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Hungary

Executive Summary

With a population of 9.7 million, Hungary has an open economy and GDP of approximately $61 billion.  Hungary has been a member of the European Union (EU) since 2004, and fellow member states are its most important trade and investment partners in addition to the United States. Foreign direct investment (FDI) from Asian sources has increased in the past decade, accounting for about five percent of the total FDI stock in 2019 and over a third 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. In 2020, however, Hungary’s GDP decreased by 5.1 percent. As the Government of Hungary (GOH) increased spending to support the economy and other priorities, the 2020 budget deficit reached approximately nine percent of GDP, which pushed up public debt to over 80 percent of GDP. Ratings agencies in 2020 maintained Hungary’s sovereign debt at BBB, two notches above investment grade, with a stable outlook. In 2020, the Finance Ministry forecasted 5 to 5.5 percent economic growth and a 6.5 percent budget deficit for 2021.

Hungary’s central location in Europe and high-quality infrastructure have 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. The GOH actively encourages investments in manufacturing and sectors promising high added value and/or employment, including research and development, defense, and service centers.  To promote investment, the GOH lowered the corporate tax rate to nine percent in 2017, among the lowest rates in the EU. Hungary’s Value-Added Tax (VAT), however, is the highest in Europe at 27 percent.

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 sector. According to Transparency International’s (TI) 2020 Corruption Perceptions Index, Hungary placed 69th worldwide and tied with two other countries for 25th place out of 27 EU member states.  In 2016, the GOH withdrew from the Open Government Partnership (OGP), a transparency-focused international organization, after refusing to address the organization’s concerns about transparency and good governance. Both foreign and domestic investors report pressure to sell their businesses to government-affiliated investors.  Those who refuse to sell claim they face increased tax audits or spurious regulatory and court challenges.

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. Observers note that through various tax changes the GOH has pushed several foreign-owned banks out of Hungary. The GOH has claimed it has increased 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 the end of 2019. Foreign media ownership also has decreased drastically in recent years 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.

As part of its COVID-19 pandemic response, the Parliament passed state of emergency (SOE) legislation in March and November 2020 that gave the GOH broad authority to bypass Parliament and govern by decree. The first SOE law did not have a sunset clause and remained in effect until June 2020 when the GOH repealed it. The GOH passed a second SOE law in November, this time for a 90-day period. Following the expiration of the 90-day term, the Parliament extended the SOE for another 90 days in February 2021. As part of the emergency measures, the GOH also extended measures for national security screening of foreign investments from December 31, 2020, until June 30, 2021, and may further extend this deadline.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2020 69 of 180 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview
World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2020 52 of 190 http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings
Global Innovation Index 2020 35 of 131 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions) 2019 6,114 USD Amount https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/
World Bank GNI per capita 2019 16,500USD amount http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

Policies Towards Foreign Direct Investment

Hungary maintains an open economy and its high-quality infrastructure and central location in Europe attract foreign investment. The GOH actively promotes Hungary to attract FDI, in manufacturing and export-oriented sectors. According to some reports, however, government policies have resulted in some foreign investors selling their stakes to the government or state-owned enterprises in other sectors, including banking and energy.  In 2019, net annual FDI amounted to $5.2 billion, and total gross FDI totaled $97.8 billion.

As a bloc, the EU accounts for approximately 89 percent of all FDI in Hungary in terms of direct investors, and 62 percent in terms of ultimate controlling parent investor.  In terms of ultimate investor – i.e., country of origin – the United States was the second largest investor after Germany in 2019. In terms of direct investor location, Germany was the largest investor, followed by the Netherlands, Austria, Luxembourg, and then the United States. The majority of U.S. investment falls within the automotive, software development, and life sciences sectors.  Approximately 450 U.S. companies maintain a presence in Hungary. According to Hungarian Investment Promotion Agency (HIPA) data, U.S. foreign direct investment produced more jobs in Hungary in 2020 than investment from any other country.

Total, cumulative FDI from Asian sources has approximately doubled since 2010, accounting for over five percent of total FDI stock in 2019. South Korea made several major new investments in the manufacturing sector in 2019. According to HIPA, South Korea, Japan, China, India, and other Asian countries accounted for about 40 percent of the value of new foreign investment projects in Hungary in 2020.

The GOH has implemented a number of tax changes to increase Hungary’s regional competitiveness and attract investment, including a reduction of the personal income tax rate to 15 percent in 2016, the corporate income tax rate to 9 percent in 2017, and the gradual reduction of the employer-paid welfare contribution from 27 percent in 2016 to 15.5 percent in 2020.  As of 2016, the GOH streamlined the National Tax and Customs authority (NAV) procedure to offer fast-track VAT refunds to customers categorized as “low-risk.”

Many foreign companies have expressed displeasure with the unpredictability of Hungary’s tax regime, its retroactive nature, slow response times, and the volume of legal and tax changes.  According to the European Commission (EC), a series of progressively-tiered taxes implemented in 2014 disproportionately penalized foreign businesses in the telecommunications, tobacco, retail, media, and advertisement industries, while simultaneously favoring Hungarian companies.  Following EC infringement procedures, the GOH phased out most discriminatory tax rates by 2015 and replaced them with flat taxes. Another 2014 law required retail companies with over $53 million in annual sales to close if they report two consecutive years of losses.  Retail businesses claimed the GOH specifically set the threshold to target large foreign retail chains.  The EC likewise determined that the law was discriminatory and launched an infringement procedure in 2016, leading the GOH to repeal the law in November 2018.

In 2017, the GOH passed a regulation that gives the government preemptive rights to purchase real estate in World Heritage areas.  The rule has been used to block the purchase of real estate by foreign investors in the most desirable areas of Budapest. In April 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic, the GOH issued a decree that levied sector-specific taxes on the banking and retail sectors to fund crisis economic support. This progressive tax on retail grocery outlets is structured such that it applies mainly to large foreign retail firms.

In April 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic, the GOH issued a decree that levied sector-specific taxes on the banking and retail sectors to fund crisis economic support. This progressive tax on retail grocery outlets is structured such that it applies mainly to large foreign retail firms.

