Hungary continues to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and now faces rising inflation and economic uncertainty due to Russia’s war in Ukraine. Despite a growing deficit and energy prices, as well as a continued skilled labor shortage and corruption concerns, ratings agencies in 2021 maintained Hungary’s sovereign debt at BBB, two notches above investment grade, with a stable outlook. In December 2021, the Finance Ministry forecasted 5.9 percent economic growth and a 4.9 percent budget deficit for 2022. Analysts since then have revised their forecasts and project 2 percentage points lower economic growth for this year.
Hungary, an EU member since 2004, currently has a population of 9.7 million and a GDP of $155 billion. Fellow EU member states and the United States are Hungary’s most important trade and investment partners, although Asian influence is growing; foreign direct investment (FDI) from Asian sources was five percent of total FDI in 2019 and now accounts for over 30 percent of new foreign direct investment in 2020.
Macroeconomic indicators were generally strong before the COVID-19 pandemic, with GDP growing by 4.9 percent in 2019. Following a 5.1 percent pandemic-induced contraction in 2020, Hungary’s GDP increased by 6.4 percent in 2021. As the Government of Hungary (GOH) increased spending to support the economy and other priorities, the 2021 budget deficit reached approximately 7.5 percent of GDP, which pushed up public debt close to 80 percent of GDP.
Hungary’s central location in Europe and high-quality infrastructure have traditionally made it an attractive destination for Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). Between 1989 and 2019, Hungary received approximately $97.8 billion in FDI, mainly in the banking, automotive, software development, and life sciences sectors. The EU accounts for 89 percent of all in-bound FDI. The United States is the largest non-EU investor, whereas in terms of annual investment, South Korea was the largest investor overall in 2021. The GOH actively encourages investments in manufacturing and other sectors promising high added value and/or employment, such as research and development, defense, and service centers.
Despite these advantages, Hungary’s regional economic competitiveness has declined in recent years. Since early 2016, multinationals have identified shortages of qualified labor, specifically technicians and engineers, as the largest obstacle to investment in Hungary. In certain industries, such as finance, energy, telecommunication, pharmaceuticals, and retail, unpredictable sector-specific tax and regulatory policies have favored national and government-linked companies. Additionally, persistent corruption and cronyism continue to plague the public procurement sector. According to Transparency International’s (TI) 2021 Corruption Perceptions Index, Hungary placed 73rd worldwide and ranked 26th out of the 27 EU member states, outperforming only Bulgaria.
Analysts remain concerned that the GOH may intervene in certain priority sectors to unfairly promote domestic ownership at the expense of foreign investors. In September 2016, Prime Minister (PM) Viktor Orban announced that at least half of the banking, media, energy, and retail sectors should be in Hungarian hands. Since then, observers note that through various tax changes the GOH has pushed several foreign-owned banks out of Hungary. GOH efforts have helped increase Hungarian ownership in the banking sector to close to 60 percent, up from 40 percent in 2010. In the energy sector, foreign-owned companies’ share of total revenue fell from 70 percent in 2010 to below 50 percent by 2022. Foreign media ownership has decreased drastically as GOH-aligned businesses have consolidated control of Hungary’s media landscape: the number of media outlets owned by GOH allies increased from around 30 in 2015 to nearly 500 in 2018. In November 2018, the owners of 476 pro-GOH media outlets, constituting between 80 and 90 percent of all media, donated those outlets to the Central European Press and Media Foundation (KESMA) run by individuals with ties to the ruling Fidesz party.
Ostensibly in response to the COVID crisis, the Hungarian government has had uninterrupted state-of-emergency (SOE) powers since November 2020 with authority to bypass Parliament and govern by decree. Parliament passed the first SOE legislation in March 2020 as part of its COVID-19 pandemic response; this legislation did not have a sunset clause, and the government repealed it in June 2020. The GOH passed a second SOE law in November 2020, this time for a 90-day period. Following the expiration of the first 90-day term, the Parliament extended the SOE in February, May, September and most recently in December 2021 – until June 2022 – without any support from opposition parties. As part of the emergency measures, the GOH extended measures for national security screening of foreign investments from December 31, 2020, until December 31, 2022, and may extend this deadline further.
