Debate on China’s Fudan University’s arrival hasn’t simmered down in Hungary. Both the 9th district and Budapest’s (opposition) leadership insists on holding a referendum on the large-scale project, while the Innovation and Technology Minister wants to declare the project a priority investment, something that would ease the investment procedure.
An ongoing debate
China’s Fudan university’s arrival is perhaps the hottest topic in Hungarian domestic politics at the moment, after of course, the coronavirus crisis management. While the government recognizes the prestige of the university and that it is one of the best in the world, the project still faces some loud opposition. Some fear that it would overshadow Hungarian universities, while others highlight the ideological considerations as Fudan is under the influence of the Communist party. Some are even worried about national security issues, too.
Most critical stances however, reflect on the project’s huge costs, financed exclusively by Hungarian taxpayers. Hungary would finance some HUF 100 billion (EUR 279 million), while China would provide a 450-billion-forint (around 1.25 billion EUR) loan for the 540-billion-forint (roughly 1.5 billion EUR) construction cost of the university. (To put this into context, this sum equals the state financing of Hungary’s whole higher education sector). In addition, the project’s builder would be a Chinese firm, the China State Construction Engineering Corporation Ltd., which has previously been suspected of corruption and unlawful surveillance a number of times. Lack of consultation, and intransparency are also common reasons of criticism towards the government.
Innovation Minister László Palkovics, meanwhile, emphasized that there will be no secret service operations or ideological indoctrination in the university, and even though it would have to be built from the ground up, “this is not such a large sum.”
In addition, the US expressed its concerns on the matter too. According to the US foreign ministry, Fudan University provides China with a foothold to spread its influence in Europe and suppress intellectual freedom in higher education.
Government wants to make Fudan a priority investment
In the most recent turn, Minister Palkovics wants the project to be declared a priority investment. The head of the Prime Minister’s Office, Gergely Gulyás, said the government was prepared to support Palkovics’ initiative. Gulyás also added that they have made a clear decision to build both a student’s quarter and the Fudan campus in Budapest’s 9th district.
This at first led many to the supposition that the move might be aimed at hindering any opposition and preventing a potential referendum on the project. While priority investment procedures indeed allow a swifter, less complicated process, the law doesn’t exclude the possibility of a vote.
Budapest opposition: Vote is on, no offers yet
The voting moving forward was eventually confirmed by the 9th district’s independent (but opposition-backed) mayor Krisztina Baranyi as well, who also still insists on the vote. Budapest deputy mayor Erzsébet Gy. Németh also argues for a vote. The left-wing Democratic Coalition’s (DK) politician says the government can only declare its own territory a priority investment and neither the Metropolitan Council nor the 9th district would hand any land over to Fudan.
A referendum’s potential outcome has indeed already prevented a controversial project. After a signature drive initiated by the Momentum Movement (which, after the campaign, has grown one of the leading opposition parties), the Orbán government called off Budapest’s application for the Olympic Games. Perhaps not completely independently from this, Palkovics had earlier said that he would like to sit down and make an offer that would be “significant” to the Budapest leadership. This meeting has yet to happen. Gy. Németh also claimed that they hadn’t received any offer from the government regarding the university.
Meanwhile, in reference to a non-representative recent survey, Budapest mayor Gergely Karácsony once again insisted that if Budapest’s residents don’t want an investment, then it will not move forward. The poll, made by Opinio Institute (a market research mobile application) among Budapesters with smartphones, found that more than 90% of the 473 respondents oppose the fact that the Hungarian government wants to take out a HUF 500 billion loan for the higher education institution. In addition, some 80% oppose Fudan’s arrival instead.
In the featured photo: Krisztina Baranyi and Gergely Karácsony. Photo by Szilárd Koszticsák/MTI