The GOH publicly declared its intention to reduce foreign ownership in the banking sector in 2012. Accordingly, various GOH initiatives have reduced foreign ownership from about 70 percent in 2008 to 40.5 percent by the end of 2020. These initiatives included a 2010 bank tax; a 2012 financial transaction tax levied on all cash withdrawals; and regulations enacted between 2012-2015 that obligated banks to retroactively compensate borrowers for interest rate increases on foreign currency-denominated mortgage loans, even though these increases were spelled out in the original contracts with customers and had been permitted by Hungarian law.

While the pharmaceutical industry is competitive and profitable in Hungary, multinational enterprises complain of numerous financial and procedural obstacles, including high taxes on pharmaceutical products and operations, prescription directives that limit a doctor’s choice of drugs, and obscure tender procedures that negatively affect the competitiveness of certain drugs.  Pharmaceutical firms have also taken issue with GOH policies to weigh the cost of pharmaceutical procurement as heavily as efficacy when issuing tenders for public procurement.

The Hungarian Investment Promotion Agency (HIPA), under the authority of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, encourages and supports inbound FDI.  HIPA offers company and sector-specific consultancy, recommends locations for investment, acts as a mediator between large international companies and Hungarian firms to facilitate supplier relationships, organizes supplier training, and maintains active contact with trade associations.  Its services are available to all investors. For more information, see:  https://hipa.hu/main .

Foreign investors generally report a productive dialogue with the government, both individually and through business organizations.  The American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham) enjoys an ongoing high-level dialogue with the GOH and the government has adopted many AmCham policy recommendations in recent years.  In 2017, the government established a Competitiveness Council, now chaired by the Minister of Finance, which includes representatives from multinationals, chambers of commerce, and other stakeholders, to increase Hungary’s competitiveness.  Many U.S. and foreign investors have signed MOUs with the GOH to facilitate one-on-one discussions and resolutions to any pending issues. The GOH has regularly consulted foreign businesses and business associations as it has developed economic support measures during the pandemic. For more information, see:  https://kormany.hu/kulgazdasagi-es-kulugyminiszterium/strategiai-partnersegi-megallapodasok  and  https://www.amcham.hu/ .

The U.S.-Hungary Business Council (USHBC) – a private, non-profit organization established in 2016 – aims to facilitate and maintain dialogue between American corporate executives and top government leaders on the U.S.-Hungary commercial relationship.  The majority of significant U.S. investors in Hungary have joined USHBC, which hosts roundtables, policy conferences, briefings, and other major events featuring senior U.S. and Hungarian officials, academics, and business leaders. For more information, see:  https://www.us-hungarybusinesscouncil.com/ .

Limits on Foreign Control and Right to Private Ownership and Establishment

Foreign ownership is permitted with the exception of some “strategic” sectors including farmland and defense-related industries, which require special government permits.  As part of its economic measures during the COVID-19 pandemic, the GOH passed a decree which requires foreign investors to seek approval for foreign investments in Hungary.

Foreign law firms and auditing companies must sign a cooperation agreement with a Hungarian company to provide services on Hungarian legal or auditing issues. According to the Land Law, only private Hungarian citizens or EU citizens resident in Hungary with a minimum of three years of experience working in agriculture or holding a degree in an agricultural discipline can purchase farmland.  Eligible individuals are limited to purchasing 300 hectares (741 acres). All others may only lease farmland. Non-EU citizens and legal entities are not allowed to purchase agricultural land. All farmland purchases must be approved by a local land committee and Hungarian authorities, and local farmers and young farmers must be offered a right of first refusal before a new non-local farmer is allowed to purchase the land.  For legal entities and those who do not fulfill the above requirements , the law allows the lease of farmland up to 1200 hectares for a maximum of 20 years. The GOH has invalidated any pre-existing leasing contract provisions that guaranteed the lessee the first option to purchase, provoking criticism from Austrian farmers. Austria has reported the change to the European Commission, which initiated an infringement procedure against Hungary in 2014.  In March 2018, the European Court of Justice ruled that the termination of land use contracts violated EU rules, opening the way for EU citizens who lost their land use rights to sue the GOH for damages. In 2015, the EC launched another – still ongoing – infringement procedure against Hungary concerning its restrictions on acquisitions of farmland.

The GOH passed a national security law on investment screening in 2018 that requires foreign investors seeking to acquire more than a 25-percent stake in a Hungarian company in certain sensitive sectors (defense, intelligence services, certain financial services, electric energy, gas, water utility, and electronic information systems for governments) to seek approval from the Interior Ministry.  The Ministry has up to 60 days to issue an opinion and can only deny the investment if it determines that the investment is designed to conceal an activity other than normal economic activity. In 2020, as part of the measures to mitigate the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the GOH passed an additional regulation requiring foreign investors to seek approval from the Ministry of Innovation and Technology (MIT) for greenfield or expansion of existing investments.

On April 6, Hungary’s Ministry of Interior (MOI) blocked an Austria’s Vienna Insurance Group from buying Dutch insurer Aegon’s Hungarian subsidiary, scuttling a four-country acquisition. The GOH granted the specific power to block this type of sale to the MOI in November 2020 under emergency COVID-related legislation, just one day before the parties agreed to the sale, after months of open negotiations.

Other Investment Policy Reviews

Hungary has not had any third-party investment policy reviews in the last three years.

Business Facilitation

In 2006, Hungary joined the EU initiative to create a European network of “point of single contact” through which existing businesses and potential investors can access all information on the business and legal environment, as well as connect to Hungary’s investment promotion agency.  In recent years, the government has strengthened investor relations, signed strategic agreements with key investors, and established a National Competitiveness Council to formulate measures to increase Hungary’s economic competitiveness.

The registration of business enterprises is compulsory in Hungary.  Firms must contract an attorney and register online with the Court of Registration.  Registry courts must process applications to register limited liability and joint-enterprise companies within 15 workdays, but the process usually does not take more than three workdays.  If the Court fails to act within the given timeframe, the new company is automatically registered. If the company chooses to use a template corporate charter, registration can be completed in a one-day fast track procedure.  Registry courts provide company information to the Tax Authority (NAV), eliminating the need for separate registration. The Court maintains a computerized registry and electronic filing system and provides public access to company information.  The minimum capital requirement for a limited-liability company is HUF 3,000,000 ($10,800); for private limited companies HUF 5,000,000 ($17,900), and for public limited companies HUF 20,000,000 ($71,400). Foreign individuals or companies can establish businesses in Hungary without restrictions.

