When the global financial crisis hit Hungary at the end of the 1990s, unemployment rose to 10-11 percent. It remained at this level until 2014, when it fell to just over 7 percent. Thereafter, it has continued to fall below 4 percent in 2018. Today, there is a shortage of labor, and the number of guest workers from other countries has increased.
The decline in unemployment was partly due to the upturn in the economy and partly to the fact that more unemployed persons were employed in state labor market programs. However, unemployment has remained higher among young people. Even among the Roma, unemployment is far more widespread than among the population in common.
Large regional differences, both in terms of unemployment and welfare, exist between northeastern Hungary and the central and western parts of the country. Unemployment in the Northeast is higher than the average for the entire country. The regions of Western Hungary adapted early to the proximity to Western Europe, and most foreign companies have established themselves there.
At the same time, there is a large shortage of educated labor, and the economy has in recent years gone so well that work permits are also issued to more low-skilled immigrants. Most of them come from Ukraine or Moldova, and despite the Hungarian government’s immigrant-critical policies, construction workers from China, Vietnam, Sri Lanka and India now work in Hungarian workplaces. In 2015, work permits were issued to a total of 13,000 foreign nationals, in 2019 the number had risen to 75,000. Many come through agencies specialized in recruitment from Asia.
During the 2010 century, the Government has tried to increase employment through various measures, for example making it more difficult to take early retirement. In 2011, Parliament adopted a “work plan” that would create “a more competitive and flexible labor market”. Among other things, the strike right was restricted, and the unemployment benefit was limited to 90 days instead of, as before, 270 days. The stated goal was to get more people into work and less dependence on grants.
- COUNTRYAAH: List of key population facts of Hungary, covering most basic population data, religion statistics, and language profiles.
In 2018, the trade union movement blew into conflict with the government’s plans to raise the ceiling for how much overtime companies are allowed to demand from employees. The result was demonstrations with several thousand participants in front of Parliament, who nevertheless approved the proposed new rules.
In 2013, the trade union central organizations MSZOSZ, SZEF and ASZSZ formed a new central organization, which became the country’s largest with over 350,000 members.
Minimum wages have been raised incrementally. In 2019, there was a fixed minimum wage corresponding to just over SEK 5,000 a month. Women’s wages have been on average about 15 percent lower than men’s.
FACTS – LABOR MARKET
3.5 percent (2019)
9.3 percent (2019)
Jobbik has to pay 2 million euros in fines
According to the State Audit Office, Jobbik must have received financial support for political advertising equivalent to EUR 1 million, although this is prohibited. The party will therefore pay more than € 2 million in fines by January 2018. Jobbik leader Gabor Vona calls it all “a political attack, which is directed not only at Jobbik but against Hungary’s entire democracy”. The ultra-nationalist Jobbik is the main challenger to Prime Minister Orban’s party Fidesz in the April 2018 parliamentary elections.
Hungary faces fines for opposition to EU refugee quotas
The refusal of Hungary, the Czech Republic and Poland to take responsibility for asylum seekers in the autumn 2015 refugee crisis is now a matter for the European Court of Justice. It is the EU Commission that has brought a lawsuit against the three countries that are fined for refusing to comply with a decision taken by the EU Council of Ministers in September 2015. It was about all the member states sharing the responsibility for around 160,000 refugees who were then themselves in Greece and Italy. Based on the countries’ population and economic situation, a quota system was created for how many refugees a country would receive. Hungary, the Czech Republic and Poland insist that the decision is an attempt by Brussels to limit their national self-determination.
Extended grace period for free university
Approves an addition to the Higher Education Act, which means that international colleges, including Central European universities founded by financier George Soros, will have a deadline by the end of 2018 to fulfill the conditions for their activities in Hungary; They had previously been ordered to conform to government rules in 2017 or forced to close. The government says that the new decision is intended to create equivalent rules for all higher education. The critics describe the law as an attack on academic freedom.
Human rights group suits the government
The Hungarian Helsinki Committee, which helps refugees, among others, sues the government for slander. In a questionnaire distributed to all Hungarian households, the Government claims that the Helsinki Committee advocates that migrants who commit crimes should be judged less lenient than Hungarian citizens. The questionnaire, where citizens are asked to comment on seven claims about the refugee situation, is part of the government’s campaign against financier George Soros. The Helsinki Committee is suspended because it is one of the organizations that has received financial support from Soros. The Committee rejects the claim and demands that the government apologize and pay EUR 6,500 in damages.
