Orban agrees to comply with EU demands
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban informed the EU's center-right political group on Saturday that his government would change measures that many across Europe considered an attack on academic freedom, according to a statement released by the party.
"Prime Minister Orban committed himself in the EPP council to follow and implement all the demands of the European Commission within the deadline set by the Commission," a spokesman of the European People's Party (EPP) told reporters.
While emphasizing that the government does not want to close the CEU, Orban's spokesman Bertalan Havasi told the Hungarian state newswire MTI the university should not "enjoy special privileges" even if the Hungarian government is ready to cooperate with the Commission.
"The rules in Hungary must apply in the same way to everyone," Havasi said.
Orban grilled by parliament members
On Wednesday, Orban was grilled by members of the European Parliament over a law passed on April 4 that requires foreign universities operating in Hungary to also have a campus in their home country. Critics argued the law is clearly targeted at Central European University, which was founded by Hungarian-American billionaire - and former Orban ally - George Soros. Though accredited in the US state of New York, CEU doesn't have a US campus.
In his words to the parliament, Orban defended the law as a "minor amendment" that applies not just to the CEU but other universities as well, calling the controversy surrounding the measure "absurd."
"It's almost like someone being accused of murder, then he's convicted, while the alleged victim is alive and kicking, moreover, pointing fingers at the convicted, crying 'Murderer'," Orban said.
He also criticized Soros directly, calling the noted philanthropist a "financial speculator" who was "attacking Hungary" and accused the billionaire of destroying "the lives of millions of Europeans with his financial speculations" and describing Soros as "an open enemy of the euro."
'Hungary to act accordingly' - EPP leader
The meeting with parliament members came the same day the European Commission issued a month-long deadline for Budapest to adapt the law, insisting it wasn't compatible with internal market freedoms.
Following the meeting with EPP leaders, the group's president, Joseph Daul, said the EPP had "demanded from [Orban's party] Fidesz and from the Hungarian authorities that they take all necessary steps to comply with the Commission's request. Prime Minister Orban has reassured the EPP that Hungary will act accordingly."
Orban has emerged as one of the EU's leading critics within the soon-to-be 27-member bloc, claiming Brussels threatens Hungary's sovereignty. Other actions, including proposed legislation that requires NGOs that have received international funds to register with the government, have also drawn criticism from EU leaders.
blc/sms (Reuters, dpa, AFP)