EU takes legal action on Hungarian education law
The tough step by the European Commission came hours before the rightwing premier was due to address the European parliament to defend his country's rights record.
Orban has sparked deep unease over legislation that could force the closure of the Central European University in Budapest, founded by US billionaire investor George Soros.
"We have decided to take legal action on the higher education law by sending a letter of formal notice to the Hungarian government," European Commission vice president Valdis Dombrovskis said at a news conference.
Under the EU's so-called "infringement proceedings", Brussels writes to national governments to demand legal explanations over certain issues.
It can then refer them to the European Court of Justice.
The top EU court can impose stiff financial penalties if member states fail to comply.
"There is time for the Hungarian authorities to react and then following reactions, the commission will decide on the next steps," Dombrovskis said.
The decision was based on an "in-depth legal assessment" and involved alleged breaches of fundamental EU laws governing the freedom to set up businesses and services, he said. ■