The Brexit has encouraged Hungary to go forward with their own referendum
Spurred on by Britain’s shock vote to quit the EU, Hungary’s leader Viktor Orban is forging ahead with his own referendum on migration and refugees, in what European diplomats see as a sign of battles to come with anti-Brussels populists across the continent.
The 53-year-old Orban, in power since 2010, has clashed several times with the EU on issues ranging from independence of the courts and the central bank to his handling of the migrant crisis, which has included a fence on Hungary’s southern border.
His next clash pits him against an EU Commission plan to resettle refugees across member states based on quotas, which Orban sees as an act of out-of-touch Brussels bureaucrats usurping national authority.
“We need to fight to prove to people that it is possible to form an EU migration policy that is in line with the Hungarian national interest,” Orban said days after the Brexit vote.
“This is going to be a long struggle for which I will need a strong mandate, which cannot be ensured without a referendum,” said Orban, who is in favor of remaining in the EU but wants more powers for member states.
Orban has enlisted allies, such as neighboring Slovakia, which also opposes the quotas and this week joined a chorus of eastern EU states calling for the powers of the EU Commission to be reined in after Britain’s vote to leave.
“We have a big problem with the proposed reform of the Dublin system,” Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico said.
“We think it’s stupid, because this is exactly what will keep dividing Europe if (countries) will be asked to pay 250,000 euros (US$277,000) for each migrant they refuse to take.”
Hungary’s migrant referendum, due in the autumn, could coincide with Britain starting its EU exit negotiations. Critics describe the timing as opportunistic.
“Euroskeptic parties across the continent are cherry-picking parts of the Brexit story to bolster their own domestic narrative,” said Otilia Dhand, an analyst at Teneo Intelligence.
“Orban has said that it is the ‘failure of EU migrant policies’ that nudged U.K. voters to vote Leave – downplaying the fact that we’re talking two completely different migrant issues: Syrian refugees on the continent vs. Polish workers in the U.K.”
The EU migrant relocation scheme was established last year after more than a million people entered the EU, most intending to settle in Germany and other rich northern countries. The EU is discussing a change to asylum rules that would require member states to accept a quota of refugees or pay a penalty for them to be housed elsewhere.
Hungary was the main arrival point into the EU’s border-free Schengen zone for migrants traveling by land, until Orban shut the frontier with the new fence last year, a popular move at home that was criticized by rights groups.
He and other eastern European leaders say their comparatively poor countries should not forced to settle migrants lured to the bloc by more liberal policies of richer states. Germany, which argued for the resettlement, says the entire bloc must act to solve a common problem.
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