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Timermans said the European Union will complete an investigation of Hungary's amended higher education law "as soon as possible" and that the commission would consider possible next steps by the end of this month.

The EC also warned Hungary that the country risks being sued in court over changes to higher education law, policies with respect to non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and asylum rules, wire service Reuters reported.

Recent amendments to the country's higher education law have been viewed by many as an attack on Budapest-based Central European University, founded by Hungarian-born American financier George Soros in 1991.

"We never wanted to close down CEU", Palkovics told news website HVG.hu.

The legislative threat to CEU's continued existence in Hungary has attracted widespread condemnation and concern, including from the US government.

The Hungarian leader - who once received a grant from Mr Soros to help him study in England - insists he does not want to shut down CEU, which now teaches some 1,440 students from 108 countries. "This is a matter for the government of Hungary and CEU to work out". Timmermans asked himself and journalists on Wednesday. "It is perceived by many as an attempt to close down the Central European University".

Hungarian President Janos Ader signed the legislation on Monday despite street protests against it in Budapest and condemnation overseas. A spokesman for the Hungarian government has stated [Washington Post report] that the investigation is in retaliation for Hungary's anti-migrant positions.

Hungary has built fences on its southern borders to stop the flow of migrants and new rules allow all asylum-seekers older than 14 to be held in border container camps until their asylum petitions are decided.

"A lot that is happening in Hungary at the moment fills us with genuine concern", Roth said in a statement. The CEU will likely have to shut down given the way the new laws are written.

"Central European University has been a pearl in the crown of Central Europe in forming a new generation of European leaders that see East and West as geographical denominations, not moral or political denominations", said Timmermans. "These unacceptable practices must be brought to an end and I urge the Hungarian authorities to further investigate any allegation of abuse and violence", he added. Austria's interior minister said he would make preparations for the country to receive people, with the first group expected to be around 50 unaccompanied children from Italy.

His government has come under growing criticism of its treatment of asylum seekers - including on Monday, when the UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said the container camps would surrounded by razor wire would "have a awful physical and psychological impact on women, children and men who have already greatly suffered".