A REFERENDUM on refugee quotas will be held in Hungary on October 2 as the country’s nationalist government plans to carve out a public mandate for its strong opposition to EU migrant relocation schemes.
The plan was announced at the beginning of the year but Britain’s vote to leave the EU appears to have strengthened prime minister Viktor Orban’s resolve and the date was officially set by president Janos Ader today.
Hungary and neighbouring Slovakia have vehemently opposed an EU strategy to relocate 160,000 refugees across member states as a means of reducing pressure on those who have absorbed too many.
Orban, who has overseen a populist, conservative and eurosceptic government from 2010, has described the quota system as “illegal and unreasonable” and argues that a refugee influx “could redraw Europe’s cultural and religious identity”.
Thousands of refugees fleeing war-torn Syria have attempted to cross Hungary in a bid to reach Germany and Scandinavia, with the government criminalising illegal entry and shutting the borders in a highly popular domestic move that incurred the wrath of its European partners.
Together with Slovakia the former eastern-bloc nation has launched a court challenge against the plan but Orban is hoping a popular vote will lend his opposition legitimacy and force the EU to back down on the quota system.
Voters will be asked “Do you want the European Union to be entitled to prescribe the mandatory settlement of non-Hungarian citizens in Hungary without the consent of parliament?” in a question that belies an inherent cynicism of the EU’s plans.
Orban is considered almost certain to win the vote in a country that is extremely wary of foreigners, especially outside of cosmopolitan Budapest in the countryside where nationalist politics continues to hold great sway, and liberal democracy has made no real progress since the fall of communism.
In order for the referendum to be valid, turnout must exceed 50 per cent and the government has already launched a pre-emptive campaign with billboards erected across the country warning that Hungarian jobs are at risk.
Western politicians have struggled to deal with Orban’s relentless opposition to migration and his perceived crackdowns on civil liberties. Thought to have more in common with the ethno-authoritarianism of Vladimir Putin, he enjoys strong domestic support and is emerging as a formidable anti-EU crusader in an era which has seen growing discontent across the continent.