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EU rules against legal reform by Hungary’s Orban targeting Soros university

European Court of Justice says amendments, which effectively forced education institute funded by philanthropist to leave the country, were not in line with the bloc’s law

George Soros at the Joseph A. Schumpeter award ceremony in Vienna, Austria, June 21, 2019. (AP Photo/ Ronald Zak)
George Soros at the Joseph A. Schumpeter award ceremony in Vienna, Austria, June 21, 2019. (AP Photo/ Ronald Zak)

BRUSSELS — The European Union’s highest court ruled Tuesday that changes by Hungary to its law on higher education which effectively forced a university founded by George Soros to leave the country were not in line with EU law.

The European Court of Justice ruled against Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s governing, saying in the ruling that “the conditions introduced by Hungary to enable foreign higher education institutions to carry out their activities in its territory are incompatible with EU law.”

Among the changes, Hungary tied the operation of foreign universities in Hungary to a bilateral agreement between the Hungarian government and the universities’ country of origin. Foreign universities were also compelled to carry out educational activities in their home countries.

The court ruled that by imposing such conditions, “Hungary has failed to comply with the commitments” under the framework of the World Trade Organisation and acted in contravention of the provisions of the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban replies to an independent MP during a question and answer session of the parliament, March 30, 2020. (Zoltan Mathe/MTI via AP)

At the heart of the conflict is the fate of Central European University, established in New York state by Soros, a Hungarian-American financier. Under pressure from Orban, it had to relocate most of its main activities to Vienna from Budapest, where it had been operating since the early 1990s.

Orban has been a vocal critic of Soros for years, arguing that the billionaire philanthropist is intent on undermining European values with his liberal views on migration, claims Soros has denied. Orban’s ideological aim of creating an “illiberal state” is also in contrast with Soros’ ideal of an “open society.”

In light of his views on Soros, the amendments to the academic rules were widely seen as targeting CEU. The EU Commission launched an infringement procedure in April 2017 against Hungary in the wake of the changes. It subsequently referred Hungary to the Court of Justice in December 2017.

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