|TI Corruption Perception Index||2021||
73 of 180
|Global Innovation Index||2021||34 of 132||https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator|
|U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions)||2020||$13,295||https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/|
|World Bank GNI per capita||2020||$15,890||https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD|
1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment
3. Legal Regime
4. Industrial Policies
5. Protection of Property Rights
6. Financial Sector
8. Responsible Business Conduct
Hungary encourages multinational firms to follow the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, which promotes a due diligence approach to responsible business conduct (RBC). The government has established a National Contact Point (NCP) in the Ministry of Finance for stakeholders to obtain information or raise concerns in the context of RBC. The Hungarian NCP has organized events to promote OECD guidelines among the business community, trade unions, government agencies, and NGOs. Members of the Hungarian NCP include representatives of the Ministries of Finance, Foreign Affairs and Trade, Innovation and Technology, and Agriculture. The Hungarian NCP submits annual reports to the OECD Investment Commission, except for 2020 when its activity was strongly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. For more information, see: .
In recent years, the Hungarian NCP has organized several conferences, the last one in January 2020, to promote RBC and OECD guidelines. It announced in 2017 its intention to formulate a new National Action Plan on Businesses and Human Rights. According to the first National Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Action Plan formulated in 2015, key RBC priorities of the GOH included the employment of discriminated, disadvantaged, and disabled groups, environmental protection, and the expansion of sustainable economy. Hungary’s NCP peer review is scheduled in 2023. The Hungarian Public Relations Association, CSR Hungary, and other NGOs are involved in elaborating the second National Action Plan. The Hungarian NCP reviews complaints from trade unions against multinational companies’ subsidiaries operating in Hungary and coordinates with relevant NPCs of the multinational company’s home country. RBC does not typically play a role in GOH procurement decisions, although the 2015 Public Procurement Act integrates concepts of CSR, responsible business conduct, and good practice.
Several NGOs and business associations promote RBC and CSR. The one with the most members, CSR Hungary Forum, created in 2006, established an annual award and trademark in 2008 to recognize business CSR efforts; others include the Hungarian Public Relations Association, “Kovet.”
According to a 2018 survey conducted by CSR Hungary, 60 percent of businesses have a CSR policy and 44 percent of businesses attribute a CSR orientation to increased competitiveness. However, only about 34 percent of multinational and SOEs and 9 percent of SMEs report formally formulating a CSR action plan. According to a 2021 study on corporate social responsibility in Hungary, stakeholder pressure is weak, and they expect increased state-level intervention in CSR issues.
In 2017, Hungary’s independent agencies for labor rights protection, consumer protection, cultural heritage protection, and environment protection were merged into relevant ministries and county-level government offices. Environmental NGOs criticized the transformation of the system and warned about the lack of independent agencies.
In January 2020, the GOH approved and published its new long-term energy strategy and an EU-required National Energy and Climate Plan – both of which focused heavily on decarbonization and sustainable climate policy. According to the documents, Hungary aims to reduce its carbon emissions by at least 40 percent by 2030 (compared to the 1990 level), an additional 10 percent by 2040, and achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. Given that Hungary emits 33 percent less CO2 than it did in 1990, the real cut would be seven percent in the next eight years and 17 percent in the next 20 years. The seven percent cut would be easily achieved with the phase-out of the lignite coal fired Matra Power Plant by 2025. Experts have noted that the plan to have Hungary cut the remaining 50 percent (to achieve carbon neutrality) in the 2040-2050 period is an ambitious goal. Although in December 2020, the GOH committed itself to the new EU goal (“Fit for 55”) of reducing carbon emissions by 55 percent by 2030, the details of achieving the more ambitious goal are to be worked out. The GOH estimates the total costs of Hungary achieving climate neutrality by 2050 at $145 billion.
Private sector contributions to reach the climate goals include increasing Hungary’s solar power capacity from the currently available more than 2000 MW to 6000 MW by 2030 and to 10,000 MW by 2040. In energy efficiency, the GOH’s aim is to limit Hungary’s total final energy demand on the 2005 level by 2030. To reach this goal, the GOH introduced a tax incentive for businesses investing into energy efficiency. Although the GOH strategies stress the great potential in decreasing the energy demand of households, so far there have been only limited efforts.
