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A donor network founded by billionaire philanthropist George Soros will slash funding for EU projects from 2024 to focus on other parts of the world where civil liberties are being eroded.

An internal email seen by the Financial Times details the shift in plans by the Open Society Foundations. That has rattled political observers and civil society groups, who have used the funds to counter illiberal policies in Central and Eastern Europe, including Hungary.

“The newly approved strategic direction provides for the withdrawal and termination of much of our current work within the EU, shifting our focus and resource allocation to other regions of the world,” the OSF wrote.

Given that EU institutions and governments “already allocate substantial resources to human rights, freedoms and pluralism”, OSF will “focus on Europe only in the context of its role in major global issues”.

“Jobs within Europe will be extremely limited,” the email added.

It follows the Hungarian-born 93-year-old investor handing over control of his global organization to his son Alex Soros in June. That month, OSF announced a 40% layoff.

A Holocaust survivor, Soros made his fortune as an investor in the United States and made an estimated $1 billion shorting the British pound in 1992. Between 1984 and 2017, Soros donated more than $32 billion of his personal fortune to fund projects promoting democracy and human rights.

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George Soros made his fortune as an investor in the US and shorted the British pound in 1992, making around $1 billion © Olivier Hoslet/Pool/AFP/Getty Images

In recent years, he has become the focus of negative campaigns by right-wing politicians in the United States and Europe, who often vilify him with anti-Semitic undertones.

One of Soros’ most outspoken opponents is Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, a former protégé of the financier who has now turned against Soros, claiming that he combined liberal ideology with mass immigration. imposed on reluctant Europeans.

In 2018, the Orbán government forced Central European University, a leading university founded by Soros, to relocate to Vienna, claiming that the university did not comply with local laws, such as requiring universities to offer undergraduate courses. CEU is a graduate-only institution.

But the NGO founded by Soros continues to operate in Hungary. Balázs Orbán, a political director who has no relationship with the prime minister, said in a Facebook post that “the occupying forces really leave only when the last Soros soldier leaves Europe and Hungary. We are far from there.” It’s still far away.”

OSF did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Transparency International EU Director Michiel van Hulten said OSF played an important role in European civil society. About a quarter of TI’s annual survey results come from OSF.

Van Huerten told the FT: “Arguably no organization has done more to strengthen the role of civil society in Europe in the past 30 years than OSF, from its work in Central and Eastern Europe after the fall of communism to Pioneering work begins.”

“A sudden break away from Europe at a time of rising political populism and growing threats to the rule of law seems counterintuitive and could undo much of the progress already made.”

Alberto Alemanno, a professor of European Union law at HEC Paris, said on the social platform X that with EU elections due next June, the OSF’s decision is “very important for European integration and its civil society.” The timing couldn’t have been worse…’. . Philanthropy from the conservative (and) religious right is poised to fill that void.”

NGOs are lobbying OSF leadership to change course, or at least scale back the planned cuts, a person familiar with the matter said.

The OSF, which distributes around $1.5 billion a year globally, will continue to fund projects in European non-EU countries such as Ukraine, Moldova, Kyrgyzstan and the Western Balkans, the OSF told Reuters.

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