Hungarians are patient people but only time will tell when the government will slowly make them run out of patience with its new laws that are planned quite badly or not at all. The situation is familiar: a hastily passed law enters into force. Neither the impacted nor the supervisory authorities know how they should act; everything is running in test mode first. The year is still young and already we have seen the same pattern with the Sunday shopping ban, extended road tolls and the ongoing problem child EKÁER, an electronic road trade control system. “I went to the corner to do some late-night shopping, since I wanted to buy one more beer,” an unhappy customer called Gábor complained of the latest law on the social network Facebook. “The shop, which always used to be open, but really always, was closed, and the new opening times were not hung out.” This is not a unique experience because the special rules that regulate when a shop is allowed to stay open at night-time are neither clear nor understandable for many owners. One example is a shop in District XIII.
This is no way to run a country
The small shop used to be open around the clock; the day and night shifts and the weekends were divided between the employees, the owner took care of ordering the supplies and his wife used to work an office job at a big company. According to the new rules only the owner himself or his wife are allowed to stand behind the counter at night-time or on the weekends, which is nearly impossible as the employees see it.
So they have changed the opening times – a decrease in turnover is a direct consequence as people skip night shopping on the way home, and the employees fear layoffs are quite probable.
There are many similar examples and it is too early to say what the effect of Sunday closing will be on the national economy, since no estimates were made. News portal Portfolio asked the Ministry of National Economy if it would be possible to publish the estimations made before the law was introduced, but the ministry said there were none.
Portfolio published the ministry’s answer: “The law initiative was handed in as a suggestion from a single parliamentary representative, it does not come from the Ministry of National Economy, so there were no such estimations conducted.”
So, no studies were done but the government has announced several times that we do not have to fear negative consequences or layoffs.
Two retailers, Metro and Spar, tried to look for a way out but the government managed to bring a new rule. After adjusting the law to stymie online commerce, the government closed other loopholes as well.
Retail chain Spar used to advertise that its shops in service stations would stay open on Sundays too but another amendment brought these within the Sunday closing rule, as also happened to Metro stores.
Metro was expecting not to be affected by the Sunday ban because of its wholesaler status but Fidesz MP Kristóf Szatmáry was responsible for changing the law at the end of February, modifying the definition of retailer in such a way that now Metro also has to keep its stores closed on Sundays and at night.
These changes are often referred to as Lex Spar and Lex Metro, “since it’s so obvious whom they are tailored to”, a commenter wrote on the website of left-liberal weekly newspaper hvg.hu.
Public opinion about the new shop opening times is less than enthusiastic. Opinion research company Ipsos’ most recent poll found that two-thirds of respondents do not want the new rules.
A quarter said shopping would be more difficult to integrate into their daily routine, and this ratio is even higher, 32%, among those people active on the labour market.
The dissatisfaction is expressed not only on the streets but on the receipts as well. A tobacco shop owner prints his “thanks” for the new opening times on every single receipt.