BRUSSELS - The European Union has launched legal action against Hungary over a new higher education law that critics say is aimed at shutting down a university founded by billionaire philanthropist George Soros.
European Commission President Valdis Dombrovskis said Wednesday that the EU's executive arm has sent a "letter of formal notice" to Prime Minister Viktor Orban's government, which is a first step in legal action.
Dombrovskis said the move is based on "an in-depth legal assessment."
The Commission believes the law could infringe on European rights to provide services, but also on academic freedoms and the right to an education.
The Hungarian government will have one month to respond, and based on Budapest's reaction, the Commission will consider what steps to take next.
The higher education law was approved earlier this month. The president of the Soros-backed Central European University says it means that his campus in Budapest might not be able to accept new students after Jan. 1.
"My institution has a gun pointed to its head,'' CEU President Michael Ignatieff said Tuesday as he sought support at the European Parliament.
Orban says the CEU is "cheating'' because it issues diplomas accepted both in the United States and in Hungary, where it has been operating since 1993. The university is accredited in New York state but has no campus there.
Orban says this gives it an unfair advantage over other Hungarian universities, but has denied that he wants to shut it down.
The Hungarian leader will face his critics in the European Parliament later Wednesday as EU lawmakers debate concerns about his country, including a "Let's Stop Brussels" campaign aimed at highlighting what he says is an EU power grab.
Given the legal action, a showdown seems likely between Orban and Commission First Vice President Frans Timmermans, who will address lawmakers just before him.