New EU deadline for Hungary
The European Commission gives the Hungarian Government one month to adapt the law on the rights of NGOs to EU regulations. If the government does not comply with the EU directive, the Commission can bring Hungary before the European Court of Justice. The government has mainly used the law to attack organizations with links to Hungarian-born US financier George Soros, who is accused of propagating increased immigration of Muslims to Europe.
Opposition leader candidate jumps off
The Socialist Party’s candidate for the post of Prime Minister in the next election, László Botka, resigns. He justifies the dismissal of his failure to create a broad front with other opposition parties against ruling Fidesz. The Socialist Party’s Deputy Chairman István Ujhelyi also leaves his post. Both defectors accuse Fidesz of infiltrating the opposition parties to divide them. A spokesman for right-wing extremist Jobbik says that the entire Hungarian left has imploded and that the only opportunity to replace the government is via Jobbik.
UN criticism of internment camps
UN refugee commissioner Filippo Grandi criticizes the Hungarian government’s treatment of asylum seekers, in particular the method of locking up new arrivals in camps adjacent to the razor-blasted fences at the southern border. He says the term “transit zones” is misleading because he says it is about forced detention. He also criticizes Hungary for refusing significantly more asylum applications are other EU countries.
Orbán “respects” court ruling
After several days of sharp criticism of the EU Court’s refusal to Hungary’s appeal against the European Union’s refugee quota, Prime Minister Orbán says he respects the decision but will continue to fight the quotas system. He says that Hungary should go from “a legal struggle to a political struggle” to prevent the emergence of a “mixed culture and population” on the continent.
Protests against refugee quotas are rejected
The European Court of Justice rejects Hungary and Slovakia’s protest against the quotas for the distribution of refugees within the Union decided by the European Commission. The Court finds that the quotas are designed to relieve the burden on the major beneficiary countries Greece and Italy jointly. The decision cannot be appealed. Of the 160,000 refugees to be distributed among EU countries in September 2015, almost 28,000 were received by other countries. Hungary’s quota was 1,294 and Slovakia’s 802. Hungary has not received one of these and Slovakia only a dozen. Poland had not appealed to the court but also refused to accept allowance refugees. The Hungarian government describes the court decision as “irresponsible” and a threat to the security of Europe as a whole. The Slovak and Polish governments say that their resistance to receiving refugees from other EU countries is firm.
Possible EU support for border surveillance
Prime Minister Orbán says he will ask the EU for about € 400 million to cover half the cost of Hungary’s fence at the border with Serbia and Croatia. According to Orbán, Hungary has made such great efforts to curb the influx of refugees into the EU that the country has earned itself the Union’s solidarity. The European Commission replies that it can help finance other forms of monitoring the Union’s external border, but that there can be no talk of funding barbed wire fences. A Commission spokesman notes that Hungary now regards solidarity as an important principle within the Union, but he points out that solidarity must be reciprocal and that Hungary must therefore bear some of the common burden of welcoming refugees.
Organizations appeal to the Constitutional Court
23 NGOs are jointly addressing the Constitutional Court with a protest against the law requiring organizations receiving more than EUR 24,000 per year from abroad to register as “foreign-supported organizations”. The organizations believe that the law is only intended to blacken them and reduce public confidence in them, and that the intention is to silence criticism of the government. Among the 23 organizations, several work for human rights and against corruption. The law is considered as part of the government’s campaign against Hungarian-born US financier George Soros, who makes major contributions to independent Hungarian organizations.
Diplomatic conflict with the Netherlands
Hungary calls home its ambassador to The Hague after the Dutch ambassador to Budapest accused the Hungarian government of behaving much like Islamist terrorists. According to a magazine interview, the ambassador says that Prime Minister Orbán’s description of all asylum seekers as potential terrorists can be compared to the terrorists’ indiscriminate attacks on innocent people. Netherlands Foreign Minister Bert Koenders says he doubts the ambassador really expressed that way.
Protests against refugee distribution are rejected
The European Court’s chief adviser, the Advocate General, rejects the appeal by Slovakia and Hungary of the quota for the distribution of refugees adopted by the European Commission in 2015. The Court does not have to follow the Advocate General’s advice, but usually does. A decision is to wait after the summer. The Hungarian Government dismisses the Advocate General’s advice as a political statement without legal basis.
The EU threatens to bring Hungary to justice
The European Commission threatens to notify Hungary to the EU court of the law that forces community organizations to register as a “foreign-supported organization” if they receive more than € 24,000 a year from another country. According to the EU, there is no support in the Union’s laws for such reservations for democratically working organizations. The Commission requires an acceptable message from Hungary within one month, otherwise the case may go to court. The same applies to the education law that may lead to the closure of the Central European University (CEU). If Hungary does not revise the law in a month approved by the EU, the country can be brought to trial even in that case. Both questions partly concern Hungary’s actions towards financier George Soros.
