The below letter been sent by Natalie Fenton on 2nd May 2017 to the Hungarian Minister of Human Resources from MeCCSA in support of CEU and to express concern at recent legislative changes. The response received from a member of the Culture and Education Committee of the European Parliament, a German member of the Group of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament, follows below.
The MeCCSA letter is also available as a PDF download.
Mr. Zoltán Balog
Minister of Human Resources
1054 Budapest, Akadémia utca 3.
MeCCSA is the professional association for the subjects of media, communications and cultural studies representing teachers, researchers, and students in its fields within UK Higher Education in over 80 institutions.
We are writing to express our deep concern at legislative changes to Central European University’s status in Hungary. These changes endanger the academic freedom vital for CEU’s continued operation in Budapest and strike a blow against the academic freedom that enables all universities, including those in Hungary, to provide the education and research so vital for any society to flourish.
Central European University has a global reputation for teaching and research in the social sciences and humanities, and in particular in the areas of media and communication science. Its Centre for Media, Data and Society attracts students and faculty from countries all over the world and adds considerably to Hungary’s academic reputation across the globe.
We urge the government to withdraw the legislation and enter into consultation with CEU to mitigate any further damage such legislation will do to Hungary’s well-founded international academic reputation, and to its relationships with its European partners.
Professor Natalie Fenton
cc. MEP Petra Kammervert, Culture and Education Committee Chair
Frans Timmermans, EC Vice-President
Tibor Navracsics, European Commissioner for Education, Culture, Youth and Sport
3rd May 2017
Dear Mrs Fenton,
Thank you very much for your email. Let me reassure you, that the problems of the Hungarian civil society, which have appeared since the election of Prime Minister Victor Orban in 2010, in particular regarding the freedom of the media and science, are well known in the European Parliament. The question, if this Member State complies with the shared values and fundamental rights of the EU, has become a concern for a large number of Members of the Parliament. They have expressed their concerns several times in various resolutions.
I am deeply concerned about the possible consequences of the law, which was adopted in an urgent procedure by the Parliament in Budapest on the 4th of April, not only for the Central European University (CEU), but for all 28 universities with foreign roots in Hungary. Such interference with the freedom of research, science and teaching are a renewed strike against fundamental rights. On the 4th of April, the President of the Federal Republic of Germany, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, has also criticized the law in his speech addressed at the European Parliament in Strasbourg: “If we want to be a lighthouse in the world, for the rule of law and for human rights, we cannot stay silent, when these foundations are shaken in the middle of Europe. Europe cannot be silent, when civil society or academia – as now at Central European University, Budapest – are deprived of the air to breathe.”
The CEU has committed itself to the ideal of an open society, where rational discourse and open criticism is possible. Furthermore the university provides numerous scholarships to Sinti and Roma and therefore makes an important contribution to the integration of minorities in Hungary. In general, the university plays an important role in the intercultural exchange. The changes in the Hungarian Higher Education Act specifically aim at shutting down the CEU, which plays an important role for liberal society in Hungary.
Education, however, lies in the competence of the Member States. The European Parliament therefore only has limited room for action. Still, I will do everything in my power, to ensure – together with many colleagues – that the universities with foreign roots can be kept open in Hungary and that freedom of research, science and teaching are maintained. Public protest, as happened during the last weeks in Budapest, but also clear words, as the President of the Federal Republic of Germany has found them on the 4th of April and which hopefully will be joined by other heads of state and government as well as by the European Parliament, are important tools to increase the pressure on the Hungarian government. Furthermore, it is necessary to consider whether this Hungarian law violates EU law. This is the task of the EU Commission.
As you have probably heard, the EU Commission has already taken “legal action and sent a Letter of Formal Notice to the Hungarian Government on the Hungarian Higher Education Law. The Hungarian authorities will now have one month to respond to the legal concerns of the Commission. The Commission also decided to continue pursuing a dialogue with the Hungarian authorities on other outstanding concerns, including in the field of asylum and will continue to follow closely the draft law on registration of NGOs which has also raised concerns” (source: http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_MEX-17-1116_en.htm ).
Petra Kammerevert, MdEP
ASP 12 G 169, Rue Wiertz 60, B-1047 Brüssel
Tel.: +32 2 28 47554
Fax: +32 2 28 49554