After days of protests and international criticism, the Hungarian government dispatched its education minister to Brussels to defend a controversial law that critics say would effectively shutter the Central European University, funded by the billionaire financier George Soros.
The message from László Palkovics was clear: Our legislation is in line with that of other EU countries and doesn’t unfairly target the noted university.
“The Hungarian government doesn’t want to close any university — neither Hungarian universities nor any of the universities belonging to Mr. [George] Soros,” Palkovics said at a press conference.
Rather, the government had done a general review of 28 foreign institutions in Hungary and “found different kinds of anomalies” in 27 of them, he said. “We don’t want to have universities that are just issuing diplomas based on any kind of accreditation without any control.”
He added that Viktor Orbán’s government is “absolutely open to find a solution to the current situation.”
Palkovics was in Brussels for meetings with the European Commission and Tibor Navracsics, Hungary’s member of the Commission who is in charge of education and who last week criticized the controversial education bill.
Palkovics said his meeting with Navracsics went well. “I think that he understood that what’s going on in Hungary has nothing to do with the university autonomy. Nobody wants to close universities.”
And he said he doesn’t expect the Commission to act on the bill. “I don’t think the Commission is going to have any negative opinion,” he said.
However, a Commission spokesperson stressed that the College of Commissioners will have a discussion on legal issues related to Hungary on Wednesday, on the basis of a presentation by first Vice-President Frans Timmermans.
The vice president has a reputation for being tough on countries who don’t abide by the rules but Palkovics, who was meeting Timmermans later on Tuesday, was not concerned. “ I don’t want to seem overconfident,” he said. “But I think that … I will be able to convince him as well.”