Hungarian government submits bill to tighten grip over scientists

1 / 3

Hungarian government submits bill to tighten grip over scientists

Protest against government's plans to overhaul the Hungarian Academy of Sciences in Budapest

BUDAPEST (Reuters) - Hungary's government is moving to tighten its grip on the research institutions of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, despite protests by scientists against political control of the academy.

Since taking power in 2010, Prime Minister Viktor Orban has tightened government control of public life, including the courts, the media and universities. His moves have put him on a collision course with the European Union.

His government submitted draft legislation to parliament on Wednesday that would strip the 200 year-old academy of its network of research institutions and boost state control over research.

News website Index.hu reported the first details of the planned legislation last week.

The legislation, posted on parliament's website, maintained that a "more transparent and ... flexible organisational and financing framework was needed to ensure a sustainable boost to Hungary's long-term competitiveness.

"The transformation of the institutional system and financing of Hungarian research, development and innovation will serve a more efficient use of resources," it said.

A new 11-member council for the Academy - to be chaired by Innovation and Technology Minister Laszlo Palkovics - would set out areas of research that should get funding and monitor the use of funds. Members would be appointed by the prime minister based on the recommendation of the minister, the bill says.

The government said those projects that "directly contribute to the competitiveness of the Hungarian economy" and involve regional or international cooperation would get priority.

The research institutions themselves would be run by a 13-member panel, with six members from government and six from the academy. Its chairman would be appointed by the prime minister, based on the recommendation of the head of the academy and the minister.

On Sunday, thousands of Hungarians took to the streets of central Budapest to protest the planned overhaul. The academy said last week that the government wanted "total political control" of vital research.

The European Commission said on Tuesday that it would monitor developments in Hungary's public research system and urged authorities "to refrain from any decision restricting scientific and academic freedom."


(Reporting by Krisztina Than, editing by Larry King)