Hungarian legal changes that prompted the Budapest-based Central European University to shift operations to Vienna are incompatible with EU and World Trade Organization laws, an adviser to the EU’s top court concluded.
The government of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán in 2017 introduced an amendment that higher education institutions from countries outside the European Economic Area would only be allowed to continue operating if an international treaty is signed between Hungary and their home country. The new rules also required foreign universities to operate in their country of origin.
The move sparked large protests in Budapest, with demonstrators arguing the Central European University was targeted unfairly. The legal changes also came at time when the Orbán government was openly campaigning against the university’s founder, Hungarian-American businessman George Soros. Over the past few years critics have raised concerns about what they describe as Hungarian government efforts to prevent CEU from complying with the new rules.
In a nonbinding opinion, Advocate General Juliane Kokott found “that the requirement of an international treaty with the State of origin is incompatible with the national treatment rule (the rule that foreign and domestic service providers must be treated equally) under the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS),” according to a statement from the Court of Justice of the European Union issued on Thursday.
“The requirement in this specific form appears to be a means of arbitrary discrimination against higher education institutions established in third States,” the statement said.
Hungary must treat higher education institutions equally, the advocate general said in her opinion.
“The requirement of an international treaty with the State of origin is contrary to the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. That requirement constitutes a disproportionate restriction on the freedom to found and to operate educational establishments and on academic freedom,” the statement said.
The European Commission opened an infringement proceeding against Hungary over the CEU in April 2017, and referred the case to the Court of Justice in December of that year. The Commission uses infringement proceedings when it considers that an EU member country is not following EU law.