László Botka, the prime minister candidate of the opposition Socialist Party, has promised to repeal an amendment to Hungary’s higher education law, whose critics say could result in the closure of Budapest’s Central European University, if his party triumphs in next year’s general election.
Speaking at a press conference at the end of a two-day visit to Brussels on Thursday, Botka said that if the Socialists win in 2018, they would also “end the stigmatisation” of civil groups.
The Hungarian government has submitted a bill to parliament which would require non-government organisations receiving more than 7.2 million forints (EUR 23,400) from foreign donors to register as foreign-backed groups.
Botka said that in his talks with European Commission First Vice President Frans Timmermans he had made it clear that the Socialist Party and Hungary’s “democratic opposition” parties were interested in “the restoration” of the democratic rule of law in the country. He said he had emphasised that it was Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, not Hungary, whom the EU should punish.
Botka also said that if the bloc were forced to split into a “two-speed Europe”, the one to blame would “undoubtedly” be Orbán.
He said he had also stressed in his talks with EU officials that more than two-thirds of Hungarians were committed to European values, European cooperation and the EU in general.
The prime minister candidate said he intended to take on an active role in reshaping the EU, arguing that the bloc needed to become fairer and more effective.
Recent challenges such as the migration crisis have shown that the EU can encounter threats that cannot be managed using “the old methods”, Botka said. He said that the EU’s delayed responses to its challenges had allowed for the rise of populism, adding that this was most noticeable in Hungary.
Botka criticised the scale of injustice within the bloc and among member states, naming wage inequality as an example.
He said there was evidence of a serious demand for the introduction of a new common European policy, for social rights meant to protect workers and for reducing wage inequality within the bloc.