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The EU’s University in Exile

Summary:
The arbitrary ouster of Central European University from Hungary highlights two realities about the European Union. First, the EU has relatively little power to protect the non-economic rights of the bloc's citizens, and, second, leading European politicians lack the will to stop autocrats like Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. BUDAPEST/VIENNA – On November 15, Central European University (CEU) officially inaugurated its new campus in Vienna, Austria, having been arbitrarily ousted from Hungary. On the same day, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s government opened another large sports stadium in Budapest. The Patriot versus the President Chip Somodevilla/Alex

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The arbitrary ouster of Central European University from Hungary highlights two realities about the European Union. First, the EU has relatively little power to protect the non-economic rights of the bloc's citizens, and, second, leading European politicians lack the will to stop autocrats like Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.

BUDAPEST/VIENNA – On November 15, Central European University (CEU) officially inaugurated its new campus in Vienna, Austria, having been arbitrarily ousted from Hungary. On the same day, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s government opened another large sports stadium in Budapest.

Predictably, the government-controlled Hungarian media focused on the latter event and ignored the departure of CEU, the country’s leading university in European and global rankings. But European Union leaders also were largely silent – deafeningly and dishearteningly so – on the day that the EU’s first “university in exile” opened in the capital of a neighboring member state.

By contrast, the mayor of Vienna, Michael Ludwig, emphasized the importance of the occasion. “Two years ago, we all witnessed something that I believed to be unthinkable, and should, in fact, have no place in a united Europe,” he said. “An academic institution was told that it was no longer welcome in a nation’s capital city.” Ludwig’s sentiments, however, found few echoes elsewhere in the EU.

To be sure, nearly all of the EU’s key political actors have expressed their solidarity with CEU at one point or another. Speaking at the European Parliament in Brussels in April 2017, CEU President and Rector Michael Ignatieff could say, “I have support in Washington. I have support in Berlin, I have support in Budapest, […] I have got support in Munich. It is now time to get some support in Brussels.”

And Ignatieff did get some backing, at least initially. In December 2017, the European Commission took Hungary to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) over the government’s so-called “CEU law,” which the university said was intended to force it out of the country. As The Guardian reported at the time, “Brussels steps up its fight to protect democratic values in central Europe.”

Then, in March 2019, the European People’s Party (EPP), the largest political group in the European Parliament,

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