Hungarian government in denial over US role in settling Lex CEU

May 24, 2017

Minister of Foreign Affairs Péter Szijjártó

The Hungarian government still doesn’t comprehend that the U.S. government cannot and will not negotiate over Lex CEU.

On Tuesday, we reported that the U.S. Department of State released a statement calling on the Hungarian government to suspend amendments to the Higher Education Law, and to engage with the Central European University “to find a resolution that allows them to continue to function freely.” The press release emphasized that “the U.S. Government has no authority or intention to enter into negotiations on the operation of Central European University or other universities in Hungary.”

Shortly after the Department of State published its press release, Hungary’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs responded with its own statement, seeming to take issue with the U.S. government’s interpretations of its own jurisdiction.

“The Hungarian government has a clear interest in reaching an agreement on the issue of Central European University, and it is unfortunate that no support for this process has been forthcoming from the U.S. federal government,” the statement reads.

According to the ministry’s statement, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán had appointed a special envoy, Kristóf Altusz, to negotiate with the Americans, and set a “negotiation timetable” for the Americans. The ministry insisted that “no one in Hungary is threatening academic freedom and the independence of universities.”

Since Lex CEU was hastily adopted in Hungary’s National Assembly, the United States government, the European Commission, the Council of Europe, the European Parliament, the European People’s Party, hundreds of academics from the West, foreign governments, artists and writers, and scores of domestic and international human rights watchdogs have spoken out against the discriminatory law.

Last month, the European Parliament held a special debate on the “situation in Hungary”, and there have been numerous protests in Hungary and abroad calling for the law to be scrapped.

While the Hungarian government desperately tries to project Lex CEU as a minor tweak to Hungary’s Higher Education Law, it appears the world is well aware – based on their experiences with Hungary over the past seven years – that the law is yet another sign of the systemic threats to Hungary’s democratic rule of law.

In late April, the European Commission announced it had taken the first step in launching an infringement proceeding against the Hungarian government on grounds that Lex CEU violates EU law.