Hungary’s National Election Committee has approved in principle a request for a national referendum on whether the country will go ahead with building a Chinese university in Budapest, Hungary Today reports.
The referendum is being promoted by Gergely Karacsony, the mayor of Budapest and an outspoken opponent of the plan. However, it can be held only if Karacsony gets at least 200,000 Hungarians to sign a petition calling for it.
The referendum would ask Hungarian voters whether they want to repeal a law adopted earlier this year that approved the Chinese scheme.
The government of Viktor Orban is backing the project, which would see Fudan Hungary University built on a 50ha site in the south of the city. The college would be run by Fudan University in Shanghai, and would cost €1.5bn, of which €1.3bn would be covered by a Chinese loan.
Orban argues that the university would allow thousands of Hungarian and international students to gain qualifications and contribute to the country’s economy.
Karacsony is backing an alternative proposal for the site in Budapest’s 9th District, which would provide affordable housing for up to 12,000 students.
His supporters argue that taxpayers would have to repay the Chinese loan. The mayor has taken an anti-Chinese line since being elected in June, partly by renaming streets “Free Hong Kong road” and “Uyghur Martyrs’ road”.
Hungary is to go to the polls next year to elect a new government. Six opposition parties, including the green party Dialogue for Hungary and the far-right Jobbik, are to form a coalition to contest it with Orban’s Fidesz party, and Karacsony is seen as a likely choice for leader.
If the coalition does win, it has said it will cancel the university scheme, as well as a project under way to build a high-speed railway to Belgrade, which is backed by a $1.9bn Chinese loan (see further reading).
Image: Budapest mayor Gergely Karacsony poses for selfies after addressing a rally against Fudan Hungary University on Saturday 5 June (From Gergely Karacsony’s Facebook page)