Despite the February 2021 ruling of the European Court of Justice saying that Hungary had “systematically and persistently” breached legal limits on air pollution, the GOH still has failed to take any efficient measures to deal with the problem. Although the GOH maintains an extensive system of national parks and nature reserves, there are no other government policies, or regulatory incentives helping to preserve biodiversity. The second National Climate Change Strategy adopted in 2018 contains the National Adaptation Strategy which is based on the climate vulnerability assessment of ecosystem and industrial sectors.
Although Hungary’s Public Procurement Act of 2015 allows the government to consider environmental and green growth aspects, the GOH has not yet issued a decree governing the detailed rules of green procurements. Hungary is one of the five EU member states without a national action plan on green public procurements according to the State Audit Office. In April 2021, Hungary’s Public Procurement Authority launched a sustainability working group and in September 2021 issued a Green Codex to provide some guidelines on green procurements.
The Hungarian Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Interior are responsible for combating corruption. Although a legal framework exists to support their efforts, critics have asserted that the government has done little to combat grand corruption and rarely investigates cases involving politically connected individuals, even when recommended to do so by the European Antifraud Office (OLAF). Hungary is a party to the UN Anticorruption Convention and the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention and has incorporated their provisions into the penal code, as well as subsequent OECD and EU requirements on the prevention of bribery. Parliament passed the Strasbourg Criminal Law Convention on Corruption of 2002 and the Strasbourg Civil Code Convention on Corruption of 2004. Hungary is a member of GRECO (Group of States against Corruption), an organization established by members of Council of Europe to monitor the observance of their standards for fighting corruption. GRECO’s reports on evaluation and compliance are confidential unless the Member State authorizes the publication of its report. For several years, the GOH has kept confidential GRECO’s most recent compliance reports on prevention of corruption with respect to members of parliament, judges, and prosecutors, and a report on transparency of party financing.
Following calls from the opposition, NGOs, and other GRECO Member States, and a March 2019 visit by senior GRECO officials to Budapest, the GOH agreed to publish the reports in August 2019. The reports revealed that Hungary failed to meet 13 out of 18 recommendations issued by GRECO in 2015; assessed that Hungary’s level of compliance with the recommendations was “globally unsatisfactory,” and concluded that the country would therefore remain subject to GRECO’s non-compliance procedure. The compliance report on transparency of party financing noted some progress but added that “the overall picture is disappointing.” A November 2020 GRECO report came to the same conclusion, adding that Hungary had made no progress since the prior year on implementing anticorruption recommendations for MPs, judges, and prosecutors.
In December 2016, the GOH withdrew its membership in the international anti-corruption organization the Open Government Partnership (OGP). Following a letter of concern by transparency watchdogs to OGP’s Steering Committee in summer 2015, OGP launched an investigation into Hungary and issued a critical report. The OGP admonished the GOH for its harassment of NGOs and urged it to take steps to restore transparency and to ensure a positive operating environment for civil society. The GOH, only the second Member State to be reprimanded by the organization, rejected the OGP report conclusions and withdrew from the organization.
In recent years, the GOH has amplified its attacks on NGOs including transparency watchdogs, accusing them of acting as foreign agents and criticizing them for allegedly working against Hungarian interests. Observers assess that this anti-NGO rhetoric endangered the continued operation of anti-corruption NGOs crucial to promoting transparency and good governance in Hungary. In 2017 and 2018, Parliament passed legislations that many civil society activists criticized for placing undue restrictions on NGOs. In its June 2018 and November 2021 rulings, the European Court of Justice found both legislations in conflict with EU law.
Transparency International (TI) is active in Hungary. TI’s 2021 Corruption Perceptions Index rated Hungary 73 out of 180 countries. Out of the 27 EU member states, Hungary ranked 26th, outperforming only Bulgaria. TI has noted that state institutions responsible for supervising public organizations were headed by people loyal to the ruling party, limiting their ability to serve as a check on the actions of the GOH. TI and other watchdogs note that data on public spending remains difficult to access since the GOH amended the Act on Freedom of Information in 2013 and 2015. Moreover, according to watchdogs and investigative journalists, the GOH, state agencies, and SOEs are increasingly reluctant to answer questions related to public spending, resulting in lengthy court procedures to receive answers to questions. Even if the court orders the release of data, by the time it happens, the data has lost significance and has a weaker impact, watchdogs warn. In some cases, even when ordered to provide information, state agencies and SOEs release data in nearly unusable or undecipherable formats.