State campaign against financier Soros
A nationwide poster campaign against Hungarian-born US financier George Soros is upsetting the country’s Jewish minority, which believes its “poison-killing message harms the whole of Hungary”. The campaign has led to a surge in anti-Semitic scribbles and the country’s largest Jewish organization Mazsihisz is appealing to Prime Minister Orbán to stop it. Soros himself regrets that the “Hungarian regime” is conducting an anti-Semitic disinformation campaign. The campaign against Soros is mainly based on his statements that Hungary should take in refugees from the Middle East, but also his funding of the free university CEU that the government wants to close. Israel’s ambassador to Budapest has also criticized the poster campaign, but Israel’s foreign ministry has stated that it is perfectly legitimate to criticize Soros because he ”
Foreign-supported organizations under pressure
Parliament, by overwhelming majority, adopts a new law requiring voluntary organizations that receive more than € 24,000 a year from abroad to register as “foreign-supported organizations”. The term must be used in all contexts where the organization publishes materials. Those organizations that do not obey are at risk of being banned. The law has previously been condemned by the European Commission and the UN, which believes it discriminates against NGOs and makes them less legitimate. Prime Minister Orbán says the law is in place to reduce corruption and financing of terrorism.
The EU is taking steps to stop refugees
The EU is launching a legal process against Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic for the countries refusing to accept refugees in accordance with the redistribution plan adopted by the EU countries. The process begins with the European Commission sending a letter to the respective government and demanding an explanation. Subsequently, the cases may go to the European Court of Justice. In that case, the court hearings are expected to last for several years. If the countries are folded, they can face heavy fines.
Deadline for receiving refugees
The EU gives Hungary and Poland a deadline in June to start receiving refugees from the Union’s common quota of 160,000 Syrians, Eritreans and Iraqis. The two countries have not received a single quota refugee since the EU made its decision in 2015. The relocation is intended to relieve Greece and Italy, which have been given the heaviest burden. If they do not accept the decision, both countries risk sanctions.
Protests against Russia-friendly politics
Around 10,000 Hungarians are demonstrating in Budapest against what they describe as the government’s overly Russia-friendly policy. The main slogan is “Europe, not Moscow”. The demonstration is being organized by the newly formed party Momentum, which recently succeeded in getting the government to withdraw an application to arrange the Summer Olympics 2024.
The EU is fighting Orbán
The European Commission says it is launching a judicial process with Viktor Orbán to force the Hungarian government to amend the law that could lead to the closure of the independent university CEU. The dissatisfaction is growing within the EU with a series of measures by the Hungarian government, including the propaganda campaign to all the country’s households to “Stop Brussels”. A legislative proposal that all NGOs receiving about € 23,000 a year from abroad must register also upset the EU Commission, as well as the decision in March that all asylum seekers should gather in container camps at the borders. Information from the European People’s Party (EPP), the Conservative party group in the European Parliament to which Fidesz belongs, that Orbán promised to immediately change the Education Act is quickly rejected by himself.
UN: Hungary dangerous for refugees
The UN urges the European countries not to send refugees back to Hungary, because the conditions there are unacceptable. UN refugee commissioner Filippo Grandi says Hungary’s treatment of refugees violates both EU rules and international law. Among other things, children are exposed to great risks of abuse in the container camps where all asylum seekers gather. The German government decides to immediately suspend the return of refugees to Hungary.
The biggest government-critical demonstration of at least three years is being held in Budapest, where between 60,000 and 80,000 people are protesting against the law that could force the Central European University (CEU) to close. The protesters are appealing to the president not to sign the law, which he does a day later.
University teams are adopted
Parliament, by a large majority, adopts a law that could lead to the closure of the respected Central European University (CEU); According to the law, educational institutions headed from outside the EU are prohibited from issuing diplomas without an agreement between that country’s government and the Hungarian. Foreign-run universities must also teach in their own country, which the CEU does not. Unless CEU meets the requirements, it may not bring in new students from 2018 and may be forced to close in 2012. CEU’s founder, financier George Soros, is accused by Prime Minister Orbán of undermining the EU’s position by advocating open borders and a generous one refugees. Human Rights Watch urges President Áder not to sign the law.