Further information on business registration and the business registry can be obtained at the GOH’s information website for businesses:  http://eugo.gov.hu/starting-business-hungary  or at the Ministry of Justice’s Company Information Service:  https://ceginformaciosszolgalat.kormany.hu/elektronikus-cegeljaras , and the Tax Authority https://en.nav.gov.hu/taxation/registration/specific_rules.html .

Hungarian business facilitation mechanisms provide equitable treatment for women. They offer no special preference or assistance for them in establishing a company.

Outward Investment

The stock of total Hungarian investment abroad amounted to $36.8 billion in 2019.  Outward investment is mainly in manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, services, finance and insurance, and science and technology.  There is no restriction in place for domestic investors to invest abroad. The GOH announced in early 2019 that it would like to increase Hungarian investment abroad and it is considering incentives to promote such investment.

3. Legal Regime

Transparency of the Regulatory System

Generally, legal, regulatory, and accounting systems are consistent with international and EU standards.  However, some executives in Hungarian subsidiaries of U.S. companies express concerns about a lack of transparency in the GOH’s policy-making process and an uneven playing field in public tendering.  In recent years, there has been an uptick in the number of companies, including major U.S. multinational franchises and foreign owners of major infrastructure, reporting pressure to sell their businesses to government-affiliated investors.  Those that refuse to sell report an increase in tax audits, fines, and spurious regulatory challenges and court cases. SMEs increasingly report a desire to either remain small (and therefore “under the radar” of these government-affiliated investors) or relocate their businesses outside of Hungary.

For foreign investors, the most relevant regulations stem from EU directives and the laws passed by Parliament to implement them.  Laws in Parliament can be found on Parliament’s website (https://www.parlament.hu/en/web/house-of-the-national-assembly).  Legislation, once passed, is published in a legal gazette and available online at  www.magyarkozlony.hu .  The GOH can issue decrees, which also have national scope, but they cannot be contrary to laws enacted by Parliament.  Local municipalities can create local decrees, limited to the local jurisdiction.

As a result of the COVID-19 crisis, in March 2020, the Parliament passed a bill that established an indefinite state of emergency (SOE) in Hungary, allowing the GOH to govern by decree without parliamentary approval. The GOH used this decree to levy new sector-specific taxes, to take control of a Hungarian company that had been in an ownership dispute with the GOH, and to reallocate competencies and tax collection duties from an opposition-led municipality to a county-level body led by the ruling Fidesz party. The GOH did not include a sunset clause for the SOE – which resulted in criticism from foreign governments and domestic opposition parties – but repealed it in June 2020. During the second wave of the epidemic , the GOH passed separate SOE legislation with a 90-day sunset clause in November 2020 and extended it for another 90 days in February 2021. Interested investors are encouraged to contact Embassy points of contact for the most up-to-date information.

Hungarian financial reporting standards are in line with the International Accounting Standards and the EU Fourth and Seventh Directives.  The accounting law requires all businesses to prepare consolidated financial statements on an annual basis in accordance with international financial standards.

The GOH rarely invites interested parties to comment on draft legislation.  Civil society organizations have complained about a loophole in the current law that allows individual Members of Parliament to submit legislation and amendments without public consultation.  The average deadline for submitting public comment is often very short, usually less than one week. The Act on Legislation and the Law Soliciting Public Opinion, both passed by Parliament in 2010, govern the public consultation process.  The laws require the GOH to publish draft laws on its webpage and to give adequate time for all interested parties to give an opinion on the draft. However, implementation is not uniform and the GOH often fails to solicit public comments on proposed legislation.

The legislation process – including key regulatory actions related to laws – are published on the Parliament’s webpage.  Explanations attached to draft bills include a short summary on the aim of the legislation, but regulators only occasionally release public comments.

Regulatory enforcement mechanisms include the county and district level government offices, whose decisions can be challenged at county-level courts.  The court system generally provides efficient oversight of the GOH’s administrative processes.

The GOH does not review regulations on the basis of formal scientific or data-driven assessments, but some NGOs and academics do.  A 2017 study by Corruption Research Center Budapest (CRCB) found that in the 2010-2013 period the annual average number of new laws passed by Parliament increased, while the average time spent debating new laws in Parliament decreased significantly.  Their analysis assessed that the accelerating lawmaking process in Hungary in the 2010-2013 period had negative effects on the stability of the legal environment and the overall quality of legislation.

Hungary’s budget was widely accessible to the general public, including online through the Parliament and Finance Ministry websites and the Legal Gazette.  The government made budget documents, including the executive budget proposal, the enacted budget, and the end-of-year report publicly available within a reasonable period of time.  Modifications to a current budget, which in 2020 were quite substantial because of the pandemic, are not consolidated with the initial budget law and do not include economic analysis of the effects of those modifications. Information on debt obligations was publicly available, including online through the Hungarian Central Bank ( https://www.mnb.hu/en ) and Hungarian State Debt Manager’s (https://akk.hu/ ) websites.

International Regulatory Considerations

As an EU Member State, all EU regulations are directly applicable in Hungary, even without further domestic measures.  If a Hungarian law is contrary to EU legislation, the EU rule takes precedence. As a whole, labor, environment, health, and safety laws are consistent with EU regulations.  Hungary follows EU foreign trade and investment policy, and all trade regulations follow EU legislation. Hungary participates in the WTO as an EU Member State.

Legal System and Judicial Independence

The Hungarian legal system is based on continental European (German-French and Roman law) traditions.  Contracts are enforced by ordinary courts or – if stipulated by contract – arbitration centers. Investors in Hungary can agree with their partners to turn to Hungarian or foreign arbitration courts.

Apart from these arbitration centers, there are no specialized courts for commercial cases; ordinary courts are entitled to judge any kind of civil case.  The Civil Code of 2013 applies to civil contracts.

