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09/12/2016

Hungary readies attacks on Juncker over migration referendum

Justice & Home Affairs

Hungary readies attacks on Juncker over migration referendum

Orbán and Juncker, 3 September.

[European Commission]

The spokesman for the Hungarian government, Zoltán Kovács, told a group of Brussels journalists yesterday (19 September) that the so-called ‘migrant quota’ referendum to be held next month in Hungary will expose the “stealth way the EU is working” during the past two years of the Juncker Commission.

At a meeting at the Hungarian Permanent Representation in Brussels, Kovács spoke at length about the ‘successes’ of the government of Viktor Orbán in the economy, reduced unemployment and with regards to the country’s sovereign debt.

He said the goal of his government was to present “the views of the people”. This was especially true in an area such as migration and asylum policy, in which according to EU treaties these powers have never been delegated to others, he said.

Kovács also revealed the wording of the referendum Hungarians will vote for on 2 October had been approved by the country’s Constitutional Court. The question reads: “Do you want to allow the European Union to mandate the resettlement of non-Hungarian citizens to Hungary, without the approval of the National Assembly?”

Hungarian satirists mock Orbán anti-migrant campaign ahead of referendum

Hungarian satirists are lampooning anti-immigration Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s government, less than a month before a referendum is expected to reject the EU’s troubled mandatory migrant relocation scheme.

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“This question is asking for the obvious, the obvious that is being avoided, that the Commission and other institutions are going around”, Kovacs said.

‘Political and legal consequences for the EU’

“[The referendum] is going to have political and legal consequences. The message is going to be unavoidable not only for the Hungarian government and the Hungarian parliament, but for the European institutions and everyone in Brussels”, he said.

“It is deciding, or it is signing in what perspective, in what manner the Hungarian government should approach the future of Europe, the future of European institutions, the future of decision-making, protocols that have been set in the past couple of years in the heart of Europe”, the government spokesperson added.

“These issues should be re-addressed and talked about in an open manner and it’s completely unacceptable that the policies we have seen for the last couple of years, the stealth mode of decision-making, law-making and regulation is going to continue.

Following the Brexit referendum, Hungary has been close to backing other Visegrad countries in calling for Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker to resign.

EU's Juncker under pressure to resign after Brexit vote

Pressure is building on Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker to resign following the UK referendum, but also over the need to “change the habits” of his way to run the EU executive over the last two years.

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However, Kovacs did not mention Juncker by name. He said Brexit should be used as an opportunity to strengthen the EU through “stronger member states”. He illustrated this idea saying that the closing of the Balkan route had been a success of a number of member states, including Hungary, and not an EU effort.

The Bratislava summit was not a success either, he said. However, he added that the decision to provide assistance to frontline state Bulgaria was a good one.

Alongside Orbán at the Bulgaria-Turkish border last week, Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov asked the EU for €160 million to secure its borders, and obtained at the Bratislava summit €108 million plus a promise to obtain the rest.

Bulgaria to ask EU leaders for €160 million to police border

Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov has slammed the EU for lack of solidarity and said he will request leaders at tomorrow’s EU summit in Bratislava for the immediate release of €160 million of aid for strengthening the country’s borders.

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The EU money, however, cannot be used for building border fences, the Commission explained yesterday.

Reinforcing Schengen should be a priority, Kovacs stressed. He also said that his country is not going to take “anyone back” according to the EU’s Dublin asylum rules.

“We are not going to take responsibility for the shortcomings of others, who invited the migrants”, he said.

“We are going to have a very complicated political debate with the European institutions and we believe that the message sent by the Hungarians voters is going to be unavoidable for everyone”, the government spokesperson said, adding that the Hungarian parliament would “enact something in a legal manner” following the referendum.

Asked by EurActiv.com why he did not repeat the long-standing position that Hungary considers that Bulgaria, as well as Romania, should join Schengen, the spokesman instead started elaborating that what was important was that the candidates to join the EU’s borderless space should answer the Schengen accession requirements.

“What’s happening around in Europe poses major questions about Europe’s ability to keep up the Schengen criteria. We are all interested in having the first line of defence in Bulgaria. That has been announced by the Prime Minister [Viktor Orbán] when he visited Bulgaria a few days ago. You know the Hungarian position, we have been very supportive. But it goes with the Schengen criteria. The Schengen protocol, the Schengen criteria must be kept”, he said.

In Bratislava, Borissov surprisingly said that Schengen accession was not an immediate priority for his country. However, it seems that the Bulgarian prime minister may have got it wrong. The “flexible solidarity” of Hungary appears to imply that Budapest would like Bulgaria to stay outside Schengen, so it can be a buffer zone for migrants, protecting Schengen.