MEPs call to trigger Article 7 against Hungary in wake of university row

Hungary’s attempt to shut down Central European University and its crackdown on NGOs has undermined the rule of law, MEPs say

Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban

MEPs have adopted a resolution asking EU member states to launch Article 7 of the Lisbon Treaty against Hungary, citing “a serious deterioration of the rule of law.” They call on the Hungarian government to repeal a controversial higher education law that is widely seen as an attempt to close the Central European University (CEU).

The law includes provisions that will prevent the Budapest-based CEU from delivering programmes and issuing degrees. If not withdrawn, it could force the university to move from Hungary, according to the rector Michael Ignatieff.

The Council of the EU can trigger Article 7 if 55 per cent of member states approve the parliament’s resolution. Under the formal procedure, EU institutions will investigate if the situation in Hungary poses a “clear risk of a serious breach” of fundamental rights.

“The European Parliament calls for the Hungarian government to agree with us so CEU can stay in Budapest as a free institution,” the university tweeted on Wednesday.

MEPs say that controversial laws, including the higher education law, must be suspended or withdrawn.

In addition, the Hungarian government called on to loosen its regulations against asylum-seekers and NGOs.

The European Commission will “strictly monitor” Hungary’s spending of EU money.  

On a recent visit to Brussels, EU leaders grilled Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban in the European Parliament over the higher education law. “[The law] is perceived by many as an attempt to close down the Central European University,” deputy Commission head Frans Timmermans said during a plenary session in the European Parliament which Orban also attended.

The potential triggering of Article 7 may force Orban to rethink, as recent polls show his approval ratings and of his ruling party Fidesz have slumped in the aftermath of the CEU scandal.

CEU has received astonishing support from scientists and academic institutions around the world after the amendments, and thousands of people, including CEU students and alumni, marched in Budapest last month calling for the proposal to be withdrawn.

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Related subjects: Hungary, Central European University