U.S. firms – along with other investors – identify corruption as a significant problem in Hungary. According to the World Economic Forum’s 2017 Global Competitiveness Report, businesses considered corruption as the second most important obstacle to making a successful business in Hungary.
State corruption is also high on the list of EC concerns with Hungary. The European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) has found high levels of fraud in EU-funded projects in Hungary and has levied fines and withheld development funds on several occasions. Over the past few years, the EC has suspended payments of EU funds several times due to irregularities in Hungary’s procurement system.
TI and other anti-corruption watchdogs have highlighted EU-funded development projects as the largest source of corruption in Hungary. A TI study found indications of corruption and overpricing in up to 90 percent of EU-funded projects. Reports by Corruption Research Center (CRCB) from April and May 2020 found – after analyzing more than 240,000 public procurement contracts from 2005-2020 – that companies owned by individuals with links to senior government officials enjoy preferential treatment in public tenders and face less competition than other companies. The studies also revealed that the share of single-bidder public procurement contracts was over 40 percent in 2020, and that the corruption risk reached its highest level since 2005. In a March 2022 report CRCB found that in the 2011-2021 period, more than 20 percent of the EU-funded public contracts were won by 42 companies owned by 12 entrepreneurs closely affiliated with the government. In 2020, a year which was particularly difficult for many businesses because of the Covid-crisis, this small group of entrepreneurs won almost one-third of the EU-funded public tenders.
Hungary has legislation in place to combat corruption. Giving or accepting a bribe is a criminal offense, as is an official’s failure to report such an incident. Penalties can include confiscation of assets, imprisonment, or both. Since Hungary’s entry into the EU, legal entities can also be prosecuted. Legislation prohibits members of parliament from serving as executives of state-owned enterprises. An extensive list of public officials and many of their family members are required to make annual declarations of assets, but there is no specified penalty for making an incomplete or inaccurate declaration. It is common for prominent politicians to be forced to amend declarations of assets following revelations in the press of omission of ownership or part-ownership of real estate and other assets in asset declarations. Politicians are not penalized for these omissions.
Transparency advocates claim that Hungarian law enforcement authorities are often reluctant to prosecute cases with links to high-level politicians. For example, they reported that, in November 2018, Hungarian authorities dropped the investigation into $50 million in EU-funded public lighting tenders won by a firm co-owned by a relative of the prime minister, despite concerns raised by OLAF about evidence of conflict of interest and irregularities involving the deal. According to media reports, OLAF concluded that several of the tenders were won due to what it considered organized criminal activity. In December 2021, the Prosecutor General’s Office charged a senior government politician for accepting bribes to influence cases at the request of the president of the Court Bailiff Chamber. The senior government official resigned immediately but kept his position as an MP and was left at large for the time of the investigation.
Annual asset declarations for the family members of public officials are not public and only parliamentary committees can investigate them if there is a specified suspicion of fraud. Transparency watchdogs warn that this makes the system of asset declarations inefficient and easy to circumvent as politicians can hide assets and revenues in their family members’ names.
The Public Procurement Act of 2015 initially included broad conflict of interest rules on excluding family members of GOH officials from participating in public tenders, but Parliament later amended the law to exclude only family members living in the same household. While considered in line with the overarching EU directive, the law still leaves room for subjective evaluations of bid proposals and tender specifications to be tailored to favored companies.
While public procurement legislation is in place and complies with EU requirements, private companies and watchdog NGOs expressed concerns about pervasive corruption and favoritism in public procurements in Hungary. According to their criticism, public procurements in practice lack transparency and accountability and are characterized by uneven implementation of anti-corruption laws. Additionally, transparency NGOs calculate that government-allied firms have won a disproportionate percentage of public procurement awards. The business community and foreign governments share many of these concerns. Multinational firms have complained that competing in public procurements presents unacceptable levels of corruption and compliance risk. A 2019 European Commission study found that Hungary had the second-highest rate (40 percent) of one-bidder EU funded procurement contracts in the European Union. In addition, observers have raised concerns about the appointments of Fidesz party loyalists to head quasi-independent institutions such as the Competition Authority, the Media Council, and the State Audit Office. Because it is generally understood that companies without political connections are unlikely to win public procurement contracts, many firms lacking such connections do not bid or compete against politically connected companies.