The Hungarian judicial system includes four tiers: district courts (formerly referred to as local courts); courts of justice (formerly referred to as county courts); courts of appeal; and the Curia (the Hungarian Supreme Court).  Hungary also has a Constitutional Court that reviews cases involving the constitutionality of laws and court rulings. Following Parliament’s passage of a bill on changes in the court system in December 2019, in April 2020 public administration and labor courts were dissolved, and first-level public administration and labor cases were transferred to county-level courts of justice. Although the current COVID-19 SOE law does not cover the court system, the GOH issued a decree in March 2020 on the operation of the courts to protect the health of court employees and customers. According to guidelines issued by the National Judicial Office in November 2020, individual access to court buildings is limited; those participating in court sessions need to follow social distancing rules and wear masks; and clients are encouraged to submit documents in electronic form.

Although the GOH has criticized court decisions on several occasions, ordinary courts are considered to generally operate independently under largely fair and reliable judicial procedures.  Recently, an increasing number of current and former judges have raised concerns about growing GOH influence over the court system and intimidation of judges by court administration. The European Commission’s 2020 Rule of Law Report, issued in September 2020, cited judicial independence in Hungary as a source of concern. Most business complaints about the court system pertain to the lengthy proceedings rather than the fairness of the verdicts.  The GOH has said it hopes to improve the speed and efficiency of court proceedings with an updated Civil Procedure Code that entered into force in January 2018.

Regulations and law enforcement actions pertaining to investors are appealable at ordinary courts or at the Constitutional Court.

Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment

Hungarian law protects property and investment.  The Hungarian state may expropriate property only in exceptional cases where there is a public interest; any such expropriations must be carried out in a lawful way, and the GOH is obliged to make immediate and full restitution for any expropriated property, without additional stipulations or conditions.

The GOH passed a national secuirty law on investment screening in 2018 that requires foreign investors seeking to acquire more than a 25 percent stake in a Hungarian company in certain “sensitive sectors” (defense, intelligence services, certain financial services, electric energy, gas, water utility, and electronic information systems for governments) to seek approval from the Interior Ministry.  (Please see above section on limits on foreign control for more details).

There is no primary website or “one-stop shop” which compiles all relevant laws, rules, procedures, and reporting requirements for investors.  The Hungarian Investment Promotion Agency (HIPA), however, facilitates establishment of businesses and provides guidance on relevant legislation.

Competition and Antitrust Laws

The Hungarian Competition Authority, tasked with safeguarding the public interest, enforces the provisions of the Hungarian Competition Act.  Since EU accession in 2004, EU competition law also binds Hungary. The Competition Authority is empowered to investigate suspected violations of competition law, order changes to practices, and levy fines and penalties.  According to the Authority, since 2010 the number of competition cases has decreased, but they have become more complex. Out of more than 60 cases over the past year, only a few minor cases pertained to U.S.-owned companies.  Hungarian law does not consider conflict of interest to be a criminal offense. Citing evidence of conflict of interest and irregularities, the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) recommended opening a criminal investigation into a high-profile USD 50 million EU-funded public procurement project, but Hungarian authorities declined to prosecute the case.

Expropriation and Compensation

Hungary’s Constitution provides protection against uncompensated expropriation, nationalization, and any other arbitrary action by the GOH except in cases of threat to national security.  In such cases, immediate and full compensation is to be provided to the owner. There are no known expropriation cases where the GOH has discriminated against U.S. investments, companies, or representatives.  There have been some complaints from other foreign investors within the past several years that expropriations have been improperly executed, without proper remuneration. Parties involved in these cases turned to the domestic legal system for dispute settlement.

There is no recent history of official GOH expropriations, but many critics raised concerns that the 2014 tobacco and advertising taxes were an indirect expropriation attempt because they disproportionately targeted foreign firms with the apparent intent to force them to seek a buy-out from a domestic firm.  The GOH reversed these taxes in response to a 2015 European Commission injunction. Increasing reports of the use of government regulatory and tax agencies to pressure businesses to sell to government-affiliated investors has also raised concerns.

Dispute Settlement

ICSID Convention and New York Convention

Hungary is a signatory to the International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID Convention), proclaimed in Hungary by Law 27 of 1978.  Hungary also is a signatory to the UN Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (1958 New York Convention), proclaimed in Hungary by Law 25 of 1962. There is not specific legislation providing for enforcement other than the two domestic laws proclaiming the New York and ICSID Conventions.  According to Law 71 of 1994, an arbitration court decision is equally binding to that of a court ruling.

Investor-State Dispute Settlement

Hungary is signatory to the 1965 Washington Convention establishing the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) and to UN’s 1958 New York Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards.  Under the New York Convention, Hungary recognizes and enforces rulings of the International Chamber of Commerce’s International Court of Arbitration.

Hungary shares no Bilateral Investment Treaty or Free Trade Agreement with the United States.  Since 2000 Hungary has been the respondent in some 16 known investor-State arbitration claims , although none of these involve U.S. investors.

Local courts recognize and enforce foreign arbitral awards against the GOH.

International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts

In the last few years, parties have increasingly turned to mediation as a means to settle disputes without engaging in lengthy court procedures.  Law 71 of 1994 on domestic arbitration procedures is based on the UNCITRAL model law.

Investment dispute settlement clauses are frequently included in investment contract between the foreign enterprise and GOH.  Hungarian law allows the parties to set the jurisdiction of any courts or arbitration centers. The parties can also agree to set up an ad hoc arbitration court.  The law also allows investors to agree on settling investment disputes by turning to foreign arbitration centers, such as the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID), UNCITRAL’s Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA), or the Vienna International Arbitral Centre.  In Hungary, foreign parties can turn to the Hungarian Chamber of Commerce and Industry arbitration court, which has its own rules of proceedings ( https://mkik.hu/en/court-of-arbitration ) and in financial issues to the Financial and Capital Market’s arbitration court. Local courts recognize and enforce foreign or domestic arbitral awards.  An arbitral ruling may only be annulled in limited cases, and under special conditions.

Domestic courts do not favor State-owned enterprises (SOEs) disproportionately.  Investors can expect a fair trial even if SOEs are involved and in case of an unfavorable ruling, may elevate the case to the European Court of Justice (ECJ).  Investors do not generally complain about non-transparent or discriminatory court procedures.

