Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban told concerned allies in the EU’s powerful centre-right political group that he will quickly meet EU rights demands over a controversial education law, the group said Saturday.
Orban was summoned to a meeting with top officials from the European People’s Party (EPP) over the law that could force the closure of a Budapest university founded by US billionaire George Soros.
The European Commission on Wednesday launched legal action against Hungary over the issue, giving the government one month to comply or face being taken to court.
“Prime Minister Viktor Orban pledged in the EPP council to follow and carry out all the demands of the European Commission within the timeframe set by the commission,” said Siegfried Muresan, a spokesman for EPP President Joseph Daul.
However, Orban told the Hungarian state newswire MTI through his spokesman Bertalan Havasi that the university should not “enjoy special privileges” even if his government is ready to cooperate with the commission and does not wish to close the institution.
“The rules in Hungary must apply in the same way to everyone,” Havasi said.
EPP chief Daul said in a statement that the party “sent a clear message to Prime Minister Orban and to his member party, Fidesz, that we will not accept that any basic freedoms are restricted or that the rule of law is disregarded.
“The EPP demanded from 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.”
The powerful EPP — which is associated with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, European Council President Donald Tusk and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker — insisted that the Central European University remain open and that all action against it be withdrawn.
The commission, the executive of the 28-nation EU, on Wednesday launched so-called infringement action against Hungary over the law targeting the university, alleging breaches of fundamental EU free-market laws.
Hungary can be taken to the European Court of Justice if it fails to comply and the court could impose stiff financial penalties.
The EPP said it also told the Orban government it was “unacceptable” for it to post questionnaires titled “Let’s stop Brussels!” to households nationwide asking them how to deal with EU policies that Budapest says threaten their independence.
The EU is also concerned about legislation due to go to the Hungarian parliament in May which would force NGOs receiving more than 7.2 million forints (around 23,000 euros) annually from abroad to “register” with the authorities.
Orban’s cabinet chief Antal Rogan told Hungarian public television that “Orban made clear during the meeting that we believe that no legal modification threatens the presence of the Soros-founded CEU operation in Hungary.”
Orban added that the university’s “freedom of education and scientific research is ensured” and that “the university can launch its new academic year,” Rogan said.
In Budapest, the CEU said “it welcomes the EPP’s clear defence of academic freedom and support” for the university.
“We call on the Hungarian government to initiate discussions immediately with the relevant US authorities… to conclude an agreement that guarantees CEU’s right to remain in Budapest as a free institution,” it said in a statement.