Commission questions Hungarian referendum on migrant quotas

Victor Orbán [EPP/Flickr]

Hungary’s planned referendum on the EU’s quota plan for asylum seekers may be at odds with an agreed strategy to handle the refugee crisis, the European Commission said yesterday (25 February).

Hungary’s centre-right government has announced it will call a referendum on the EU’s mandatory quotas on migrants.

Hungary to hold referendum on quotas, Austria remains defiant

Hungary’s prime minister announced that a referendum will be held on EU plans for a system of mandatory quotas, while Austria remained unrepentant in the face of continued criticism from Greece.

The country’s Prime Minister Victor Orbán is opposed the quota proposal saying the plan would redraw the ethnic, cultural and religious map of Hungary and Europe.

Orbán said the vote, the first of its kind in Europe, would be a major test for European democracy.

“We cannot decide disregarding the people in case of decisions that strongly change their life and also determinate upcoming generations and the quota would reframe the ethnic, cultural and religious profile of Hungary and Europe”, said Orbán in an interview with the German daily Bild, an English version of which was published on his government’s website.

Orbán said that the distribution formula is nonsense, and does not work, but no one in Brussels wants to admit this.

With regard to Greece, Orbán said that “You can only help someone who wants to be helped”, adding that he is keeping his fingers crossed for Greece, but “they, too, have to respect the law”.

The Commission questioned Hungary’s stance, saying it was seeking clarification from Budapest on the planned referendum.

“We fail to understand how it would fit into the decision-making process which was agreed to by all member states, including Hungary, under the EU treaties,” said Commission spokesperson Natasha Bertaud.

Last September EU governments decided 160,000 migrants would be redistributed over two years with each country taking a quota.

Budapest now claims this decision is against EU rules.

Slovakia has launched legal action against the quota plan to redistribute 160,000 migrants, as it considers that the decision was wrongly pushed through via qualified majority vote at ministerial level, instead of being decided at summit level by unanimity.

Slovakia takes EU to court over migrant quotas

Slovakia will launch legal action by next month against an EU quota plan to distribute 160,000 refugees and migrants across the bloc, a justice ministry spokeswoman told AFP today (24 November).

When asked by Bild whether Germany’s unilateral policy is to be blamed for the refugee disaster in Europe, Orbán said it was not. He made jokes that Article 1 of the Hungarian Constitution states that the “German Chancellor is always right”, and that Article 2 says “Never give advice to the German Chancellor”.

With reference to the EU-Turkey summit planned for 7 March, Orbán said that the EU was “humbly begging” to have its external borders protected, which in his words is not a good policy, because “it makes Europe’s future and safety dependent on Turkey’s goodwill”.

“Brussels is now making promises to Turkey that we will not be able to keep – or will not want to keep”, he said, adding that he believes the plan to transfer hundreds of thousands of migrants from Turkey to Europe and distribute them between member states is an illusion.

“People here in Budapest would lynch me if I agreed to that”, Orbán said.

The referendum can be held in 150 days at the earliest as the government’s referendum question makes its way through the legal system, the justice minister said today (26 February).

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