Bankruptcy Regulations

The Act on Bankruptcy Procedures, Liquidation Procedures, and Final Settlement of 1991, covers all commercial entities with the exception of banks (which have their own regulatory statutes), trusts, and State-owned enterprises, and brought Hungarian legislation in line with EU regulations.  Debtors can initiate bankruptcy proceedings only if they have not sought bankruptcy protection within the previous three years. Within 90 days of seeking bankruptcy protection, the debtor must call a settlement conference to which all creditors are invited. Majority consent of the creditors present is required for all settlements.  If agreement is not reached, the court can order liquidation. The Bankruptcy Act establishes the following priorities of claims to be paid: 1) liquidation costs; 2) secured debts; 3) claims of the individuals; 4) social security and tax obligations; 5) all other debts. Creditors may request the court to appoint a trustee to perform an independent financial examination.  The trustee has the right to challenge, based on conflict of interest, any contract concluded within 12 months preceding the bankruptcy.

The debtor, the creditors, the administrator, or the Criminal Court may file liquidation procedures with the court.  Once a petition is filed, regardless of who filed it, the Court notifies the debtor by sending a copy of the petition.  The debtor has eight days to acknowledge insolvency. If the insolvency is acknowledged, the company declares if any respite for the settlement of debts is requested.  Failure to respond results in the presumption of insolvency. Upon request, the Court may allow up to of 30 days for the debtor to settle the debt.

If the Court finds the debtor insolvent, it appoints a liquidator.  Transparency International (TI) has raised concerns about the transparency of the liquidation process because a company may not know that a creditor is filing a liquidation petition until after the fact.  TI also criticized the lack of accountability of liquidator companies and what it considers unusually short deadlines in the process. The EU has also criticized the Hungarian system as being creditor-unfriendly, since bankruptcy proceedings typically only recover 44 cents on the dollar, compared to the OECD average of 71 cents on the dollar.

Bankruptcy in itself is not criminalized, unless it is made in a fraudulent way, deliberately, and in bad faith to prevent the payment of debts.

Law 122 of 2011 obliges banks and credit institutions to establish and maintain the Central Credit Information System to assess creditworthiness of businesses and individuals to facilitate prudent lending ( http://www.bisz.hu ).

4. Industrial Policies

Investment Incentives

Hungary has a well-developed incentive system for investors, the cornerstone of which is a special incentive package for investments over a certain value (typically over EUR 10 million or $11 million).  The incentives are designed to benefit investors who establish manufacturing facilities, logistics facilities, regional service centers, R&D facilities, and bioenergy facilities, or those who make tourism industry investments.  Incentive packages may consist of cash subsidies, development tax allowances, training subsidies, and job creation subsidies. The incentive system is compliant with EU regulations on competition and state aid and is administered by the Hungarian Investment Promotion Agency (HIPA) and managed by the Ministry of Innovation and Technology (MIT) and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT). The government provides non-refundable subsidies to foreign investments in less developed areas and certain sectors including research and development, innovation, and high-tech manufacturing, based on case-by-case government decisions. In 2020, the GOH extended additional incentives or support to foreign investments as part of its economic response to the pandemic. For more information please see: https://hipa.hu/tovabbi-kedvezo-modositasok-a-vissza-nem-teritendo-tamogatasi-rendszerben .

Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation

Foreign trade zones were eliminated as a result of EU accession.

Performance and Data Localization Requirements

Hungary does not mandate the hiring of local employees. The number of work permits issued for third-country nationals is limited by law, but in recent years, this limit was well above the actual number of registered third-country employees.  Residency and work permits are issued by the Immigration Office and the local labor offices.

As of 2019, for investments in certain strategic sectors including the military, intelligence, public utilities, financial services, and electronic information systems, the Ministry of Interior issues investment permits, and in other key sectors, the Ministry for Innovation and Technology.  There are no laws in place requiring the fulfilment of special labor force related conditions to get investment permits. However, in certain cases, the GOH has established retention of workforce as a condition to award state grants to investors.

Hungary has no forced data localization policy.  Foreign IT providers do not need to turn over source code or provide access to encryption.  Hungary follows EU rules on transfer of personal data outside the economy. Storage of personal data is regulated by a data protection law and falls under the authority of a Data Protection Ombudsman.

There are no general performance requirements for investors in Hungary.  However, investors may receive government subsidies in the event they meet certain performance criteria, such as job creation or investment minimums, which are available to all enterprises registered in Hungary and are applied on a systematic basis.  To comply with EU rules, the GOH no longer grants tax holidays based on investment volume. There is no requirement that investors must purchase from local sources, but the EU Rule of Origin applies. Investors are not required to disclose proprietary information to the GOH as part of the regulatory process.

Hungary, as an EU Member State, follows the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) on transmitting data outside of the EU and local data storage requirements.  The National Authority for Data Protection and Freedom of Information is responsible for enforcing GDPR rules.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Real Property

Hungary maintains a reliable land registry, which provides public information for anyone on the ownership, mortgage, and usufruct rights of a real estate or land parcel.  Secured interests in property (mortgages), both moveable and real, are recognized and enforced but there is no title insurance in Hungary.

According to the Land Law of 2013, only private Hungarian citizens or EU citizens resident in Hungary with a minimum of three years of experience in agriculture, or holding a degree in an agricultural field, can purchase farmland.  The law allows the lease of farmland up to 1200 hectares for a maximum of 20 years. There is no restriction for purchase or lease of non-farmland properties.

Hungarian law allows acquisitive prescription for unoccupied real property if the user of the property occupies it continuously for at least 15 years.

According to the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Report, in 2020, Hungary ranked 29th in the world on the ease of registering property. Real estate and land purchase contracts must be countersigned by an attorney registered in Hungary.

Intellectual Property Rights

Hungary has an adequate legal structure for protecting intellectual property rights (IPR), although it lacks deterrent-level sentences for civil and criminal IPR infringement cases.  There has been no new major IPR legislation passed over the last year. According to some representatives of the pharmaceutical and software industries, enforcement could be improved if the Prosecutor General’s Office were to establish specialized IPR units.  The most common IPR violations in Hungary include the sale of imported counterfeit goods, including pharmaceuticals and Internet-based piracy. Most counterfeit goods sold in Hungary are of Chinese origin.

