Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has this afternoon announced a referendum on the European Union’s (EU) mandatory migrant resettlement quotas, the first time they have been challenged in this way.
The migrant quota system, which redistributes migrants from the most oversubscribed countries, including Germany and Italy, to those less popular with newcomers, has proven extremely unpopular with many Eastern European countries including Hungary. The system has been driven through the EU with support of leaders like Germany’s Angela Merkel and Sweden’s Stefan Löfven, who both have repeatedly called on their neighbours to take a more active role in supporting so-called ‘refugees’.
Now Mr. Orban will challenge the plan by putting it to popular vote among the people of Hungary, something he is almost certain to win. Mr. Orban said the plebiscite, the first of its kind in Europe, would be a major test of European democracy. The exact date for the vote has yet to be announced.
Mr. Orban has said the migrant quotas would redraw the ethnic, cultural and religious map of Hungary and Europe.
“Nobody has asked the European people so far whether they support, accept, or reject the mandatory migrant quotas,” he said at a news conference.
“The government is responding to public sentiment now: we Hungarians think introducing resettlement quotas for migrants without the backing of the people equals an abuse of power”.
Moreover, he said, it was “a fundamental, unavoidable, essential question of Hungarian politics: can anyone else decide for Hungarians who we Hungarians should or should not live with?”.
Mr. Orban has previously called the quotas an “attack from Brussels” against Hungary.
The announcement of a referendum on the policies of the European Union is the second such in the past week, coming just days after British leader David Cameron announced the June 23rd date for Britain’s deciding vote on their continuing membership of the European Union. Some concerned observers in Brussels have predicted British reticence to continue their support of the European project may cause a “domino effect”, with other European nations taking it as a cue to leave, or to force changes in their own settlement with the power bloc.
Hungary’s challenge to the supremacy of the EU comes just hours after Breitbart London reported the Czech Republic might conceivably follow Britain if they voted to go, triggering a so-called “Czexit”.
The announcement in Budapest caused considerable excitement in Hungary this morning, as no details of the vote had been trailed in the press beforehand. Today’s press conference was the first of its kind given by Mr. Orban since 2014, when he announced serious financial reform.
The EU has given no comment on the referendum.
Népszavazást kezdeményeztem // I have initiated a national ref…Népszavazást kezdeményeztem // I have initiated a national referendum.
Posted by Orbán Viktor on Wednesday, 24 February 2016
Reuters contributed to this report.
Follow Oliver Lane on Twitter: Follow @Oliver_Lane or e-mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org