Modifications of the Academy Act (Summary)

The Hungarian Parliament passed the new law on July 2, 2019. This amends and modifies the Academy Act and numerous others drastically.

The most important modifications regarding the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (HAS):

1. Separating the Research Network (RN) from the independent Academy and establishing a distinct RN under the name Eötvös Lorand Research Network (LERN).

  • The RN is supposed to be autonomous from the Academy as well as the government, but at its core structure it is heavily influenced by the gov. at the highest level.

2. The starting date of 1st of August/Sept, 2019 was/is highly questionable.

  • The Act has been enacted on July 2, thus leaving less than a month for preparation and execution.
  • During this period it was the Ministry for Innovation and Technology that organized the execution of the Act, however it is not its responsibility under the Act.
  • Miklós Maróth, the new leader of the LERN himself admitted that until January 1, 2020 (or for a year) the new Governing Body will not be able to make major decisions, because the new Secretariat will need time to settle.
  • The rush creates uncertainty among the employees of the Academy, affecting researchers as well as the public servants of the Secretariat.

3. The Act creates a new Governing Body (GB), which is highly influenced by the Government: it consists of 13 members, all appointed by the Prime Minister.

  • 6 members nominated by the President of the HAS (László Lovász)
  • 6 members nominated by the Minister of Innovation and Technology (László Palkovics)
  • The President of the LERN jointly nominated by the President of the HAS and the Minister, but appointed by the Prime Minister
  • But the joint nomination cannot be considered as a real guarantee, since in case of a disagreement between the two, the Prime Minister may appoint whoever he wishes as the head of the GB for an indefinite time period, with the full power of the whole GB. This creates an opportunity for the govt. to force the HAS President into an agreement, as the only way to have the 6 nominees of the Academy appointed and involved in the decisions.

The GB has the power to decide about:

  • the finances of the RN,
  • organization and reorganization questions
  • the general directors of the 15 research centres, with a simple (non-qualified) majority
  • some questions will be decided with ⅔ majority, according to promises, but nothing is written, yet.

Concerns:

Without the necessity of qualified majority decisions on structural changes institutions can be abolished, cut off from the network, or new ones established, or existing external ones attached to the network.

This implies (contrary to prior agreement) without any moratorium, that is, right or soon after the start of the operation of the network and its governing body. (Promises on a moratorium are not guarantees.)

There is no possibility to appeal against the decisions of the GB or the president of the LERN.

4. As required by the new law the properties and buildings are to be given for free use to the new research network without compensation, which is a violation of the HAS’ property rights protected by the constitution.

  • By a unilateral legal act of the state, the draft law obliges the HAS (“charges the HAS with the task”) to transfer the right of use over its assets, establishing a dangerous precedent for nationalization that is highly destructive to the legal order.
  • HAS’ obligation to transfer its real estates (buildings serving to house the research network) and its research facilities, assets, and equipment to the new research network for free (without any compensation) violates the HAS’ rights to private property guaranteed in the Fundamental Law of Hungary (the constitution) and in many international treaties.

President of the Academy László Lovász filed a constitutional complaint in this regard. In the complaint he states that the Academy’s right to private property has been unconstitutionally limited and that the Academy’s academic freedom (more precisely its right to carry out research) has been interfered with.

This is an Article 26 (2) procedure under the Act on the Constitutional Court (CC), which means that there are no strict time limits regarding the procedure of the CC. The Act says that “The Constitutional Court shall decide on constitutional complaints within reasonable time.”

However according to the Rules of Procedure of the CC (internal regulation), the Court shall decide in 120 days about the admissibility of the petition. And the rapporteur shall submit in 180 days upon admission the first draft. Still this does not guarantee that the Court will deliver a decision in the near future.

MPs also filed a petition to the CC, asking for the ex post review of the Act. However, regarding this procedure there is no time-limit on the Constitutional Court, not even in the Rules of Procedure.