Hungary acceded to the European Patent Convention in 2003 and has accordingly amended the Hungarian Patent Act.  Hungary is a party to the World Trade Organization’s (WTO’s) Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) and many other major international IPR agreements, including some administered by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), such as the Berne Convention, the Paris Convention, the WIPO Copyright Treaty, and the WIPO Performance and Phonograms Treaty.  As an EU Member State, Hungary is required to implement EU Directives and so is party to the EU Information Society Directive and EU Enforcement Directive, among others.

The United States and Hungary signed a Comprehensive Bilateral Intellectual Property Rights Agreement in 1993 that addresses copyright, trademarks, and patent protection.

In 2010, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) and the Hungarian Intellectual Property Office (HIPO) launched a pilot program to facilitate patent recognition between the United States and Hungary.  Due to the pilot’s success, in 2012 the USPTO and HIPO signed a Memorandum of Understanding to further streamline and expedite bilateral patent recognition. More details about this Patent Processing Highway (PPH) program can be found on HIPO’s website at  www.hipo.gov.hu/English/szabadalom/pph/ .

Hungary is not included in the U.S. Trade Representative’s (USTR’s) Special 301 Report or the Notorious Markets List.

For additional information about treaty obligations and points of contact at local IP offices, please see WIPO’s country profiles at  http://www.wipo.int/directory/en/ .

Resources for Rights Holders

Embassy Point of Contact for IPR issues:

Christopher Hallett
Economic Officer
HallettCJ@state.gov

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

The Hungarian financial system offers a full range of financial services with an advanced information technology infrastructure.  The Hungarian Forint (HUF) has been fully convertible since 2001, and both Hungarian financial market and capital market transactions are fully liberalized.  The Capital Markets Act of 2001 sets out rules on securities issues, including the conversion and marketing of securities. As of 2007, separate regulations were passed on the activities of investment service providers and commodities brokers (2007), on Investment Fund Managing Companies (2011), as well as on Collective Investments (2014), providing more sophisticated legislation than those in the Capital Markets Act.  These changes aimed to create a regulatory environment where free and available equity easily matches with the best investment opportunities. The 2016 modification of the Civil Code removed remaining obstacles to promote collection of public investments in the course of establishing a public limited company.

The  Budapest Stock Exchange (BSE)  re-opened in 1990 as the first post-communist stock exchange in the Central and Eastern European region.  Since 2010, the BSE has been a member of the Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) Stock Exchange Group. In 2013, the internationally recognized trading platform Xetra replaced the previous trading system.  Currently, the BSE has 40 members and 62 issuers. The issued securities are typically shares, investment notes, certificates, corporate bonds, mortgage bonds, government bonds, treasury bills, and derivatives.  In 2021, the BSE had a market capitalization of $28.3 billion, and the average monthly equity turnover volume amounted to $2.1 billion. The most traded shares are OTP Bank, Gedeon Richter, MOL, Magyar Telekom, and Masterplast

Financial resources flow freely into the product and factor markets.  In line with IMF rules, international currency transactions are not limited and are accessible both in domestic or foreign currencies. Individuals can hold bank accounts in either domestic or foreign currencies and conduct transactions in foreign currency. Since March 2020, commercial banks introduced real time bank transfers for domestic currency transactions.

Commercial banks provide credit to both Hungarian and foreign investors at market terms.  Credit instruments include long-term and short-term liquidity loans. All banks publish total credit costs, which includes interest rates as well as other costs or fees.

Money and Banking System

There are no rules preventing a foreigner or foreign firm from opening a bank account in Hungary.  Valid personal documents (i.e., a passport) are needed and as of 2015, when the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) came into force, also a declaration of whether the individual is a U.S. citizen.  Banks have not discriminated against U.S. citizens in opening bank accounts based on FATCA.

The Hungarian banking system has strengthened over the past few years, and the capital position of banks is generally adequate even in the challenging economic environment created by COVID-19.  Following several years of deleveraging after the 2008 crisis, the banking system is mainly deposit funded. The penetration of the banking system decreased slightly in 2019 due to a relatively high GDP growth rate. The sector’s total assets amounted to 92.6 percent of GDP.

The Hungarian banking system is healthy and banks have a stable capital position.  The loan-to-deposit ratio has been gradually decreasing from its 160 percent peak in 2009 after the financial crisis to 85 percent in 2015, and has been fluctuating between this value and a 92.4 percent peak in 2019. In spring 2020, during the first wave of the COVID-19 in Hungary, it reached 91.6 percent but decreased to 81.7 percent by the end of the year. The liquidity cover ratio was 160 percent in the first wave of COVID-19, then climbed to 220.8 percent by the end of the year. In response to the COVID-19 crisis, the Central Bank restructured and expanded its monetary policy tools to provide liquidity to the financial sector through currency swaps, fixed-rate loans, and exemptions from minimum reserve requirements. The Central Bank also introduced instruments to influence short- and long-term term yields. It offered low-interest loans through commercial banks to the SME sector and launched a government securities purchase program on the secondary market.

The ratio of non-performing loans (NPLs) has been gradually decreasing from a high of 18 percent in 2013 to 4.1 percent in 2019 as a result of portfolio cleaning, the improving economic environment, and increased lending.  In the first wave of the pandemic the NPL ratio increased slightly, but by the end of the year it continued the decreasing trend and fell to 3.6 percent. The banking sector became profitable after several years of losses between 2010 and 2015, reaching a return on equity (ROE) record high of 16.8 percent in 2017. Since then, ROE has gradually decreased, to 12.3 percent by the end of 2019 and more steeply during the COVID-19 pandemic to 6.5 percent in December 2020, which is still slightly higher than the EU average. The banking sector’s total assets exceeded 90 percent of GDP in 2020, of which 64 percent were held by five banks. The largest bank in Hungary is OTP Bank, which is mostly Hungarian-owned and controls 25 percent of the market, with about $29 billion in assets.