The GOH does not require private companies to establish internal codes of conduct.
Generally, larger private companies and multinationals operating in Hungary have internal codes of ethics, compliance programs, or other controls, but their efficacy is not uniform.
Resources to Report Corruption
GOH Office Responsible for Combatting Corruption:
10. Political and Security Environment
The security environment is relatively stable. Politically motivated violence or civil disturbance is rare. Violent crime is low, with street crimes the most frequently reported crimes in the country. Political violence is not common in Hungary. The transition from communist authoritarianism to capitalist democracy was negotiated and peaceful, and free elections have been held consistently since 1990.
11. Labor Policies and Practices
Hungary’s civilian labor force of 4.7 million is highly educated and skilled. Literacy exceeds 98 percent and about two-thirds of the work force has completed secondary, technical, or vocational education. Hungary’s record low 3.3 percent unemployment rate at the end of 2019 increased to 3.8 percent in December 2021 as a result of the pandemic, but it is lower than the EU average of 7.3 percent. Hungary’s employment rate for the population aged 15-64 years was 73.9 percent in 2021, higher than the EU average of 68.3 percent. Hungary is particularly strong in engineering, medicine, economics, and science training, although emigration of Hungarians from these sectors to other EU member states has increased in recent years. In the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, out-migration temporarily declined but resumed during the second half of 2020.
Multinationals increasingly cite a skilled labor shortage as their biggest challenge in Hungary and note that Hungarian vocational institutions and universities need to adapt more quickly to changes in the marketplace. An increasing number of young people are attending U.S.- and European-affiliated business schools in Hungary. Foreign language skills, especially in English and German, are becoming more widespread, yet Hungary still has the lowest level of foreign language proficiency in the EU. According to 2018 data, only 37 percent of working-age Hungarians speak at least one foreign language, while the EU average is 66 percent.
As the unemployment rate has declined, certain sectors have begun to face shortages of skilled and highly educated employees. As Hungarians increasingly seek work abroad, shortages of highly educated and skilled labor are negatively affecting growth in certain regions and industries. In addition, declining OECD Program of International Student Assessment (PISA) scores may signal that the workforce is losing its ability to learn new skills and adapt to changing market conditions. The government is attempting to address labor shortage by increasing the minimum wage, offering retraining programs, incentivizing employment of young mothers and pensioners by lowering employer-paid welfare contributions, and reforming the education and vocational training system. Shortages of skilled workers, particularly in the IT, financial, and manufacturing sectors, are more acute in the northwest and central regions of the country. In the eastern half of the country, unemployment levels are above average, even though the cost of labor is lower. Wages in Hungary are still significantly lower than those in Western Europe, despite the recent increase in minimum wage. Average Hungarian labor productivity is lower than the EU average but exceeds that of other Central and Eastern European economies.
In 2016, the government, trade unions, and employer representatives signed a three-year agreement to increase the minimum wage for unskilled and skilled workers. The deal also included a more than 50-percent cut in the business tax for large companies from 19 percent to 9 percent as of 2017, as well as gradually lowering the payroll tax from 21.5 percent in 2016 by 2 percent each year, down to 15.5 percent as of July 2020, to offset increasing labor costs. In subsequent years the parties signed annual minimum wage agreements which increased the minimum wage by 8 percent in 2020, by 3.6 percent in 2021, and as of January 2022, by 20 percent. The GOH also facilitates the employment of workers from neighboring countries, primarily ethnic Hungarian minority communities in those countries. The GOH requires hiring of nationals in certain strategic sectors and some areas of public administration.
Labor law stipulates a severance payment in case of lay-off, as well as under certain conditions for an employee terminating a work contract. The government pays unemployment benefits for three months and offers the services of local employment offices. The GOH did not extend this benefit beyond the normal three months during the pandemic. Labor laws are uniform and there are no waivers available to attract or retain investment. Collective bargaining is increasingly common in large companies, education, public transport, retail, and medical services.