About the maintenance of the assets of the Academy

  • the responsibility of the maintenance of these buildings, equipments, machines falls on the research centres using these
  • but according to the Act, funding has to be guaranteed in the state budget act for these goals
  • the Facility Management Service of the HAS is responsible for the operation of the buildings and other facilities.

 

5. The new Act violates the exclusive entitlement of scientists to evaluate scientific research

  • Two points of the new act are in breach of the Fundamental Law of Hungary in this regard, as it claims that the governing body “will determine the evaluation principles of the research network” and “will evaluate the achievement reports of the research institutes”.
  • The assessment of research is in itself a research activity which is confirmed in the Fundamental Law (X. (2) par) stating that “only representatives of the scientific community are entitled to evaluate the research activities” and “the State shall have no right to decide on questions of scientific truth”.
  • In the governing body, according to the law, representatives of science will be in majority, but there might be also members without academic background, and they will evaluate research activity, too. (The term – representative of science – is vague in itself. Any politician, with a past of academic research can fall under this requirement.)

 

6. The Act establishes the National Science Policy Council (coming into effect on January 1, 2020) that will be responsible exclusively for the prime minister.

  • The Council will have 11 members, its chairman is going to be the concerned Minister, appointed by the Prime Minister together with the co-chairman.
  • The co-chairman and the regular members will be nominated by the minister as well. 3  members should be chosen from the economic sphere, 3 members from the academic field, and 3 members from the public sector.
  • Since the Council will have serious effect on national research grants, it has to be noted that no professional competency is rendered to this body to perform its professional function.
  • The Council will operate in all aspects under ministerial direction with ministerial veto, and only the minister can submit proposals to the government.

7. The Act further increases the centralization of science funding in Hungary

  • All funding for research and innovation as well as higher education will be under the direct or indirect control of the Ministry.
  • The RN was financed by the autonomous decisions of the independent Academy so far, a practice that will be replaced by the funding policy of the government.
  • There is a risk  that academic freedom, normally guaranteed by scientific and financial independence and to a large extent achieved at institutional level in modern times, will be limited by the government’s science policy.

 

8. No guarantees in the law: Only the benevolent operation guarantees that there will be no abuse of power or political interference of the government.

 

Questions and concerns regarding the operation of the Governing Body of the LERN

  • According to the Act the Secretary General of the RN should be chosen after an open call for the position, and the open call and its content should be decided upon by the GB.
  • The Secretary general and his deputy should be elected by the GB.
  • Still the GB decided to give up this right and agreed to appoint Ádám Szigeti (previous assistant secretary of state of the Ministry for Innovation and Technology) as acting Secretary General for 1 year/or the time while the open call will be decided about, however such call has not been published by the GB.
  • This decision of the GB contradicts to the Act.
  • The appointment of Ádám Szigeti again proves that the government is eager to get influence over the RN.
  • The GB also agreed to appoint Márton Lacsny as deputy of the Secretary General, who previously has been working at various positions beside Minister Pakovics.

Lack of transparency:

  • The LERN has no publicly available webpage. Information about the Secretariat, its operation, or even its phone-number or e.mails are not available for public, neither any information about its management.
  • so far it has failed to enact its internal regulations – subsequently the research centres are also unable to enact their internal regulations, because these documents should be harmonized.
  • the only channel of information between the LERN and the researchers are the general directors of the research centres.

Promises:

  • according to promises for 2020, core funding will be provided for the research centres;
  • the document on internal regulations of the LERN GB – once it is ready – will require a ⅔ majority of the votes for some fundamental questions
  • In our opinion qualified majority (two thirds of the votes) should be required at least for the following major or strategic decisions:
  • electing the Chair of the Governing Board
  • establishing a new unit (centre or independent institute) as part of LERN
  • closing an existing unit (centre or independent institute) of LERN
  • distribution of core funding among the units (centres or independent institutes) of LERN
  • appointing the directors of the centres and independent institutes of LERN