Hungary has a modern two-tier financial system and a developed financial sector, although there have been some reports that regulatory issues have arisen as a result of the Central Bank’s (MNB) 2013 absorption of the Hungarian Financial Supervisory Authority (PSZAF), which had been the financial sector regulatory body.  Between 2000 and 2013, the PSZAF served as a consolidated financial supervisor, regulating all financial and securities markets. PSZAF, in conjunction with the MNB, managed a strong two-pillar system of control over the financial sector, producing stability in the market, effective regulation, and a system of checks and balances.  In 2013, the MNB absorbed the PSZAF and over the past few years has efficiently strengthened its supervisory role over the financial sector and established a customer protection system.

In accordance with the GOH’s stated goal of reducing foreign ownership in the financial sector, the proportion of foreign banks’ total assets in the financial sector decreased to about 40 percent in 2019, down from a peak of 70 percent before the 2008-2009 financial crisis. Foreign banks are subject to central bank uniform regulations and prudential measures, which are applied to Hungary’s entire financial market without discrimination. On March 2, 2020, MNB launched an immediate e-transfer system up to a maximum of HUF 10 million (about $32,000) for domestic transactions in HUF. Commercial banks have extensive direct correspondent banking relationships and are capable of transferring domestic or foreign currencies to most banks outside of Hungary.  Since 2018, however, the cashing of U.S. checks is no longer possible. No loss or jeopardy of correspondent banking relations has been reported.

Recent regulations restrict foreign currency loans to only those that earn income in foreign currency, in an effort to eliminate the risk of exchange rate fluctuations.  Foreign investors continue to have equal – if not better – access to credit on the global market, with the exception of special GOH credit concessions such as small business loans.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

The Hungarian forint (HUF) has been convertible for essentially all business transactions since January 1, 1996, and foreign currencies are freely available in all banks and exchange booths.  Hungary complies with all OECD convertibility requirements and IMF Article VIII. Act XCIII of 2001 on Foreign Exchange Liberalization lifted all remaining foreign exchange restrictions and allowed free movement of capital in line with EU regulations.

According to Hungary’s EU accession agreement, it must eventually adopt the Euro once it meets the relevant criteria. The GOH has not set a specific target date even though Hungary meets most of the necessary fiscal and financial criteria.  According to the Ministry of Finance, Hungary’s economic performance should mirror the Eurozone average more closely before adapting the Euro.

Short-term portfolio transactions, hedging, short, and long-term credit transactions, financial securities, assignments and acknowledgment of debt may be carried out without any limitation or declaration.  While the Forint remains the legal tender in Hungary, parties may settle financial obligations in a foreign currency. Many Hungarians took out mortgages denominated in foreign currency prior to the global financial crisis, and suffered when the Forint depreciated against the Swiss Franc and the Euro.  Despite strong pressure, the Hungarian Supreme Court ruled that there is nothing inherently illegal or unconstitutional in loan agreements that are foreign currency denominated, upholding existing contract law. New consumer loans, however, are denominated in Forints only, unless the debtor receives regular income in a foreign currency.

Market forces determine the value of the Hungarian Forint. Analysts note that the MNB’s consistently low interest rates have contributed to a nearly 30 percent decline in the value of the of the Forint against the Euro since 2010.

Remittance Policies

There is no limitation on the inflow or outflow of funds for remittances of profits, debt service, capital, capital gains, returns on intellectual property, or imported inputs. The timeframes for remittances are in line with the financial sector’s normal timeframes (generally less than 30 days), depending on the destination of the transfer and on whether corresponding banks are easily found.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

Hungary does not maintain a sovereign wealth fund.

7. State-Owned Enterprises

In the 1990s, there was considerable privatization of former State-owned enterprises (SOEs), primarily in strategic sectors such as energy and transportation.  Since 2010, the GOH has reversed this trend by making new investments in machinery production and the energy and telecommunications sectors, resulting in an increase of the number of SOEs.

As of 2020, there are more than 200 SOEs.  The state holds majority ownership in more than half of them.  In addition, there are a large number of municipality-owned companies.  SOEs are particularly active in the energy and utility sectors, banking, transportation, forestry, and postal services. SOEs have independent boards, but in practice, all strategic decisions require government approval.

Major SOEs include the National Asset Management Company (MNV), Magyar Posta, state energy company MVM, Hungarian State Railways (MAV), state gambling monopoly Szerencsejatek, National Infrastructure Development Company (NIF), car manufacturer RABA, and state-owned banks Exim bank, Hungarian Development Bank (MFB), Takarekbank, and Budapest Bank.  The GOH has a five percent direct stake in hydrocarbon company MOL, and 20 percent of the company is owned by two higher education foundations closely affiliated with the GOH.

A 2011 law on national assets lists the SOEs of strategic importance, which are to be kept in state ownership ( https://net.jogtar.hu/jr/gen/hjegy_doc.cgi?docid=a1100196.tv ); as of March 2021 there were 62 such companies.  There is no officially published, complete list of SOEs, but the State Asset Manager MNV has a list of companies under its control on its webpage.  The list does not cover all publicly owned companies:  http://mnv.hu/felso_menu/tarsasagi_portfolio/mnvportfolio .

In principle, the same rules apply to SOEs as to privately owned companies in most cases, but in practice, some companies report that SOEs often enjoy preferential treatment from certain authorities.  According to many businesses, since mid-2012, the GOH has made it more difficult for foreign-owned energy companies to operate in the Hungarian market. The GOH has publicly stated its interest in nationalizing some private energy firms.  In 2013, the GOH purchased E.ON’s wholesale and gas storage divisions and RWE’s retail gas company, Fogaz. In 2014 and 2015, the GOH acquired other energy companies. By the end of 2016, state-owned Fogaz became the only remaining retail gas utility provider in Hungary.  Press reports indicate the GOH intends to take over the electricity and heating retail markets as well.

Hungary adheres to OECD Guidelines on Corporate Governance as well as to EU rules on SOEs.  The Hungarian National Asset Management Company is the state asset manager.

According to a 2015 study conducted by Transparency International (TI) Hungary, SOEs scored 61 points on a scale of 100 with regard to meeting transparency obligations in terms of data published on their websites, integrity, codes of ethics, and internal control systems.  TI noted that although there was a considerable improvement compared to the previous survey in 2013, none of the SOEs reviewed during their study was in full compliance with transparency and disclosure requirements as mandated by Hungarian law.

