The heads of Germany’s ten most prominent scientific research organizations wrote an open letter to Hungary’s government and Prime Minister Viktor Orbán a day before the much-debated vote on the restructuring of the Academy of Sciences. According to the German scientists, even though Minister László Palkovics has previously stated it several times, the “reform” is not based on a German model. German news portal ‘die Zeit’ published the open letter, written on July 1st to the Hungarian PM, only yesterday evening.
On Tuesday, the Hungarian Parliament, thanks to Fidesz-KDNP’s two-thirds majority, has voted for the much-debated MTA bill. This means that the state will strip Hungary’s no. 1. scientific institute of its properties and independence in decision-making. Many fear that this is the nationalization of science that will put an end to academic freedom in Hungary, while the government’s stance is that such a fear is unfounded and the aim is to make Hungarian science and innovation more competitive.
Ruling Parties Vote to Restructure Science Academy, Academics Protest and Go to Court
László Palkovics, Minister for Innovation and Technology has emphasized several times before that the model for the restructuring is based on that of the German Max Planck Society:
“We would like to proceed in a similar way as in Germany after the unification of former Academy Institutes with existing research organizations. In this respect, we are creating an internationally recognized structure. And just like at Max Planck, there would be an intermediate level between politics and science, the one which we are currently discussing. This will not result in direct financial influence of politics in any case.”
Summary: What is the Restructuring of the Academy All About?
However, a day before the vote on the controversial bill, heads of the most prominent German research institutes wrote an open letter to the Hungarian government in which they claim that the restructuring is not based on the German model and point out the negative effects the reforms could have on the freedom of research.
The reason for the continuous concern is that the reform purposefully and exclusively promotes research of the public interest as defined by the government.
The letter emphasizes gender research as an example, which according to the scientists, is “categorized as ideology” and thus completely excluded as “non-science” from financing.
The ten scientists also criticize the research funding in the new system, which – according to them – could be politically controlled because of their “project-basedness.” According to the letter, the system is not based on or corresponds to the model of the German scientific institutions and Palkovics’s previous statements that the restructuring is exactly like the one of Max Planck Society is
According to the scientists, the restructuring and outsourcing of the Academy’s institutes would allow the government to have a direct impact in the future on the scientific focus of the new research network.
The voted bill strips the MTA of all 15 of its research institutes and will move them to the Eötvös Loránd Research Network (ELKH), a newly-formed state research network. This new public body will have a 13-member governing board comprised of six government and academic delegates, and if the MTA President and the Innovation Minister can agree and jointly name a chairman, the Prime Minister will appoint the person, otherwise Viktor Orbán can appoint anyone for the position until an agreement has been made. Although ELKH would have no formal governmental control and its financial support would be radically increased (while MTA’s reduced), and all decisions require a simple majority, many fear that MTA delegates would have little chance to effectively oppose the will of the government’s delegates.