Hungarian parliament approves law creating new foundations
Hungary’s parliament on Tuesday approved a law creating a group of foundations which critics say hand over control of major cultural and higher education institutions to allies of nationalist Prime Minister Viktor Orban.
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Parliament, where Orban’s Fidesz-led coalition enjoys a two-thirds majority, has approved the creation of more than a dozen foundations whose endowments include a palace, shares in top-notch companies such than state-owned oil conglomerate MOL, pharmaceutical company Gedeon Richter. , a steelworks and a football stadium. Assets are worth billions of dollars in total, according to Bloomberg calculations, and foundations are less subject to financial control than public bodies.
Hungarian National Innovation and Technology Minister Laszlo Palkovics said the new system “will make young Hungarians the winners of the future by giving them modern training”.
But critics say the move widens the government’s ideological and financial grip on Hungary’s cultural and intellectual life in a way that would persist even if it were excluded in next year’s general election, possibly the most difficult. that Orban has faced since his return to power in 2010..
“What we are seeing here is practically a sort of dispossession of public wealth in Hungary by the ruling party,” said Daniel Hegedus, member of the German Marshall Fund in Berlin.
Hegedus said that the creation of the foundation system showed “it is evident that [Fidesz] really fear losing the elections in 2022.. . and they would like to create a new launching pad for power ”.
The majority of newly created foundations will oversee universities. Critics say the boards have been appointed by Fidesz loyalists and will have the power to continue renewing themselves in perpetuity. Hungary’s constitution was amended last year with a clause stating that the composition of these boards cannot be changed without a two-thirds majority in parliament.
When such a system was announced for the Budapest University of Theater and Film Arts last July, it sparked months of protests. However, more than 15 institutions have since opted for the new founding model, leaving few universities still under state ownership. These include Hungary’s flagship Eotvos Lorand University, Budapest University of Technology and Economics, University of Fine Arts and Academy of Music.
“The universities were forced to make this decision with financial promises: they were promised a salary increase, development funds from the EU stimulus fund if they changed their model,” said Bernadett Szel, MEP for the opposition.
“In the meantime, they have not received any guarantee that their autonomy will be preserved, that they will have a say in the management of the university or in the composition of the boards of directors.”
The overhaul comes two years after Budapest sent the Central European University, one of the region’s top-rated institutions, into effective exile in Vienna and claimed more control over the Academy of Sciences, the first research institution in the country. Orban also invited Fudan University to open the first campus of a Chinese university in mainland Europe, promising to contract a Chinese company to build a complex worth 540 billion Ft ($ 1.79 billion) .
The government plans to allocate 2.8 billion euros, or around 20% of the EU funds that Brussels allocated to Hungary for its post-pandemic recovery, to a program of “modernization of universities”.
In one letter obtained by Politico Europe, a group of MEPs urged the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, not to disburse the money, which they said “would translate into 20% of the funding. [disappearing] in opaque funding structures which are not subject to budgetary control standards and which aim to further destroy academic freedom and institutional autonomy in Hungary ”.
Letter in response to this article:
Hungary shows its ambition with its university reforms / By Andreas D Stefanovszky, Budapest, Hungary