The 2012 changes to the Labor Law transferred some collective bargaining rights from trade unions to work councils (Although work councils have a similar mission to those of labor unions, each firm has its own work council, and thus lacks the collective reach of an industry-wide trade union). Hungary’s trade union membership rate is below 10 percent, while the EU average is 25 percent. About 20 percent of businesses have a collective bargaining agreement on labor conditions and benefits, well below the EU average of about 80 percent. During the COVID-19 pandemic the government passed regulations that allow businesses to unilaterally terminate collective bargaining agreements, which led to a few strikes, which have been resolved by negotiations. Beginning in 2021, the GOH decreased state support to trade unions and implemented budget changes to allow discretional funding to each trade union, which replaced the previously uniform system. Hungary has ratified all eight International Labor Organization (ILO) core conventions.
Labor dispute resolution includes mediation as well as court procedures. Employees, however, typically agree with employers outside court or mediation procedures. In 2019, a six-day strike at Audi Hungary was resolved with an agreement between employers and employees for a 15- to 20-percent wage increase. The success of this high-profile strike has led to a series of short-term strikes, or threats of strikes, at other companies. Most of these strikes have been resolved quickly with wage increase concessions from management and changes in overtime payment and conditions. All recent strikes have been peaceful and complied with Hungarian labor laws.
Hungary has been a member of the ILO since 1955. Hungary’s labor law and practice are in line with international labor standards. Discussions between the ILO and the GOH are ongoing on certain provisions of the 2012 modification of Hungary’s labor law, including the freedom of expression, registration of trade unions, and minimum level of public service in case of strike.
Hungary passed amendments to its Labor Code in December 2018 that increased the amount of overtime an employer can request and gives employers up to three years to reconcile and pay for overtime. These highly unpopular changes led to a series of large protests throughout Hungary and currently are being reviewed by the European Commission. As a part of its COVID-19 economic response plan, the government decreed in 2020 that employers can implement flexible working hours and a 24-month working time frame to calculate overtime without prior agreement from the employee or union. Local labor organizations complained that the move rolled back hard-won concessions from the 2018 labor reform and that certain businesses abuse overtime possibilities to compensate for shutdowns during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The constitution and laws prohibit discrimination based on race, sex, gender, disability, language, sexual orientation and gender identity, infection with HIV or other communicable diseases, or social status. The labor code provides for the principles of equal treatment. The government failed to enforce these regulations effectively. Penalties were not commensurate with those under laws related to civil rights.
Observers asserted that discrimination in employment and occupation occurred with respect to Roma, women, persons with disabilities, and LGBTQI+ persons. According to NGOs, there was economic discrimination against women in the workplace, particularly against job seekers older than 50 and those who were pregnant or had returned from maternity leave. The country does not mandate equal pay for equal work. A government decree requires companies with more than 25 employees to reserve 5 percent of their work positions for persons with physical or mental disabilities. While the decree provides fines for noncompliance, many employers generally paid the fines rather than employ persons with disabilities. The National Tax and Customs Authority issued “rehabilitation cards” to persons with disabilities, which granted tax benefits for employers employing such individuals.
Roma were the country’s largest ethnic minority. According to the 2011 census, approximately 315,000 persons (3 percent of the population) identified themselves as Roma. A University of Debrecen study published in 2018, however, estimated there were 876,000 Roma in the country, or approximately 9 percent of the country’s population. There were approximately 1,300 de facto segregated settlements in the country where Roma constituted the majority of the population. Romani communities are not socially integrated with broader Hungarian society and are characterized by considerably lower indicators on most socioeconomic measures than the majority population. Conditions for the community deteriorated since the collapse of communism in 1989-90 but were rooted in centuries of social exclusion. Lacking advanced education and employment skills, many Roma occupied the margins of society and experienced long-term unemployment, which bred a cycle of poverty and welfare dependence.
14. Contact for More Information
U.S. Embassy Political and Economic Section
Szabadsag Ter 12
1054 Budapest, Hungary
+36 1 475 4400