March 5, 2020 / 12:36 PM / a month ago

EU court adviser backs Soros-founded school over Hungary

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Hungary is breaking EU law with rules that led to the forced closure there of the Central European University (CEU), founded by Hungarian-born billionaire George Soros, an adviser at the Court of Justice of the European Union said on Thursday.

Hungary’s ruling Fidesz party amended the law on higher education in 2017 to allow foreign-registered universities to operate only if they also offer courses in their home country and if an international treaty exists between Hungary and their state of origin.

The CEU, founded under the law of New York State in the United States, was the only foreign higher education institution in Hungary not meeting these criteria.

The CEU decided in November to move its courses to a new campus in Austria following a long struggle between Hungarian-born but U.S.-based Soros, who promotes liberal causes through his charities, and Viktor Orban’s anti-immigrant government.

Court Advocate General Juliane Kokott wrote in her opinion, published on Thursday, that Hungary’s legal requirements were not compatible with EU law and World Trade Organization law and that foreign and national universities should be treated equally.

Judges at the court typically follow advocate generals’ opinions, although are not bound by them. A ruling would normally come in the next two to four months.

The requirement of an international treaty was a “disproportionate restriction” on the freedom to found and operate educational establishments and on academic freedom, Kokott’s opinion said.

The requirement to have teaching activities in the state of origin was also an infringement of freedom of establishment, the EU’s services directive and the charter of fundamental rights, Kokott said.

Reporting by Marine Strauss @StraussMarine; editing by Philip Blenkinsop and Toby Chopra

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