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EU Acts Against Hungary, Citing Academic Freedom

September 13, 2018
 
 

The European Parliament took the unprecedented step Wednesday of approving a proposal calling on European Union member states to determine whether Hungary is at risk of breaching the union's founding values -- the first step toward possible sanctions against the country.

Among the values at stake are those related to academic freedom and freedoms of expression and association. A report adopted by the Parliament by a 448-197 margin Wednesday outlines concerns related to a 2017 law on foreign branch campuses that has been widely seen as an attack on academic freedom generally and on the Budapest-based Central European University, an American-accredited graduate institution, specifically. It also discusses concerns about the Hungarian government's plans, revealed in August, to cancel or refuse recognition to gender studies programs.

Other areas of concern outlined in the report include those relating to the functioning of the constitutional and electoral system; judicial independence; corruption and conflicts of interest; privacy and data protection; freedom of religion; the right to equal treatment, the rights of minority groups, including Roma and Jews; the rights of migrants, asylum seekers and refugees; and economic and social rights.

The European University Association, which monitors university autonomy issues across Europe and has 13 member institutions in Hungary, said the vote is "a warning to all EU governments to respect fundamental values, including those regarding university matters."

"While the situation is alarming in several countries including Turkey and Russia" -- neither of which are EU members -- "Hungary is the first EU member state to systematically interfere in university matters and repeatedly violate academic freedom," the association said in a statement.

Hungary's right-wing government has condemned the parliament's action against it. Péter Szijjártó, the minister of foreign affairs and trade described the parliament's decision as "the petty revenge of the pro-immigration politicians." Szijjártó said the parliamentary report "includes 37 false, deceitful, unfair and unfounded accusations that insult Hungary, and which have absolutely nothing to do with reality," including accusations regarding the restriction of academic freedom.

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