‘Dark day for Europe’ as Soros-funded university quits Hungary

Fine Gael has ‘grave concerns’ over college expulsion by Hungarian ally Viktor Orban

A stairs inside the Central European University  building in Budapest: the university has been forced to move to Vienna. Photograph: Attila Kisbenede

A stairs inside the Central European University building in Budapest: the university has been forced to move to Vienna. Photograph: Attila Kisbenede

 

The head of Hungary’s Central European University has called it a “dark day for Europe” as the renowned liberal college announced that it was being forced out of the country by a legal attack from Viktor Orban’s nationalist government.

The populist premier and many allies received student grants from CEU’s founder, billionaire philanthropist George Soros, but now they accuse him of attacking their administration and trying to destroy Europe by helping migrants.

The EU is taking legal action over Mr Orban’s hardline policies on asylum, NGOs and education, but his administration has flatly refused to sign a deal to allow CEU to maintain all its operations in Budapest, where it was created in 1991.

“CEU has been forced out,” said its president and rector Michael Ignatieff, in announcing that the university would teach its US-accredited courses in Vienna from next September.

“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,” he added.

“Arbitrary eviction of a reputable university is a flagrant violation of academic freedom. It is a dark day for Europe and a dark day for Hungary. ”

CEU insists it has fulfilled new legislation by opening a department in New York State, but officials call it a “Potemkin campus” that does not meet requirements.

Although the vast majority of its courses will move to Vienna, the government also underlines that CEU will keep running Hungarian-accredited studies in Budapest.

‘Political bluff’

“The Soros university is leaving but staying. It’s common knowledge that a significant number of its courses will still be held in Budapest,” said government spokesman Zoltan Kovacs.

“This is nothing more than a Soros-style political bluff, which does not merit the attention of the government.”

Growing concern over Mr Orban’s autocratic tendencies and disregard for the rule of law has prompted calls for action from the European People’s Party, which counts his Fidesz party and Fine Gael as members.

The EPP has proved unwilling or unable to rein in Mr Orban, however, and appears reluctant to confront Fidesz before next year’s European parliamentary elections.

A Fine Gael spokesperson told The Irish Times that the party “has expressed grave concerns to the EPP and to Mr Orban himself”.

“We await the recommendations of the EPP in relation to this matter but we have made it very clear that any course of action must protect the values of Fine Gael and the EPP.”

EPP leader Manfred Weber tweeted: “Extremely disappointed by the refusal of the Hungarian government to agree with CEU on their double degree programme. It is unacceptable that a university in EU today is forced to move elsewhere with their curriculum.”