Hungary adopts legislation which may limit constitutional freedom of education

By Christian Keszthelyi, 11 April
Students protesting in front of the Central European University (Photo credit: hu.euronews.com)
Students protesting in front of the Central European University (Photo credit: hu.euronews.com)

President of the Republic János Áder signed the so-called “lex CEU” amendment on higher education a few hours before the deadline Monday, despite calls from international and domestic institutions and academics for the rejection of the new legislation, news portal index.hu reported. The law may yet be brought before the Constitutional Court, however.

Áder, who has just started his second term as president backed by the governing party Fidesz, which fast-tracked the legislation and passed it through Parliament in just a week’s time, took almost all the time available to him, as his deadline was midnight on Monday.

The Central European University (CEU) has urged the government to drop the legislation from the beginning, claiming that it is aimed specifically at the university, while the government has insisted the aim is to ensure greater transparency in the legal environment in which institutions of higher education operate, as well as to close “loopholes” which it claims CEU has exploited. At the same time, many academics, professionals and institutions in the country and internationally have voiced their support for CEU, while tens of thousands of demonstrators have taken to the streets on three occasions over the past week in solidarity with the university.

“In the past few days, constitutional concerns have arisen related to the proposal,” Áder begins in his press statement, which index.hu notes as odd, given that signed laws do not usually come with an announcement. “In the time allowed to me I have investigated the constitutionality of the legislation and whether it is in line with international agreements,” Áder explains, adding that he has established that it does not violate the freedom of education set down in the Fundamental Law (constitution) of Hungary. He adds that the legislation also does not violate the sovereignty of institutions as regards research, taught material and methodology, index.hu cites the statement as saying.

At the same time, Áder urges the government to “start negotiations” with the related institutions “immediately,” promising that there is “no doubt” about foreign institutions in Hungary “conducting high quality work,” and that the conditions permitting them to do so “will be continuously provided.”

Legal challenges possible

The passed amendment to Act CCIV of 2011 on National Higher Education may still be brought before the Constitutional Court, as opposition green party LMP has promised to turn to the body over the matter, for which a total of 50 MPs’ signatures are needed. At the same time, civil rights ombudsman László Székely can also turn to the court, as can CEU. Even so, index.hu notes that the court has a majority of Fidesz-appointed judges, therefore making it unlikely they will question the constitutionality of the legislation.

Now that the legislation has been approved by the president, and is taking effect, the conditions for CEU to keep operating in the country as of the next academic year have become much stricter. In order to stay in Budapest, CEU will need to launch education programs and a campus in New York, while the Hungarian and U.S. governments will need to sign an intergovernmental agreement.

While CEU leaders have previously said the institution would be forced to leave the country if the legislation were approved, Hungarian-American financier and philanthropist George Soros, who founded and is still the main benefactor of CEU, has reportedly vowed that the university will stay in the capital.

CEU Rector Michael Ignatieff reportedly said in a letter sent to teachers and students of the university that they have “plans to secure studying, education and research in the future,” while confirming that Soros has said he is committed to keep the university here, according to index.hu.

Budapest Business Journal

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