European People’s Party members will now also urge their Hungarian partners to comply with the European Commission requests immediately, and that this will lead the Hungarian government toward rapid negotiations so that we can resolve this matter.”
Via MTI, Hungary Matters, the Guardian, the Financial Times, ceu.edu, index.hu, and the New York Times
Images via MTI
Video via Guy Verhofstadt Facebook Page