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What are ALS academics doing this summer? Kati Cseres headed off to Budapest – which is incidentally the capital of her native country – to do research at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. Since she arrived, the Academy has seen its academic independence challenged by a legislative amendment concerning its annual budget passed by the Hungarian government.

Hungarian ACELG Researcher Kati Cseres was awarded a grant to do a half-year stint of research at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences in Budapest. During her six-month stay in the Hungarian capital, Kati is focusing on the role of consumers with regard to public services (such as energy and post) post-liberalisation, and how the EU has reacted.

You have lived in the Netherlands for more than twenty years. How is it to be back?

“Hungarian has two different words for home: itthon and otthon. Itthon means ‘here at home’ and otthon is ‘back home’. That sums up what it feels like to be back. I am fortunately able to go back to Hungary quite often but living and working here now has taken some adjustment.”

Tell us about a typical work day in Budapest.

“Similar to Amsterdam, actually.  The first order of business is getting our three kids to school and day care. School starts here at eight o’clock. Then I bike over to the Institute for Legal Studies at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. There are always weekly seminars, workshops or congresses. The Institute is housed in a large building as part of the MTA Centre for Social Sciences. There is frequent interaction between lawyers, sociologists, economists and political scientists.”

What are you researching?

“My research entails an analysis of how the role and the legal position of the consumers (end-users) of public services (i.e. energy and post) changes post-liberalisation. I argue that consumers can and are willing to take on new and more varied roles in the marketplace.  Digitisation, for instance, allows them to participate more actively in the marketplace, or even to offer goods and services, e.g. produce energy with solar panels or crowdsource mail delivery.

A case study focused on Hungary paints a different picture, however: the Hungarian energy market is in the process of being renationalised. This is occasionally justified along political lines of reasoning: consumers need to be protected against excessive prices and the continuity of the energy supply needs to be secured.”

The university you are at has had to endure quite a bit, politically speaking. Tell us about that.

“Hungary has been ruled by the same party (Fidesz) and the same prime minister (Orbán) since 2010, and the rule of law has been systematically dismantled over the last eight years. Just tot give the most recent examples: two weeks ago the Hungarian parliament (again) recently amended the Hungarian constitution to make it nearly impossible to gain refugee status. There is also a constitutional prohibition on ‘homelessness’ and a law that threatens jailtime for employees of NGOs or other individuals who help asylum seekers.

In the week of 17 July 2018, the parliament accepted the 2019 budget which, without prior consultation, placed at least half the budget of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences under the direct control of the new Ministry for Innovation and Technology. This is a new step in Orbán’s campaign to make academic freedom, freedom of expression and independent research impossible in Hungary.”