Critics interpret the Parliament’s actions as a maneuver to retain a great deal of power even if Fidesz loses next year’s elections.
As we reported, on 27 April, the Hungarian Parliament passed a bill, transferring almost a dozen, previously state-owned universities to private foundations. The change, which the Government claims were a necessary step towards a more stable and efficient operation of these institutions, has received considerable backlash from the opposition and has even attracted the attention of international news agency Reuters, who called it a move to “entrench right-wing dominance in Hungary”.
Now, the New York Times has also published a critical article on the measure, citing the opinions of Kim Lane Scheppele, a professor of international affairs at Princeton University, and Balint Magyar, a sociologist and two-time former Minister of Education. Professor Scheppele highlighted that since the current leaders of these foundations, the now-appointed board members, will be the ones to choose their successors, they can keep the control of these universities in the hands of Orbán’s allies, while Magyar said that
“the autonomy of teaching and research staff is not ensured”.
Any potential modification to be made to the rules concerning these foundations will require the support of two-thirds of the Parliament – the same proportion necessary for amending the Constitution. This is especially worrying seeing that Hungary aims to spend one-fifth of the money received from the EU’s coronavirus recovery fund on “the modernisation of universities”. As Professor Scheppele pointed out,
by channelling the assets into these foundations, Fidesz can remove them from the sphere of public accountability.
While the focus has mainly been on the transfer of the ownership of universities, the recently passed law concerns more than higher education institutes. As Telex wrote in an article, it also includes the establishment of various cultural, agricultural, and heritage conservation foundations, which are all expected to receive fortunes in assets.
However, this does not mean that there is absolutely no way back. Opposition politicians speaking to Telex mentioned a number of scenarios that could put a wrench in the Prime Minister’s plan. For instance, Bertalan Tóth of the Hungarian Socialist Party mentioned that the EU might object to the lack of transparency in the spending of the post-pandemic recovery subsidies, while Koloman Brenner of Jobbik said that in the case the opposition wins in 2022, universities might wish to revert to being owned by the state.
Source: New York Times, Telex