ECJ rules that Hungary breached EU law with reform of higher education rules

The EU’s top court said that the conditions introduced by Hungary, which forced a university founded by George Soros to move most of its activities out of the country, are incompatible with EU law.
European Court of Justice

By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

08 Oct 2020

The European Court of Justice ruling follows the Hungarian government's move to amend the “law on higher education”, which forced out the Central European University (CEU) from Hungary.

The CEU has long been a target of the Hungarian government and has since moved its operations to Vienna.

The ruling follows a complaint from the European Commission and is the latest in a series of clashes the EU has recently had with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. He is accused of flouting civil liberties, corruption and the rule of law.

Under the reform, passed in 2017, foreign universities in Hungary must also provide courses in their home countries, a provision that singled out the CEU, which was exclusively based in Budapest. The ECJ said that was against EU law.

The ruling was greeted by Gwendoline Delbos-Corfield, a French Greens MEP and Parliament rapporteur on the situation in Hungary.

“The ECJ has ruled on what should be clear in any European democracy; that measures to limit academic freedom are incompatible with EU law. Forcing out a university is undemocratic; it goes against European values and now it’s been ruled as illegal” Gwendoline Delbos-Corfield, Greens/EFA

Speaking on Wednesday, she said, “The ECJ has ruled on what should be clear in any European democracy; that measures to limit academic freedom are incompatible with EU law. Forcing out a university is undemocratic; it goes against European values and now it’s been ruled as illegal. The Hungarian government must repeal its draconian anti-academic laws.”

“The CEU should never have been forced out of Hungary. The CEU is an important institution and a valuable resource for students in the whole region - many of whom may not have the means to relocate to Vienna.”

She added, “This ruling should send a warning to Viktor Orbán: that it's time to step back from the brink of autocracy and reverse the Hungarian government’s undemocratic path.”

The CEU moved to Vienna after a long legal battle between the Hungarian-born billionaire George Soros and Orbán.

On his website Soros is described as the “founder and primary funder of the Central European University in Budapest, a leading regional centre for the study of the social sciences.”

“The ruling that Hungary is in violation of European law is a victory for the fundamental values of the EU. The decision comes too late for CEU” George Soros

Reacting to the ECJ verdict, Soros, also founder and chair of the Open Society Foundations, said: “The ruling that Hungary is in violation of European law is a victory for the fundamental values of the EU. The decision comes too late for CEU.”

“We cannot return to Hungary because its prevailing laws don’t meet the requirements of academic freedom. The Hungarian government continues to trample EU law, with the latest victim being the world-renowned University of Theatre and Arts (SZFE).”

“The EU is currently debating how to ensure that its funds are used in accordance with the rule of law. I call on the EU to make Hungary a test case.”

Hungary was recently cited in a Commission rule of law report and the ECJ ruling comes amid rising concern about rights violations in some Member States, notably Hungary and Poland.

Both are currently being investigated by the EU for allegedly undermining the independence of the judiciary, media and non-governmental organisations.

Commission Vice-President Věra Jourová also recently faced calls by Orbán to quit after she criticised his flouting of the rule of law in Hungary.

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