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Jean Lambert London's Green MEP

European Commission must fight to protect Hungary’s academic freedom, says Jean Lambert MEP

Jean speaking in a debate on human rights breaches

4 May 2017

The European Union has launched legal action against Hungary over a law that would effectively shut down Budapest-based Central European University (CEU), founded by philanthropist George Soros in 1991 [1].

Hungary’s new higher education law, instituted by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, introduces tough measures for foreign-registered universities. The legislation will put severe restrictions on CEU, including requirements to open a new branch in the USA, ensure all staff apply for a Hungarian work permit, and prevent it from teaching US-accredited courses [2].

Jean Lambert, London’s Green MEP and member of the European Parliament’s Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs committee, says:

“Over the past 25 years, the Central European University (CEU) has been a progressive force within Hungarian society. The institution has played an important role in the democratic transition of the country, and become a valuable resource for scholars and students across Eastern Europe. Academic freedom is an essential element of any healthy democracy – an indicator of a state’s commitment to civil liberties, human rights, and a plurality of opinions.

For this reason, the Hungarian Government’s recent crackdown on CEU is an assault on a number of the European Union’s fundamental values. These actions reflect a wider global trend towards nationalism and illiberalism, which too often stifle academic debate and independent scientific research.

It’s encouraging that the Commission has decided to open infringement proceedings against Hungary, giving Orbán one month to prove that his higher education law does not contravene EU standards. The Prime Minister’s collaboration with these demands is also a step in the right direction [3].

However, Orbán’s repressive policies do not stop at the world of academia. His increasingly autocratic government has come to threaten the essence of Hungarian democracy and rule of law, targeting the media and his country’s judicial system.

The Greens/EFA Group has called for the European Parliament to invoke Article 7 of the Treaty on the European Union, which enables the EU to sanction member states violating its basic principles such as dignity, freedom, democracy and respect for human rights [4].

At this time of increasing political populism, it’s crucial that the EU shows political and moral leadership. It must demonstrate that it takes any breach of these basic rights seriously to protect all citizens, and to stand up for Europe’s hard-fought democratic institutions”.