A busy day in the Hungarian parliament: laws regulating foreign universities and foreign-funded NGOs follow European examples

Members of the Hungarian National Assembly indeed had a busy day yesterday, as they passed a handful of important bills, including a much-needed extension of the Coronavirus Protection Act, an amendment to the law regulating foreign universities and another amendment to the law on foreign-funded NGOs. Here are the details in brief.

Many of our critics in the international arena have tried to push an argument that Hungary does not fully comply with certain European court rulings. The decisions made by Hungary’s parliament yesterday will quickly prove these voices wrong.

Many of my regular readers will recall the 2017 law on higher education, specifically addressing foreign universities operating in Hungary, which our political opposition nicknamed “Lex CEU.” Yesterday, acting in response to a ruling handed down last October by the Luxembourg-based European Court of Justice (ECJ), the Hungarian National Assembly passed an amendment to the bill that is based entirely on Bavaria’s regulation vis-á-vis foreign universities.

As Tamás Schanda, state secretary at the Ministry for Innovation and Technology, said during the parliamentary debate on the amendment, while more than a dozen foreign universities easily abided by the 2017 Hungarian regulations, George Soros’ CEU chose not to. Instead of complying with the rules, it chose to launch an international PR campaign to denounce them.

The new regulation, taking into account the ECJ’s previous judgment and following Bavaria’s example, mandates different requirements for universities with headquarters within the European Economic Area (EEA) and for those without.

According to the new rules, a non-EEA university can only grant diplomas in Hungary if the entry requirements to the program are transferable to Hungarian practice; the program must also be accredited by Hungary’s education authority and included in a bilateral agreement between the governments of both parties.

State Secretary Schanda stressed that CEU must keep in mind that the new law adopted on Tuesday “does not mean an exemption for the Soros University from Hungarian laws.”

Regarding another contentious issue from 2017, labeled “Lex-NGO” by some of our critics, and in consideration of another ECJ ruling, parliament has decided to withdraw the 2017 bill and instead require the State Audit Office to publish an annual report on those associations and foundations with assets of over HUF 20 million.

Minister of Justice Judit Varga said that the European Court of Justice has also affirmed that it is in the public’s interest that there be full transparency when it comes to groups capable of influencing democratic political life. To this end, the Hungarian government has proposed to adopt a mixture of German and Austrian legislation in order to avoid even the slightest risk of discrimination.

The parliamentary session continued with the extension of Hungary’s Coronavirus Protection Act, the law that propelled Hungary into Europe’s top performers in managing the coronavirus. The measure will be in force until September, with Justice Minister Varga arguing that it remains necessary, as new virus mutations are present in Hungary. “Bolstered defenses are indispensable,” she said, adding that, according to the legislation, the government can decide to give back the extra powers before the September deadline.