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Europe's top human rights body seeks review of Hungary laws

Associated Press logo Associated Press 27/04/2017 By PABLO GORONDI, Associated Press
EU commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, left, welcomes George Soros, Founder and Chairman of the Open Society Foundation, prior to a meeting at EU headquarters in Brussels on Thursday, April 27, 2017. Soros was in Brussels to discuss the situation in Hungary, including legislative measures that could force the closure of the Central European University in Budapest. (Olivier Hoslet, Pool Photo via AP) © The Associated Press EU commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, left, welcomes George Soros, Founder and Chairman of the Open Society Foundation, prior to a meeting at EU headquarters in Brussels on Thursday, April 27, 2017. Soros was in Brussels to discuss the situation in Hungary, including legislative measures that could force the closure of the Central European University in Budapest. (Olivier Hoslet, Pool Photo via AP)

BUDAPEST, Hungary — Hungary should suspend the implementation of recently adopted legislation which could force a university founded by billionaire George Soros to close or leave Budapest, the Council of Europe, the continent's top human rights organization, said Thursday.

A resolution adopted by the council's parliamentary assembly also said constitutional experts from its advisory Venice Commission should assess the legislation as well as a draft bill seen as targeting civic groups funded from abroad.

Recent amendments to the law on higher education could force Central European University to close or leave.

The draft legislation being considered would force civic groups to declare foreign funding exceeding around $25,000 a year or face fines or closure. These include non-governmental organizations like Transparency International or the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union, which get part of their funding from Soros foundations and which the government says are "foreign agents" trying to influence Hungarian politics.

Both laws are part of a wider campaign against Soros, whose "open society" ideal contrasts with Prime Minister Viktor Orban's plan to shape Hungary into an "illiberal state" where majority rule trumps minority rights and national policies trump adherence to EU standards in some areas.

Orban also accuses Soros and the NGOs of supporting migration into Europe, something the prime minister staunchly opposes.

Mogens Jensen, a Socialist lawmaker from Denmark who prepared the report debated Thursday in Strasbourg, France, pointed to the need for urgency by the council, as the law on NGOs is expected to be approved in mid-May.

"We have the opportunity to have our voice heard and avoid a situation in which in two months we will be here again to condemn a law ... and blame the Hungarian authorities for what they did," Jensen said. "We can suggest dialogue, cooperation and expert assistance rather than issuing mere condemnations."

Orban says CEU is "cheating" and has an unfair advantage over other local universities because its diplomas are valid both in the United States and in Hungary. Regarding the NGOs, the government says its aim is merely to achieve greater transparency about where civic groups get their funding.

On Wednesday, the European Commission said it had sent a "letter of formal notice" to Orban's government, the first step in legal action, about the education law.

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