March 13, 2019 / 5:58 PM / a month ago

Hungarian university offered German help to defuse EU conflict

BUDAPEST (Reuters) - Hungary’s Central European University could receive a helping hand from one of Europe’s top technical colleges to continue its international degree programs, which may begin to defuse a growing conflict among Europe’s conservatives.

The exterior of the Budapest-based Central European University, founded by U.S. billionaire George Soros, is seen in Budapest, Hungary, December 3, 2018. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo

CEU has emerged as an unlikely subject in a dispute that has swirled around Orban’s anti-immigrant stance and anti-EU campaigns and which has prompted 13 of the European People’s Party 80 member parties to ask for Fidesz to be expelled.

For nearly three decades it has been a gateway to the West for thousands of students from ex-communist eastern Europe, offering U.S.-accredited degree programs in an academic climate that celebrates free thought.

In December, the university, founded by Hungarian-born U.S. liberal philanthropist and Orban nemesis George Soros, said it had been forced out of Hungary.

The leader of the EPP Manfred Weber spoke about the idea of helping CEU using the network of the Technical University of Munich during talks with Orban on Tuesday to try to resolve their differences.

“We are looking for a new perspective,” Weber told journalists in Budapest after the talks. “I’m sure that such a model can overcome today’s problem that American diplomas cannot be offered today at the (CEU).”

A Hungarian government spokesman said it considered the CEU issue resolved with the university continuing Hungarian degree programs only in Budapest.

The EPP is the strongest group in the European Parliament and is trying to beat emerging populist forces to retain that spot, which would enable it to nominate the president of the European Commission, the top executive job in the bloc.

The EPP’s candidate for commission president is Weber, whose headquarters is in Munich. The EPP is due to vote next week on whether to keep Fidesz in the group.

A Weber spokesman said it was the German politician’s idea to enlist a Bavarian university to help CEU retain access to international degrees, but they would leave the details to the schools involved.

He said there was no political guarantee that CEU would be able to recreate the status quo it had lost.

TUM confirmed that it would be in talks with CEU “very soon” about starting a cooperation, including international teaching programs and three new professorships, and also the possibility of awarding American degrees.

“Our interest is directed toward the CEU, and we are working toward an alliance between TUM and CEU,” TUM spokesman Ulrich Marsch said.

Discussions with CEU would take place in Munich in April.

Marsch noted that TUM had several cooperation agreements with American colleges such as Georgia Tech and UC Davis.

CEU welcomed TUM’s collaboration offer but said it could only remain in Budapest and collaborate with TUM if it could offer U.S. accredited degrees.

Reporting by Marton Dunai; Editing by Alison Williams

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