A senior member of the Hungarian government has accused George Soros-backed lobbyists of agitating “political hysteria” and putting pressure on the European Union, the U.S., and Germany over the Central European government’s legislation devised to ensure fair conditions for foreign universities operating in the country.
János Lázár, the Minister heading the Prime Minister’s Office, sought to dispel accusations that the new higher education amendment specifically and unfairly targets the Central European University (CEU), a U.S. university founded by open borders financier George Soros, calling it “hysterical, political hype” at a press conference Friday.
Mr. Lázár said the government is “ready to answer” questions regarding the legislation from Brussels, Washington, D.C., and Berlin, but said that Hungarian-born “György [George] Soros and his network” have been putting pressure on the three governments.
The Minister said “there is ongoing lobbying against Hungary” and in the coming days, the “Soros network will most probably continue to apply pressure” to interfere in Hungary’s “right of sovereignty [to] regulate the foundation and operation of universities”.
The Hungarian government has also said the CEU has “deceived the media in an attempt to retain its privileges in Hungary”.
In March, Mr. Lázár told a press conference that a review undertaken of 28 foreign run universities in Hungary uncovered problems with operational licences, course accreditation, and state cooperation. Based on the review’s findings, the human resources ministry submitted an amendment to the higher education law with the aim of increasing transparency.
CEU president Michael Ignatieff said the bill was “discriminative and specifically an attack against the CEU”.
Lázár refuted Mr. Ignatieff’s accusation, noting that of the 28 foreign universities reviewed, only one, the American McDaniel College, was cleared.
“If the Hungarian government had any problem with any institution on political grounds, it would not allow a totemic liberal university to carry on,” Lázár said of McDaniel College.
Based on the amendment to the Act on Higher Education, foreign institutions of higher education that provide degrees will only be able to operate in Hungary if there is an intergovernmental agreement to support their operations. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has confirmed that his government is seeking negotiations with that of the U.S.
The government stated the new regulations will not lead to the automatic closure of foreign universities. Lázár pointed out that fulfilling the new requirements should not pose a “real problem” for the CEU, adding on Friday: “The CEU is able to meet these conditions, the legislation is not disproportionate, nor discriminatory, and creates a transparent system.”
“The proposed amendment to the act on higher education does not make it impossible for institutions to operate in Hungary, is not discriminative and is not aimed against the Central European University (CEU), which operates in Budapest,” László Palkovics, minister of state for education, also said.
Prime Minister Orbán said on Kossuth Radio’s 180 Minutes: “Nobody stands above the law in Hungary – not even if they are a billionaire, and this institution must also abide by the law.”
When asked whether the government would be holding negotiations with the CEU, Mr. Orbán reiterated that the Soros-backed institution only needs to abide by the law, adding: “We don’t have to negotiate with it, because at the moment it is not the Government of the United States – although it might want to be”.