EU Internal Policy

‘Why don’t you leave the EU?’ Furious civil war breaks out in Jean-Claude Juncker’s party

CIVIL war has broken out in the European People’s Party (EPP) group in Strasbourg as a row over new laws aimed at Hungary’s Central European University (CEU) boiled over.

Hungarian MPs have passed a bill placing tough restrictions on foreign universities but the main target is believed to be the CEU and its billionaire financier founder George Soros.Members of the party, which is led by European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker, have accused Hungary’s ruling Fidesz Party of attacking academic independence and called for the expulsion of its MEPs from the group in retaliation.

The English-speaking CEU, which is still partly-funded by Hungarian-born Mr Soros, is ranked among the top 200 universities in the world.

But government minister Zoltan Balog said it was “against Hungary’s interests to host experiments, financially supported and evading democratic ‘rules of the game’ in the background, which aim at undermining the lawfully elected government or leadership”.

Jean-Claude Juncker/Viktor OrbanGETTY     Jean-Claude Juncker’s EPP are furious with Viktor Orban’s Fidesz Party

CEU protestsGETTY            CEU students protest against new laws affecting their university

Opponents see the move as the latest battle in a war against liberalism declared by right-wing Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban,The bill effectively forces the CEU out of Hungary as it requires foreign universities to have a campus both in their home countries and CEU only has a campus in Budapest.

It also bans universities outside the EU from awarding Hungarian diplomas without an agreement between national governments – in this case, the US.

CEU Rector Michael Ignatieff said the bill marks “the first time that a member of the European Union dared to legislate an attack on the academic freedom of a university”.

And it has caused a massive rift within the European Parliament’s EPP group with members turning against each other.

The Hungarian EPP delegation has compared complaints from the group to a “virtual reality” created by “the propaganda and private agenda of the American billionaire Soros” and claimed the Orban government was a victim of “the present unfortunate world of fake news and propaganda”.

George SorosGETTY                CEU founder George Soros

Why don’t you leave both the EPP and the EU on your own terms?

Frank Engel

But Frank Engel, a Luxembourg EPP colleague of Mr Juncker wrote back: “Forget the c**p. We know what is happening, and why.“The ONLY reasonable question is: why don’t you leave both the EPP and the EU on your own terms?

“You’re practically and factually out anyway. So go. Please go.”

CEU protestGETTY                   Opponents see the new law as an attack on academic independence

EPP leader Manfred Weber has called on the European Commission to assess the new law.He said: “The EU needs an independent serious evaluation rather than party political debates.

“Freedom of thinking, research and speech are essential for our European identity. EPP group will defend this at any cost.”

Carlos Moedas, the EU’s research commissioner, issued a statement saying he was “deeply concerned” by the law, which “may set an unwelcome precedent for the autonomy of academic institutions in Hungary”.

And left-wing MEPs in the EPP group have outraged the Hungarians by calling for them to be booted out.

The Fidesz MEPs said: “We have expected we would surely have the support of both our colleagues here and the European Commission, too. What we see is the opposite.”

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