Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has stated that his government wants to comply fully with the European Commission’s conditions related to amendments to the higher education act, a spokesman for the European People’s Party (EPP), among whose ranks governing Fidesz stands, said in Brussels on Saturday. This means that the Hungarian government must produce a plan, within a month, on how it intends to bring the law in line with the EC’s expectations, Siegfried Muresan said after a meeting of EPP leaders.
The EPP leadership considers it important that Budapest’s Central European University (CEU) be allowed to continue operating “without any kind of restriction”, Muresan added. Experience shows that Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has always been prepared to negotiate and has always complied with European Union rules in the end, Manfred Weber, who heads the MEPs of the EPP, said after the EPP leaders’ meeting. He said the Hungarian government had been democratically elected and Orbán has the right to present his stand; however, in the end, he must comply with the requirements imposed by the European Commission regarding the amendments to the higher education act. The Presidency of the EPP asked Orbán to honour one of the party’s main principles: academic freedom, Weber said. Shutting down universities is unacceptable, he added.
A statement by the EPP sent to MTI said Hungary’s planned tightening of rules on NGOs along with the Hungarian government’s “Let’s Stop Brussels!” national consultation had come up as well as the higher education act. EPP President Joseph Daul said that, after an “open and frank” discussion, the EPP Presidency had asked Fidesz and the Hungarian authorities to “take all necessary steps to comply with the Commission’s request”. “Prime Minister Orbán has reassured the EPP that Hungary will act accordingly,” the statement added. “The EPP Presidency sent a clear message to Prime Minister Orbán and his party, Fidesz, that we will not accept that any basic freedoms are restricted or rule of law is disregarded. This includes academic freedom and the autonomy of universities. The EPP wants the CEU to remain open, deadlines suspended and dialogue with the US to begin,” the statement said.
The EPP made clear that the “blatant anti-EU rhetoric” of the “Let’s Stop Brussels!” consultation was unacceptable. “The constant attacks on Europe… have reached a level we can not tolerate,” the statement said, adding that the consultation had been “deeply misleading”. “Decisions in Brussels are taken collectively by European governments, including Viktor Orbán’s Hungarian government, and by the European Parliament, which includes representatives of the Hungarian people,” the statement said. Additionally, the EPP’s president said in the statement that “NGOs are an integral part of any healthy democracy”.
EC launches infringement procedure against Hungary
The European Commission on Wednesday launched an infringement procedure against Hungary over amendments to the higher education act. “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 Union’s legal obligations under international trade law,” the EC said. 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. The CEU, which is accredited in the United States but has just one campus, in Budapest, earlier said the changes to the higher education act would make its continued operation in Budapest “impossible”.
PM Orbán: Hungary ready to cooperate
Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said at a meeting of European People’s Party (EPP) leaders in Brussels that Hungary’s government is ready to cooperate with the European Commission on all unresolved legal questions, the head of the PM’s Press Office said. Just as it has done in the past, and will continue doing in the future, the government wants to settle the infringement procedures brought against Hungary with an agreement, Bertalan Havasi said in a statement. The prime minister clarified again that the government does not wish to shut down George Soros’ Central European University operating in Budapest, he said. However, no university in Hungary may enjoy legal privilege; Hungarian regulations apply to all of them uniformly, he added.
Hungarian regulations will not allow the existence of institutions of higher education that operate without any real activity, as “an offshore post box”, in the future either, Havasi said. The prime minister also made it clear that Hungary’s ongoing national consultation is not anti-Europe, rather just the opposite: it serves the goal of jointly reforming the European Union, which, at present, operates poorly on a number of counts and is in need of renewal, he said. Orbán asked the help of the EPP on getting the EC to withdraw the planned energy union which would significantly raise Hungarian households’ utilities bills, Havasi said. He said Hungary can still not accept the uncontrolled immigration of people who migrate illegally, and wants to keep the fence protecting the border – of both Hungary and Europe – in place under all circumstances.
via hungarymatters.hu and MTI; photo: EPP group leader Manfred Weber and Hungarian PM Viktor Orbán having talks in Brussels (Balázs Szecsődi – kormany.hu)