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CEU President Calls On Brussels For Support Against Hungarian PM

The president and rector of the Central European University, Michael Ignatieff, speaks during a press conference in Budapest last month.

BRUSSELS -- The rector and president of the Central European University (CEU) in Budapest, Michael Ignatieff, has urged Brussels to support his institution and back EU legal action against Budapest.

Speaking on April 25 at an open event in the European Parliament in Brussels hosted by five political groups, Ignatieff said he needed the support of Europe in an ongoing dispute that the CEU has with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban's government -- a dispute that could force the CEU to shut down its program in Budapest.

"I have support in Washington. I have support in Berlin, I have support in Budapest, as I have said. I have got support in Munich," Ignatieff said. "It is now time to get some support in Brussels."

Speaking to RFE/RL after the event, Ignatieff said he specifically wanted two things from political leaders in Brussels.

"I would like the members of the center-right coalition in the European Parliament to say, 'You know, shutting down a university is a very bad thing and you are crossing a red line.' I would like them to say that, frankly," Ignatieff said.

"I would like the commission to give serious consideration, as I think they are doing, to a legal case against Hungary for violating some fundamental elements of the European single act," Ignatieff said. "If we can get those two things, it would help."

Orban is due to debate the situation in Hungary at a plenary session of the European Parliament in Brussels on April 26.

He is expected to face criticism from members of his own political faction in the European Parliament, the European Peoples Party (EPP).

According to RFE/RL sources, however, the EPP is unlikely to expel Orban's conservative Fidesz party from the Brussels-based EPP despite growing calls to do so from other political parties within the transnational organization.

On April 26, the European Commission may also launch infringement procedures against Hungary on a number of issues, including its recently adopted law concerning higher education.

In March, a bill was rushed through the Hungarian parliament that requires foreign universities in Hungary to have a campus and to provide similar courses in their country of origin.

The bill, which was signed into law on April 10, could force the CEU to leave the country.

On April 24, Ignatieff told top EU officials in Brussels that Orban was carrying out a "politically motivated attack" against free institutions like the CEU -- essential taking the university hostage -- in order to serve a political agenda.

Speaking at the Free University of Brussels, Ignatieff said he had very little interest in Orban’s own political agenda. But he said Orban should "leave us the hell alone."

The CEU, which was founded by U.S. billionaire George Soros, has recently become the focal point of political debate in Hungary.

Orban has accused Soros of interfering in Hungary’s internal affairs and has launched a crackdown on organizations connected to him.

Ignatieff said the CEU's academic freedom meant it must remain independent not only from Hungary’s government but also from Soros. "I don't take orders from George Soros," he said.

With reporting by Rikard Jozwiak in Brussels and dpa
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