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Hungarian Report Hungarian Report
by Euro Reporter
2017-09-10 12:52:08
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Council of Europe calls on Hungary to redraw higher education law

A new higher education law in Hungary that could force the country’s top-ranked university to close has been described as “highly problematic” by a fact-finding mission sent by the Council of Europe. The mission’s preliminary report calls on Hungary’s government, which has been accused of deliberately targeting the Budapest-based Central European University as part of a broader campaign against independent civil society groups, to exempt already established universities from the new law. The new law, passed in April this year, requires foreign universities to teach in their home countries, bans them from using identical names in different languages – a rule that “appears unjustified”, the report says, and only affects CEU – and also require them to secure a new international agreement to continue operating.

hungary_400These “stringent rules” introduced “without very strong reasons” create “strict deadlines and severe legal consequences” for “foreign universities that are already established in Hungary and have been lawfully operating there for many years”, according to the Venice Commission, which advises the Council, the Strasbourg-based body that enforces the European Convention on Human Rights. The law is therefore “highly problematic from the standpoint of rule of law and fundamental rights principles and guarantees”, concludes the mission’s report, released at the end of last week. When the law was proposed, the Hungarian government said that it was a response to an audit of foreign universities, and the law makes no specific reference to CEU. But the university and critics of the government have argued that the law deliberately targets the CEU, and the commission appears to agree, concluding that it is “doubtful whether the law responds to a genuine need in respect of universities that are already active in Hungary”, drawing attention to the wider “socio-political context surrounding its adoption”.

The law itself was passed a few days after being presented to parliament, with no consultation, the mission says. “The reason given for using the expedited procedure was that it was urgent to adopt the law to allow it to enter into force before the next academic year. This reason does not seem very convincing since there was no urgent need to change the applicable rules,” it finds. However, it does conclude that the new rules are “in line with existing practices” in the rest of Europe and may be “legitimately” applied to new foreign universities that want to set up in Hungary. Its concern lies instead with how the law affects existing universities, such as CEU. Meanwhile, opposition MPs have triggered a debate on the new law in parliament later this month. The Hungarian government is also in dispute with the European Union over the new law. In response to its objections, Pál Völner, Hungary's parliamentary state secretary of the Ministry of Justice said that “it’s hardly our fault that these restrictions are contrary to György Soros’s interests”, referring to George Soros, the Hungary-born philanthropist whose donation set up the CEU, and who has repeatedly been attacked by the Hungarian government.

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Hungary to fight EU migrant quotas despite setback

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has said the "real battle is just beginning", vowing to continue fighting against the European Union's migrant relocation plan despite suffering a setback at the bloc's top court. Orban's remarks on Friday came two days after the European Court of Justice (ECJ) threw out the case from Hungary and Slovakia against the EU's quota scheme to spread up to 160,000 Syrian, Iraqi and Eritrean asylum seekers among the 28 member states. "Hungary is a European Union member, so the bloc's treaties must be respected and the court's rulings must be acknowledged," the populist leader said in a radio interview. "But this is not a reason to change an immigration policy that rejects migrants," he added. "The court's ruling does not require Hungary to do anything", Orban said, because it focused only on whether the EU had the legal right to enforce refugee quotas.

He said EU countries which let in migrants, unlike Hungary, decided to do so of their own will and now they cannot ask Budapest to take a part in correcting their mistake. "It is not us Hungarians who question the rules of the club, but the Commission had changed the rules and this is unacceptable," Orban said. The "real battle [against Brussels] is just beginning," he added. "The whole issue raises a very serious question of principles: whether we are an alliance of European free nations with the Commission representing our joint interests, or a European empire which has its centre in Brussels and which can issue orders." On Wednesday, the Luxembourg-based ECJ rejected a complaint filed by Hungary and Slovakia, reaffirming the bloc's right to order individual countries to accept refugees as part of a scheme drawn up in a bid to resettle arriving refugees more equally across the EU. Under the scheme, Hungary is required to take in 1,294 refugees and Slovakia 902. 

