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Government wrests control of research network from MTA

Against a background of widespread protests from academics and broken promises from the government side, Parliament voted on Tuesday to relocate research institutions of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (MTA) to the Eötvos Loránd Research Network (ELKH), a new body with its own, independent budget chapter.

The Hungarian Academy of Sciences on Széchenyi tér in Budapest (photo: Botond Horvath/Shutterstock)

The legislation was passed with a vote of 131 for, 53 against, and three abstentions, state news wire MTI reported.

The MTA leadership earlier protested against the "forced transformation without any valid reasoning," complaining that the new legal framework offers no guarantees for basic funding. The Academy appealed to lawmakers to weigh its arguments, aired over months of negotiations with the Ministry for Innovation and Technology, and warned that approving the proposed legislation would "hurt the freedom of scientific research and could result in the loss of values which are fundamental for Hungary."

The MTA said earlier that it would initiate an appeal of the legislation with the Constitutional Court, if approved.

Disregarding all of the MTAʼs suggested changes, the new law takes the entire research network away from the Academy and hands it to the new ELKH, which gets to use the Academyʼs property without remuneration, notes a summary in English by independent news site Index.hu. The new law also creates the National Council of Scientific Policy (NTT), headed by Minister for Innovation and Technology László Palkovics, who will be in charge of appointments. The MTA would only have a single representative on this body, which would set the general directions of scientific research and would be ultimately responsible to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.

Index.hu notes that the creation of the ELKH is "exactly what the minister promised not to do," asserting that Palkovics had reassured the Academy at the beginning of the coordination process that the government was not planning to separate the research institutes from the Academy, nor to set the directions of research.

According to Index.hu, the ministry maintains that all state funds spent on research must have tangible results with regard to the Hungarian economy, and their aim is to have more research projects that lead to inventions and patents, as stated in a press release it issued on June 12. The ministry opined that the current system is inefficient, needing to be reinforced both institutionally and financially, and that the new budget would bring about a unified redistribution of funds based on performance.

Index.hu recalled that the Academy had aimed via prolonged negotiations to obtain guarantees for the continuing independence of research, with the overwhelming majority of academics adopting a position against the Palkovics plan. Despite this, the minister withdrew earlier promises and opted to use the Fidesz parliamentary supermajority to force through the plan.

The network of 15 research institutes hitherto under the control of the MTA now passes to the ELKH. The law allows the latter to restructure the network, eliminating individual institutes or adding new ones. The network will be overseen by a 13-member body, including six representatives from the Academy and six from the government, with no direct representation from the research network itself, and with the president to be appointed by Orbán on the joint recommendation of the MTA president and Palkovics.

The Forum of Academy Staff, a civil initiative of researchers from the network of research institutes of the MTA, said it will hold a demonstration against the legal changes today from 4 p.m. on Széchenyi tér, in front of the Academy building.

The Index.hu summary in English can be read here.