THE SITUATION OF THE HUNGARIAN ACADEMY OF SCIENCES (MTA)
1. In 2018, the Hungarian Government decided to reorganise the entire sector of research, development and innovation in Hungary in order to improve Hungary’s innovation and competitiveness positions in the EU. However, the Ministry for Innovation and Technology (MIT), entitled to carry out this plan, introduced its arbitrary and permanently changing plan without proper reform-planning and the necessary consultations with those affected. At the end of a year-long struggle between the Government and the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, on 2 July 2019 the Parliament adopted a Bill that deprives the independent Academy of its research network and places it under governmental control. This new law radically narrows the framework of independent scientific institutions in Hungary and violates academic freedom to various degrees.
2. In the summer of 2018, all of a sudden (leaving only 54 minutes for the Academy to comment) the annual financial support for the academic research network of the Academy was reallocated to the MIT without justification. From January 2019, the MIT decided to withhold the disbursement of subsidies covering material expenses of research centres for 2019, and threatened to withhold the salaries of employees (approximately 5,000 active staff members) in an effort to force the Presidium of the Academy to agree to the handover of its research network to the Government. The MIT refused to execute the provisions in force of the Act of Parliament on the 2019 budget of Hungary, and blackmailed the leadership of the Academy. As a result, the Academy lost financial control over its own budget (i.e. its financial autonomy), and became unable to make binding contracts for the whole year or longer (thus lost predictability and stability).
3. Meanwhile, a public shaming campaign was carried out by pro-government media outlets against many of the researchers and institutes of the Academy, criticizing their choice of research topics, and stigmatizing them as liberals and people acting on behalf of or in the interests of George Soros. These individualised attacks have a strong chilling effect not only on the affected individuals, but also on the Hungarian academic community as a whole, and may lead to self-censorship.
4. The Government and the Academy conducted negotiations that resulted in compromises on several issues. Nonetheless, the Government submitted a Bill to the Parliament that included none of those elements, and the Parliament passed the law on 2 July 2019, which entered into force on 1 August 2019, leaving no time to prepare for the changes. As a result, among others, the entire research network was separated from the Academy.
5. The new law renders the research network (named Loránd Eötvös Research Network, LERN) under a Governing Body that consists of 13 members, all of them appointed by the Prime Minister. Six members are nominated by the President of the Academy, six by the MIT. The President of the Body is appointed by the Prime Minister, following the joint nomination of the President of the Academy and the Minister. The Prime Minister has the right to appoint the President of the Governing Body if no agreement is reached between the Minister and the President of the Academy. This new structure puts the research network under direct political influence.
6. The new law obliges the Academy to provide the infrastructure (placement and necessary appliances) for the LERN without compensation, effectively expropriating its private property.
7. Employees of the Secretariat of LERN – who have previously been employed by the Academy – lost their public servant status and consequently the additional safeguards and guarantees the status entailed.
8. The entire procedure was accompanied by concerted attacks in the pro-government media. A recurring line of attack, echoed by the Government, was the inefficiency of research centres in securing funds or producing innovation. The Academy attempted to question the connection between alleged inefficiencies and institutional settings, and pointed out that Hungary, and the Academy especially, has been very successful in the region in securing third party (especially EU research) funding. The Government failed to provide any meaningful answer to this.
First published as part of the reaction paper Stating the Obvious – Rebutting the Hungarian Government’s response to the Reasoned Proposal in the Article 7 procedure against Hungary (18 October 2019) written by Hungarian NGOs rebutting the Hungarian Government’s false or misleading statements and pointing out its lack of adequate reaction to EP concerns in the Article 7 procedure against Hungary. Available also here.