University support demonstration
Thousands of people, including many foreign students, attend a demonstration in Budapest in support of the Central European University (CEU), founded in 1991 by the financier George Soros. The protesters are protesting against a government proposal on new rules for foreign universities that could force the CEU to close. They describe the bill as a threat to academic freedom. Soros, who provides financial support to a number of human rights organizations in Eastern Europe, has long been a nail in the eye of the right-wing populist Hungarian government.
Government campaign against the EU
The government is starting to send out a questionnaire to Hungarian households on how the state should deal with EU demands for increased political coordination within the Union. Among other things, citizens are asked how the country should respond to the requirement to receive “illegal immigrants”, in the light of “a series of terrorist attacks in Europe”. Another question concerns how international NGOs operating in Hungary should be managed. In recent months, the government has increasingly intervened against NGOs it accuses of “political activism”, especially those supported by financier George Soros. The last Hungarian government conducted a similar “national consultation” was in 2015, when “immigration and terrorism” were also consistently linked. U.N:
Calling on the right-wing populists of Europe
Prime Minister Orbán calls on all European nationalist leaders to revolt against “the unholy alliance of Brussels bureaucrats, liberal world media and insatiable international capitalists”. He argues that nationalist forces must have government power in order for Europeans to maintain their independence.
The European Court of Justice drops Hungary
14th of March
The European Court of Human Rights convicts the Hungarian state of illegally detaining two migrants in a transit zone on the border with Serbia. The state is ordered to pay damages to both and to pay the costs. A spokesperson for the Hungarian Helsinki Committee comments that the judgment shows that the planned container camps also contravene the European Convention on Human Rights.
The President is re-elected
the 13th of March
President János Áder wins the second round of Parliament’s presidential election and is thus allowed to sit for another five years. In the first round he does not succeed in obtaining a two-thirds majority, but in the second round he wins by 131 votes to 39 for leftist candidate László Majtényi.
Resolution for refugees to be locked in
Strongly approves the government’s decision that all refugees and migrants should be locked in container camps at the borders while their cases are being tried (see February 2017); Prime Minister Orbán justifies the drastic law that “migration is the Trojan horse of terrorism”. UNHCR UNHCR claims that the law violates both international law and Hungary’s obligations under EU law.
Russian-supported nuclear power building is approved
The EU Commission approves the expansion of the Hungarian nuclear power plant Paks. The project has been controversial because the Russian company Rosatom received the order worth € 12.5 billion without the usual procurement process. The environmental organization Greenpeace has also criticized the Hungarian government for failing to attach sufficient importance to an independent monitoring of nuclear safety.
Orbán’s friend becomes a media owner
Businessman Lőrinc Mészáros, who is considered a close ally of Prime Minister Orbán, buys a large stake in the Opimus Group, which owns the large media company Mediaworks. Mészáros’s entry into the media industry follows a pattern from recent years as businessmen with close contacts with the Hungarian right-wing government gained greater power over the media landscape. Mészáros is also mayor of Orbán’s hometown.
Student movement supports Olympic plans
The government decides to withdraw its support for an application for Budapest to host the Summer Olympics in 2024. The decision is then taken by a movement called Momentum, dominated by students, in a month collected more than 250,000 signatures against the event. Momentum, which was supported by left-wing parties in the campaign against the Olympics, is now planning to form a political party with ambitions to run in the 2018 parliamentary elections. Political analysts give the party a good chance to enter parliament.
Container camp for refugees
The government decides to set up container camps at the country’s borders for all refugees and migrants who come to Hungary. They are not allowed to move outside these camps as long as their cases are handled by the authorities. The Hungarian Helsinki Committee, which works for the rights of refugees, says the decision is a clear violation of EU rules and human rights. The government justifies the harsh rules with the country’s need to protect itself against terrorists.
New trial for environmental disaster
6th of February
A court orders that a new trial be conducted against 15 former employees at an aluminum plant in the city of Ajka, which in January 2016 was released from responsibility for the country’s worst environmental disaster in 2010. Ten people died and 150 were injured when a dam collapsed and 1, 1 million cubic meters of toxic sludge drenched several villages in western Hungary, wiping out almost all life in several rivers.
Prime Minister Orbán is visited by Russian President Putin. Orbán is the EU leader who is considered to be Putin’s closest ideologically and is feared to be the first to try to get the EU to lift financial sanctions against Russia.
Asylum seekers are locked in
The government reintroduces the rule that refugees who come to Hungary should be detained while their asylum applications are processed. The rule was abolished in 2013 after pressure from the UNHCR and the European Court of Justice but reintroduced with reference to the recent terror attacks in Europe.