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EU court rules against Hungary's Viktor Orban over Soros university

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Thousands of people have previously protested against Viktor Orban's (left) measures, which resulted in George Soros' (right) university threatening to leave
Thousands of people have previously protested against Viktor Orban's (left) measures, which resulted in George Soros' (right) university threatening to leave   -   Copyright  AP Photo
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Changes to Hungarian law that effectively forced the George Soros-backed Central European University (CEU) out of the country are not in line with EU law, the bloc's highest court has ruled.

The judgement, released on Tuesday, said the changes were "incompatible" with EU law and had resulted in Hungary failing "to comply with the commitments" set out by the World Trade Organisation.

It also said the laws were a contravention of the provisions of the EU's Charter of Fundamental Rights.

Janos Marjai/AP
Thousands of students protested against the changes to law that affected CEUJanos Marjai/AP

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban's legislation, which required foreign universities carry out educational activities in their home countries, was widely viewed as a political attack against Soros as it placed the CEU — a university established in New York state — firmly in the firing line.

For Hungarian opposition MEP, Katalin Cseh, the court's decision comes too late:

"I have to say that justice delayed is justice denied," she told Euronews.

"The Central European University is now out of Hungary, and thus cutting the channels of social mobility of thousands of Hungarians and central European students, who could not otherwise afford to have a world class American degree. This is a politically motivated attack of the freedom of education by Mr. Orban but I am sorry to say that the reaction of the European Union came far too late."

The leader has long been a feuding opponent of the Hungarian-American financier, with the former claiming Soros' liberal views on migration undermine European values. Soros denies these claims.

In 2018, Orban drafted and passed a "Stop Soros" law, which ultimately forced the closure of the Budapest branch of a Soros-funded charity, Open Society Foundations.

The legislation banned individuals and organisations from providing help to undocumented immigrants, which, in turn, worked in Orban's favour when he accused the billionaire investor of supporting illegal migration to the continent.

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The CEU, meanwhile, packed up shop in Budapest and relocated its US-accredited degree programmes to Vienna, where it has now been since September.

"CEU has been forced out," the CEU president and rector, Michael Ignatieff, said at the time.

"This is unprecedented. A US institution has been driven out of a country that is a NATO ally. A European institution has been ousted from a member state of the EU."

Democratic backsliding

The judgement comes amid battles between Brussels and Budapest over democratic backsliding. This case is the latest defeat for Viktor Orban's government. The EU's top court also ruled against Hungary in cases that restricted NGO funding, and over the treatment of migrants earlier this year.

Professor Tobias Lock, Jean Monnet Chair in EU law, Maynooth University welcomed the judgement on the CEU as it 'strengthens academic freedom'.

"At the same time what has been missed is the opportunity to look at bigger picture here… it is up to the member states to tighten the screws where other member states become delinquent, where they introduce measures that roll back the rule of law," Lock told Euronews.