Hungary Ready to Reconsider Ouster of Soros-Founded University

Zoltan Simon

(Bloomberg) -- Hungary signaled its readiness to reconsider the ouster of the George Soros-founded Central European University in what may be an attempt by the country’s leader to defuse his standoff with the European Union’s biggest political family.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s crackdown on dissent -- and Soros-linked organizations in particular -- prompted CEU to announce that it would move most of its academic programs from Budapest to Vienna. The backlash that followed pushed the European People’s Party last month to suspend the membership of Orban’s political force, Fidesz.

Hungary is now willing to review a decision to ban CEU from issuing U.S. diplomas, a state secretary said, citing a proposal from Manfred Weber, the EPP’s candidate for president of the European Commission. Weber enlisted the Technical University of Munich in the German state of Bavaria for an academic-cooperation agreement that would allow CEU to operate in Hungary.

“The government considers Bavaria’s participation to be such a confidence-building step that it’s ready to review the possibility of issuing diplomas that are recognized in the United States, Germany and Hungary alike,” State Secretary Balazs Orban, who’s unrelated to the premier, wrote Monday in a letter to lawmakers.

The rethink comes at a delicate time for the Hungarian leader, who’s been sending mixed signals about his willingness to compromise on policies that have made him a role model for nationalists across Europe.

Last month, Orban avoided calls by fellow EPP parties to eject Fidesz from the main center-right group in the European Parliament in part by agreeing to dial back his euroskeptic and anti-immigrant rhetoric. That followed a billboard campaign that portrayed fellow EPP colleague and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker of conspiring with Soros against Hungary’s interests.

Yet Orban resumed bashing Juncker last week and said he was ready to leave the EPP, if it continued to “veer left” toward an alliance with other mainstream parties in order to outflank nationalists in the next European legislature.

Leaving or being ejected from the EPP may reduce Orban’s ability to convince the center-right group to protect his state from EU scrutiny and weaken his leverage before talks on the bloc’s next budget. Hungary, like its peers in ex-communist Europe, currently receives billions in dollars of development aid from the EU.

(Adds quote from state official in fourth paragraph.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Zoltan Simon in Budapest at zsimon@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Balazs Penz at bpenz@bloomberg.net, Andrea Dudik, Michael Winfrey

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