LEX CEU: University Criticizes Government’s Proposal to Extend Deadlines as “Step Backward”
Tom Szigeti 2017.10.16.
In a press release issued last Friday, Central European University (CEU) criticized the Orbán government’s plans to extend the deadlines for complying with the controversial “Lex CEU” regulations by one year, saying that such a move would only prolong the state of uncertainty over the university’s future.
The “Lex CEU amendments” require each foreign-based university operating in Hungary to have an ‘intergovernmental’ agreement between their country of origin and Hungary, as well as a campus in the country in which they are based.
These amendments to Hungary’s higher education law, passed in the beginning of April, were seen as deliberately targeting the Central European University, and came to be referred to as “Lex CEU.” The government’s attack on CEU comes amid a larger attack on the university’s founder, Hungarian-American billionaire George Soros, whom Orbán’s ruling Fidesz party is currently portraying as the enemy of the Hungarian people.
Initially, the Orbán government insisted on an ‘inter-state’ agreement between Hungary and the Federal Government of the United States. Despite repeated reminders (including from President Trump’s Secretary of Education, Betsy De Vos) that in the United States higher education is a matter delegated to the states, the Hungarian government continued to push for such an agreement for a time in the case of CEU. Eventually, however, officials acquiesced to signing such deals with individual states, a prominent and oft-cited example of which was the agreement between the government and the State of Maryland over the continued operation of McDaniels College.
Should parliament accept the amendment submitted on Friday, the deadline for concluding such agreements would change to January 1, 2019.
The CEU said it interpreted the lack of such an agreement between the government and the State of New York, where CEU is based, as discrimination on the part of the government. “CEU calls on the Government of Hungary to sign the New York-Hungary agreement without delay and re-affirms its commitment to fulfill all obligations,” the university said in a statement.
The CEU said it would defend its academic freedom and continue its operations “as a respected member of Hungarian and international academic life”. It said the agreement that would secure its future was ready to be signed. The solution to the matter now rests in the hands of the government, the statement added.
Bard College Agreement
Earlier this month, the university signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Bard College, located in the state of New York. At the time of the signing of this MOU, the Central European University expressed its hope that it would help
to provide the basis for a speedy conclusion to this affair. We await the Hungarian government’s signature of the agreement.
In its most recent press release, CEU argued that the extension of the deadline and the government’s failure to sign an agreement are representative of “a step backward.”
The extension of the deadline and the failure to sign an agreement “is a step backward”, the CEU said, adding that its interests lie in moving forward. Essentially, the university accused the Orbán government of dragging its feet, pointing out that, since the signing of CEU’s agreement with Bard College,
there exists no obstacle to an agreement bringing this whole episode to a conclusion.
The European Commission had launched an infringement procedure against Hungary over the amendments to the higher education act because it believes the legislation runs counter to the right of academic freedom, the right to education and the freedom to conduct a business, as set out in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU.
Merkel’s Office Reacts
In a statement last week, a spokesperson for German Chancellor Angela Merkel reacted to the latest developments in the “Lex CEU” controversy. In particular, Steffen Seibert said that, when the issue first arose in the spring, “we made very clear that for us academic freedom is a very precious good.”
After describing recent developments in the controversy, including the MOU with Bard College, Seibert conveyed Merkel’s expectation
“from the Hungarian government that this agreement be swiftly signed and implemented, so that CEU can continue its teaching activities in Budapest.”
In a press release, CEU welcomed “the Chancellor’s spokesperson’s statement and urges rapid signature and ratification of the agreement so we can remain in Budapest and continue to flourish here as a world-class graduate institution with a dual Hungarian and American identity.”
Justice Minister László Trócsányi told a press conference on Friday that despite “all pressure lacking any legal foundations” the government upholds its position that “Hungarian laws apply to all, even to the US-based Central European University”.
Trócsányi said that the conditions defined in the amendment were “predictable, clear and easy to meet”, citing the agreement signed with the State of Maryland over McDaniel College.
In addition, earlier today Prime Minister Viktor Orbán submitted a letter to Speaker of the House László Kövér, requesting that debate and voting on modifications to the ‘Lex CEU’ regulations take place all in one day, tomorrow.
This means that, in spite of CEU’s protests, it would seem that the government is set to extend the deadline for the fulfillment of “Lex CEU”’s requirements as soon as tomorrow.