Respect for the rule of law is at the center of a tug-of-war between the EU institutions and Hungary (with the support of Poland): Viktor Orbán is taking hostage the final adoption of the EU budget of over €1 trillion and the Recovery Fund of €750 billion, put forward to address the economic crisis caused by COVID, because the Commission, the Council and the European Parliament—with different degrees of conviction—want to make aid payments conditional on compliance with the rules and values of the Union.
A ruling of the European Court of Justice on Tuesday confirmed once again that Orbán’s Hungary is at the limits of non-compliance with the commitments made on the occasion of the country’s entry into the EU: in the particular case which the Commission had focused on, the Hungarian law of 2017, which led to the transfer of the Central European University (CEU) from Budapest to Vienna, violates European law and academic freedom.
The Court of Justice is thus asking Hungary to adapt its legislation to the fundamental values of the EU. In order to eliminate the university founded by George Soros in 1991, Orbán had a law passed in 2017 that forced all foreign universities active in Hungary to have “real activity” in their countries of origin. In addition, Hungary must have a bilateral agreement with these countries. Only CEU, founded by Soros, the sworn enemy of the entire European extreme right, was unable to meet these demands, to the point that the law of 2017 was nicknamed the “anti-CEU law.”
The Central European University was issuing diplomas according to the U.S. system in Budapest. It had to transfer this activity to Vienna, while it has kept in Budapest some research activity and the section providing diplomas in the Hungarian system. The situation is very unlikely to return to how it was before the 2017 law. “This decision comes too late,” commented George Soros, “we cannot go back to Hungary.” The Orbán government reacted with the usual tactic: the Minister of Justice, Judit Varga, said with plain bad faith that “as always, Hungary will implement the rulings of the Court of Justice, in accordance with the interests of Hungarians.” But she added that according to the government, CEU is only “a mailbox university,” that is, a smokescreen.
The Commission intervened in 2018, bringing the matter before the EU Court of Justice. To defend “academic freedom,” a right guaranteed by the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU, the Court of Justice had to refer to the free trade rules of the WTO.
This is the third time in a few months that Hungarian laws are ruled to be contrary to European law. In May, the Court of Justice condemned Orbán’s migration policy, which systematically arrests migrants caught on Hungarian territory and locks them in camps. In June, it was the turn of the law against alleged foreign funding of NGOs operating in Hungary. But so far, Budapest has not changed this legislation to comply with European values, as requested by the Court of Justice.