Angela Merkel warns Hungary's Orbán in clash over CEU

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government warned Hungary against obstructing democracy with a law that threatens to shutter Central European University, founded by George Soros, renewing tension between the two European Union allies, Bloomberg reported.
The extraordinary legislation “raises the impression" that the operation of foreign universities in Hungary will be made difficult, “or in individual cases impossible," Merkel’s deputy spokeswoman, Ulrike Demmer, said on Wednesday.

She singled out Central European University (CEU), the Budapest-based institution Hungarian-born financier George Soros founded in 1991 to train post-communist democratic leaders in eastern Europe.

Freedom, democracy, rule of law and human rights are not up for debate in Europe

, Demmer told reporters in Berlin.

“Germany will observe very closely the effects of this law on higher education in Hungary," she added.

Merkel and Orbán, while members of the same political family, the European People’s Party (EPP), have previously clashed over refugee policy and may be headed for another dispute as a range of European politicians criticize the education measure, Bloomberg noted.

They clashed at an EPP conference last week in Malta, where Orbán blasted migration into Europe as a “Trojan horse of terrorism", referring to refugees as “ants". Merkel defended her open-border refugee policy, which also faces criticism at home as she seeks re-election to a fourth term in September.

“Orbán is assailing the foundations of democracy in Hungary," Bloomberg cited Gianni Pittella, head of the Socialist group in the European Parliament, as telling reporters in Strasbourg, France. Ska Keller, German co-leader of the Greens in the 28-nation parliament, said “Orbán needs to be stopped."

The Hungarian government denies that the new legislation is specifically targeting CEU, stressing that it is ready to discuss the case with the United States. However, the legislation sets an impossible condition to foreign-linked universities. It stipulates that if a university is based in a federal state (the State of New York in CEU’s case) which has jurisdiction on higher education matters, it still needs to have an accord with the federal government (an approval by Donald Trump in this case) in order to be able to issue degrees accredited in the U.S., which practically means that Hungary dictates CEU to have Trump sign their operating permit, although he has no jurisdiction in this matter.

“George Soros’s lies can even mislead the German government," Hungary’s state-owned newswire quoted government spokesman Zoltán Kovács as saying.

The cabinet claims everyone was misled over CEU, including Nobel Laureates, top academics of the world, European and U.S. politicians, and thousands of students, professors and civilians rallying in Budapest against the punitive law.

The European Commission is scrutinising the amendment of Hungary’s law on higher education passed on Tuesday, with as many as four directorates being homed in on the matter, local news portal reported on Wednesday.

On Tuesday, CEU sent a memorandum to President of Hungary János Áder outlining theunconstitutional nature of the amendments to Hungary’s Higher Education Law passed yesterday in Parliament.

The law has been protested by Nobel Laureates, academics from Europe and the United States and several organisations. The newest addition to the long list of those that do not want academic freedom to be curbed in Hungary are the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, former New York Governor George Pataki, university provosts,the European University Association and the President of Harvard University.

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