MEPs demand action against Hungary after law targets Soros

MEPs raised their voices in defence of the CEU.[S&D Group/Twitter]

A group representing a majority of European Union lawmakers said on Wednesday(5 April)that they want the Parliament to start disciplinary proceedings against Hungary after a crackdown on foreign universities by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.

Hungary’s parliament approved a law on Tuesday(4 April)that could force out a university founded by financier George Soros–the Central European University(CEU)–despite international condemnation and protests by thousands of Hungarians.

Hungary passes bill targeting Soros university,sparking protests

Hungarian lawmakers yesterday(4 April)approved legislation that could force the closure of a prestigious Budapest university founded by US billionaire investor George Soros,sparking fresh protests.

Also on Wednesday,Orbán’s Fidesz party said it would present a bill to parliament this week that requires NGOs with a yearly foreign income of 7.2 million forints($25,000)to register with the government.

“Support from unknown foreign sources could allow foreign interest groups to pursue their own interests via the influence of these(NGOs)in Hungary…which threatens the country’s political and economic interests,”the bill says.

NGOs,many of whom receive grants from Soros’Open Society Foundation,often advocate on behalf of refugees,clash with Orbán and other Eastern European leaders who contend that migration is an existential threat.

Orbán names Soros and EU among those ‘attacking’ Hungary

In the annual State of the Union address on Friday(10 February)Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán listed among those who “attacked” his country billionaire George Soros and the European Union.

“Like Fidesz crossed a red line yesterday with the CEU bill so they did again with the NGO’s,”Akos Hadhazy,a lawmaker from the opposition green-liberal LMP party,told Reuters.“Sadly the red lines are so many they look like a red carpet by now.”

“This is a dirty little law,”Hadhazy added.“All it does is mark the government’s least favourite NGOs with a yellow star,”he said,referring to Jews being required to wear stars on their clothes under the Nazi regime.

The Hungarian Civil Liberties Union said the law was“unnecessary”from a legislative perspective.

However,Fidesz has a parliamentary majority and can pass laws on its own.

In Strasbourg,European lawmakers(MEPs)from all leftist groups,liberals and some from the conservative European People’s Party(EPP),the largest grouping in the parliament,said they wanted action taken against Hungary.

Discipline

A disciplinary procedure can mean suspension of an EU state’s voting rights, but such an action has never been taken.

The start of a procedure would also require two-thirds of the chamber to support the start of such a procedure, a threshold that would not be reached if enough of the EPP does not back the measure.

Orbán’s Fidesz party is a member of the EPP, which has so far opposed taking action against Hungary. An official from the group said that it was too early to consider such a move.

The European Commission or the European Council could also start a disciplinary procedure but have been reluctant to do so as it could fuel anti-EU feelings at a time when the EU is grappling with Britain’s departure and rising Euroscepticism.

On Wednesday, the Commission said it was studying the new Hungarian law on university funding and that it would discuss it in a meeting of Commissioners next week.

Commission to debate Hungary’s ‘illiberal’ drift on 12 April

The Juncker Commission will hold a “first debate” over the drift toward ‘illiberal democracy’ in Hungary at its next meeting on Wednesday (12 April), with First Vice-President Frans Timmermans making a presentation.

The Polish government has been rebuked on several occasions by Brussels for reforms of the judiciary, but the Commission has so far fallen short of starting a disciplinary procedure and resorted instead to monitoring Polish reforms.

With Hungarian support, Poland defies EU over rule of law

Poland dismissed on Monday (20 February) demands that it implement judiciary reforms deemed essential by the European Commission to uphold the rule of law.

The conservative MEPs who support starting the procedure against Hungary are from Poland’s Civic Platform party, the same as EU summits chair Donald Tusk, and strongly oppose the Law and Justice (PiS) party which is in power in Poland.

Polish FM calls Tusk ‘icon of evil and stupidity’

Donald Tusk suffered another attack from Poland’s populist government on Monday (2 January), when Minister of Foreign Affairs Witold Waszczykowski told Krakow radio station RMF FM that he was an “icon of evil and stupidity” and that he should stay “far away from Poland”.

Positions

Sciences Po in France condemned the limiting of freedoms essential for academic work, in Hungary and throughout Europe. This legislation clearly aims to impair and disenfranchise CEU, and the University stands by its academic colleagues as the CEU asserts its rights as a vital independent centre of knowledge and research in Central Europe.

Many other reactions of solidarity with CEU can be found at the University’s website.