Scientists in Hungary accuse government of research takeover

BUDAPEST — Hungary’s oldest and biggest scientific institute accused the government on Wednesday of trying to take “total political control” of vital research through plans to set up a new state body to oversee funding and work.

The government is drafting legislation to strip the Hungarian Academy of Sciences of its network of research institutions and hand over their buildings and assets to the new council, news website on Tuesday.

Right-wing prime minister Viktor Orban, who took power in 2010, has tightened controls over public life, including the courts, the media and education — moves that have put him on a collision course with the European Union.

The government has said he wants to shake up funding to encourage more lucrative and innovative research.

“The modifications would amount to total government – political – control over the network of research institutions,” said the governing body of the Academy’s research network which is funded by the government but manages itself.

The proposed set-up of a new National Scientific Policy Council to run the networks “potentially poses a threat to the academic freedom and freedom of research” guaranteed in the Hungarian Constitution, the statement said.

Staff would mount a protest on Sunday, it added without going into more details. Scientists and rights groups have campaigned against earlier calls by government for an overhaul of the system.

The new Council – chaired by Innovation and Technology Minister Laszlo Palkovics – would set out areas of research that would receive funding, said website, citing the government’s proposal.

His ministry said on Tuesday the current system was inefficient and the aim of the plans was to push more funding and research into “patents and inventions serving the Hungarian economy”.

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

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