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European Court rules against Hungary over CEU

October 8th, 2020

In a first analysis of the verdict, a legal expert thinks the European Court of Justice departed from its own traditions when ruling that the 2017 amendment to the Higher Education Act violated European law.

On Tuesday, the European Court of Justice declared that the Hungarian Parliament broke  World Trade Organisation rules when stipulating that foreign university degrees can only be issued in Hungary by universities with mother institutions in their countries of origin and subject to an agreement between Hungary and the country of origin of those universities. The judges also ruled that the Hungarian law violated the principle of academic freedom contained in the European Charter of Fundamental Rights. George Soros, the founder of the Central European University, said the ruling came too late as the university has already transferred most of its operations to Vienna. The court called upon Hungary to invalidate the provisions deemed in conflict with European law. In a first reaction, Justice Minister Judit Varga said the ruling would be ‘executed, as always, in conformity with the interests of the Hungarian people’. (For the CEU issue, see BudaPost, 2017 through 2019.)

On Azonnali, Bea Bakó takes no sides in the controversy, but remarks that the European Court of Justice normally has no jurisdiction over matters concerning an American university. Nor has it so far considered itself competent on disputes over WTO matters and has in fact rejected such claims by American maize producers, since the WTO has its own elected system of arbitration. As to the issue of academic freedom, Bakó writes that originally, basic rights compliance used to be supervised by the court only when member states were incorporating EU regulations into domestic law, but the court has slowly broadened its sphere of competence in this field, with Tuesday’s ruling on Hungary reflecting a further step along that path. She thinks the ‘CEU law’, as the amendment is popularly called in Hungary, could be more easily struck down by Hungary’s Constitutional Court, which said it was waiting for the verdict of the European Court. Now, Bakó concludes, the Constitutional Court may as well scrap the 2017 amendment, since the Central European University has already moved to Vienna anyway.

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