In a July 2018 State Audit Office (SAO) report on the monitoring of 62 SOEs, the SAO said that the investigated enterprises’ integrity and compliance regulations have improved over the past years and their current transparency and integrity level is satisfactory.  The report added that the auditing and asset management of SOEs could still be improved, and that owners should investigate SOEs more often than the current practice. An April 2020 SAO report investigated the integrity of 19 state-owned and municipality owned companies and found that the overwhelming majority of the companies had serious deficiencies in integrity measures protecting against corruption.

Privatization Program

In the 1990s, the privatization of state-owned enterprises (SOEs), including the energy sector, manufacturing, food processing, and chemical industries, ushered in a significant period of change.  As most SOEs have already been privatized, that trend has reversed since 2010 as the state has taken more ownership or de facto control in certain sectors, including energy and public utilities.

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. For more information, see:  http://oecd.kormany.hu/a-magyar-nemzeti-kapcsolattarto-pont .

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.  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 Nielsen Global Omnibus research, over 60 percent of Hungary’s adult population prefers companies committed to CSR, exceeding the 54 percent average in the EU.

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.

Additional Resources

Department of State

Department of Labor

9. Corruption

The Hungarian Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Interior are responsible for combating corruption.  There is a growing legal framework in place to support their efforts. 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 report 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, Parliament passed legislation that many civil society activists criticized for placing undue restrictions on NGOs, including compelling organizations to register as “foreign-funded” if they receive funding from international sources. In a June 2020 ruling the European Court of Justice found the legislation in conflict with EU law.  In July 2018, the GOH passed legislation that criminalizes many activities primarily conducted by international NGOs that assist migrants and asylum seekers.  Although the legislation does not directly target transparency NGOs, transparency experts claim the GOH could use the overly broad definitions in the legislation to target virtually any NGO in Hungary.

Transparency International (TI) is active in Hungary.  TI’s 2020 Corruption Perceptions Index rated Hungary 69 out of 180 countries.  Among the 27 EU members, Hungary was tied for last place with two other member states. 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 problematically 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 EC 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. A 2016 study by Corruption Research Center Budapest (CRCB) based on public procurement data from 2009-2015 revealed that the massive influx of EU funds reduced competition and increased levels of corruption risk and overpricing in public procurements.  According to the study, EU-funded tenders performed poorly with regard to corruption risks, competitive intensity, and transparency, compared with Hungarian-funded tenders. EU funds in Hungary contribute to a system of political favoritism and fuel crony capitalism, the study concluded. CRCB reports 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.

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, the European Anti-Fraud Office, about evidence of conflict of interest and irregularities involving the deal. According to media reports, OLAF concluded that at least some of the tenders were won due to what it considered organized criminal activity. The European Commission’s September 2020 Rule of Law Report states that although the prosecution office has launched a limited number of corruption-related investigations against Members of the European Parliament from the ruling Fidesz party, there has been no prosecution of high-level officials in recent years.

Annual asset declarations for the family members of public officials are not public and only parliamentary committees can look into 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:

National Protective Service
General Director Zoltan Bolcsik
Phone: +36 1 433 9711
Fax: +36 1 433 9751
E-mail:  nvsz@nvsz.police.hu 

Transparency International Hungary
1055 Budapest
Falk Miksa utca 30. 4/2
Phone: +36 1 269 9534
Fax: +36 1 269 9535
E-mail:  info@transparency.hu 

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 4.5 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 4.3 percent early 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 70.2 percent in 2020, higher than the EU average of 67.8 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 market place.  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 rate of unemployment 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 t, 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 and by 3.6 percent in 2021. 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 allows 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. The majority 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. In 2020, as a part of its COVID-19 economic response plan, the government decreed 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.

13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics

Table 2: Key Macroeconomic Data, U.S. FDI in Host Country/Economy
Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or International Source of Data:  BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
Economic Data Year Amount Year Amount
Host Country Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ($M USD) 2019 $163,475 2019 $163,469 www.worldbank.org/en/country
Foreign Direct Investment Host Country Statistical source* USG or international statistical source USG or international Source of data:  BEA; IMF; Eurostat; UNCTAD, Other
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, stock positions) 2019 $5,684 2019 $6,114 BEA data available at https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/
Host country’s FDI in the United States ($M USD, stock positions) 2019 $2,032 2019 $91 BEA data available at
https://www.bea.gov/international/direct-investment-and-multinational-enterprises-comprehensive-data
Total inbound stock of FDI as % host GDP 2019 61% 2019 60% UNCTAD data available at
https://stats.unctad.org/handbook/
EconomicTrends/Fdi.html 
  

* Source for Host Country Data: 2021 Hungarian National Bank, www.mnb.hu   

Table 3: Sources and Destination of FDI
Direct Investment from/in Counterpart Economy Data
From Top Five Sources/To Top Five Destinations (US Dollars, Millions)
Inward Direct Investment Outward Direct Investment
Total Inward 182,689 100% Total Outward 132,235 100%
Canada 29,677 16.2% Switzerland 53,045 40.1%
Cayman Islands 21,996 12% United States 15,726 11.9%
Netherlands #3 18761 10.3% Uruguay 10,216 7.7%
Germany 17,176 9.4% Netherlands 6,274 4.7%
Luxemburg 15,991 8.8% Ireland 4,658 3.5%
“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.
Table 4: Sources of Portfolio Investment
Portfolio Investment Assets
Top Five Partners (Millions, current US Dollars)
Total Equity Securities Total Debt Securities
All Countries 13,989 100% All Countries 9,232 100% All Countries 4,758 100%
Luxembourg 4,013 28.7% Luxembourg 3,327 36% Luxembourg 686 14.4%
United States 1,939 13.9% United States 1,752 19% Austria 333 7%
Austria 973 7% Austria 640 6.9% Slovak Rep. 291 6.1%
Germany 674 4.8% Belgium 612 6.6% Czech Rep. 268 5.6%
Belgium 615 4.4% Germany 546 5.9% Poland 240 5.1%

14. Contact for More Information

U.S. Embassy Political and Economic Section
Szabadsag Ter 12
1054 Budapest, Hungary
BUDEcon@State.gov
+36 1 475 4400

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