The court's decision is final and not open to appeal. As a result, European officials will continue to be able to order member state governments to take in specific quotas of refugees entering the bloc. Countries refusing to abide by the programme risk facing fines. Describing immigration as "poison", Orban has been at the forefront of a rebellion in eastern and central Europe against the quotas. At the height of the migrant crisis, Budapest erected fences on its southern borders and recruited 3,000 "border hunter" police to patrol the frontiers. The tough measures, which were denounced by Brussels and human rights groups, slowed the influx of refugees to a trickle until the so-called "Balkan Route" was effectively closed in March 2016.

In July 2016, Human Rights Watch released a report criticising Hungary's treatment of refugees and migrants detained after entering or while attempting to enter its territory, accusing the country's authorities of "breaking all the rules for asylum seekers". Last month, Orban asked the EU to refund half the 800 million euros ($950m) Hungary says it has spent on the borders. But European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker chided Hungary this week for demanding extra money while refusing to participate in the relocation scheme. Orban on Thursday sharply criticised Juncker's response, saying that forcing Hungary to accept immigrants amounted to "violence". In July, the EU Commission threatened the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland with lawsuits for not implementing the relocation measures. Hungary and Poland remain the only EU states that "have not relocated a single person", while the Czech Republic has not relocated anyone since August 2016, the Commission said.

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Hungary is making Europe’s migrant crisis worse

Another summer has passed, and still there seems to be no lasting solution to one of the great humanitarian conundrums of our time: how to resettle the thousands of migrants who continue to risk dangerous passage across the Mediterranean in search of sanctuary from violence in the Middle East and Africa. The number of arrivals in Greece has steadily declined since 2015, after measures that all but closed the route from Turkey. But the problem will remain so long as conflict and poverty drive people to take huge risks in the hope of reaching Europe. It is indisputably a difficult problem, but it has not been made easier by the inhospitable attitudes of some of the countries of Central and Eastern Europe — Hungary in particular — which have stubbornly blocked entry to refugees. This is a shame, given that back in 1989, Hungary led the way in opening its borders to let the people of Communist-ruled Eastern Europe move freely between East and West. Effectively throwing its lot in with the West, Hungary declared then that it was guided “by generally accepted international principles of human rights and humanitarian consideration.”

No longer, it seems. When the European Union decided in the summer of 2015 to help Italy and Greece cope with a huge wave of migration by resettling 120,000 people in other European countries, Hungary and Slovakia took the decision to the Court of Justice of the European Union. On Wednesday, the court threw out their case, which seemed only to stiffen Hungary’s opposition. With unconscious incongruity, the country’s foreign minister, Peter Szijjarto, angrily declared that “politics has raped European law and values,” vowing that no one would be relocated to Hungary against its wishes. The Court of Justice decision will not greatly improve the lot of migrants, and not just because of Hungary’s callousness. The program for migrants from Greece and Italy has resettled barely a quarter of the people it was supposed to help, and Eastern European countries were allotted a tiny fraction to begin with. And the European Union does not have the tools to effectively punish recalcitrant nations.

Still, it is incumbent on Europe to continue to look for humanitarian solutions, whether by helping to resolve the conflicts or ease the poverty that drive people to flee, or by making room for those who reach its shores. That effort and burden must be shared, and it must be based on international law and European values, which include tolerance, cultural diversity, protection of minorities and a rejection of xenophobia. Hungary and its neighbors are not alone in trying to keep immigrants out. President Trump has set a scandalous example by his demagogic policy on immigration, Britain’s vote to leave the European Union was based largely on blocking immigrants, and populist and nationalist parties have exploited immigration to gain strength in many other European nations.

But it is particularly sad to see countries that so poignantly celebrated the lifting of the Iron Curtain now argue, as Hungary does, that being asked to take in a small number of Muslim immigrants is somehow a violation of European laws and values. Hungary’s hard-line prime minister, Viktor Orban, has gone so far as to ask for European Union money to tighten his border against migrants — an arrogant request promptly dismissed by the president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker. The Court of Justice ruling should stand as a strong reminder to Hungary and its neighbors that the principles of human rights and humanitarian considerations they once so ardently embraced are not optional.


     
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