Overnight legislation struck again.
This time the government attacked the struggling remnants of the restaurant industry with untenable and unjustifiable occupational licensing requirements during the worst employee shortage in history.
The question on every Hungarian mind was: whose restaurants do they want this time.This is how Orbán rolls these days. Overnight legislations, decrees, and changes to the constitution (or what he replaced it with) are the new normal. Journalists and entrepreneurs, accountants and citizens read the new rules every morning and marvel at the premeditated attacks on people and industries wrapped as regulations.
These regulatory attacks are usually completely uncalled for, unjustifiable, and they are never preceded by any kind of consulting the public or the industry in question. Maybe only cronies – but we wouldn’t know that.
It happened again this time when restaurateurs were reading the new rules in the media and called each other in panic: “Have you seen it?”
The new rules were the ramped-up version of the occupational licensing craze that has been sweeping the planet in the last couple of decades. In the name of alleged safety, low-skilled workers are forced to buy years-long education before they even begin to work in their low-skilled field. Not sure it buys any amount of safety – but it is perfectly sure to bring billions of profits to licensing outlets. And of course it gives yet another club in the hands of authorities to bludgeon those who make the economy work.
According to the new rules in Hungary only licensed kitchen personnel could work in kitchens. And they amount of time they had to prepare was even negative, as this particular regulatory attack has been published weeks earlier, but they only heard about it when a journalist spotted it – way after it even went into force.
Don’t tell me it is normal in any universe.
According to the decree only an employee with a 1-3 year long license would be allowed to fry chicken or decorate a cake. Even the smallest food trucks have to have employees who spent years in a license-giving school before they serve your kebab. (Have these almighty lawmaking old men even heard of student jobs?)
The restaurant sector suffered a heavy blow during the pandemic, despite Hungary’s relatively relaxed lockdown regulations. Part of the reason was the de facto lack of pandemic bailouts. Money earmarked to help the ailing industry came too late and ended up in the hands of cronies only. It wasn’t even very well concealed – Orbán is making a point of starving everyone who is not his loyalist lately.
Furthermore, the bailout had so much paperwork and so many inane conditions attached that even the hardcore survivors who had the wherewithal to stay afloat for a year without any help, hope or promise thereof, were disappointed.
Restaurants and hospitality are the industries that even the dumbest think they understand and know how to run. Royal family members are no exception, nor are the nephews of Orbánists, and assorted, hand-picked success bois who received uncounted billions during the last decade. A lot of it went into buying up places of hospitality they fancied with money from the state.
Everything that is a hotel or a restaurant is in their crosshairs today. Either they get it – or they get it with some legal help from the state. And the harebrained occupational licensing demands only make sense if we look at them as they are: a tool to coerce any restaurant owner to give up and sell. (That’s what 99% of laws and regulations are for these days. It is as if the law factory is working overtime and their clients are all cronies.)
When the new rules were discovered the news spread in the media like wildfire. Not a normal thing to happen – not if such a sweeping regulation is preceded by any public discourse whatsoever. But not only the preparation, but even the publication of this rule was unannounced and hidden in an avalanche of overnight regulations – the same way the new rule that illegalized CEU was also hidden in what we call “salad laws”, piles of legislations that affect a million different fields and topics, making the laws impossible to follow or to find them in one place.
When the news came out, the government acted surprised and they even revoked the stupid rule. At that point not a single restaurant could have stayed open if it was enforced.
And the only surprise is that the government backpedalled. The very similar attack on the energy industry in the form of price controls led to a crony getting all the fuel stations that were sent bankrupt by the new rules. It only took a week from the announcement to their occupation.