Hungarian Government Sees Refugee Vote Adhering to EU Law

Hungary’s referendum aimed at blocking a European Union plan to share the burden of sheltering migrants adheres to the country’s constitution and doesn’t violate the bloc’s rules, Justice Minister Laszlo Trocsanyi said.

The country of 10 million, which has become the most outspoken opponent of a German-led plan to resettle hundreds of thousands of refugees entering Europe from the Middle East and North Africa, may need as long as six months to organize the ballot, the minister told journalists in Budapest on Friday.

The referendum is “constitutional. It’s a very important question, and that’s why we need to ask the people,” Trocsanyi said. “This is about the EU taking power away by stealth. We feel that the defense of a national constitution is an important thing.”

A referendum will deepen the rift in the 28-member bloc over how to deal with the biggest migrant crisis since World War II. Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government, which has built a razor-wire barrier on its southern border with Serbia, called for the referendum this week to stymie plans to make redistribution quotas mandatory.

The dispute has pitted German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s open-door policy against a growing chorus of leaders, particularly in the EU’s ex-communist east, who reject more arrivals. As EU leaders plan a summit next month to try to forge a common strategy, Greece denounced a group of countries including Austria on Thursday for stopping refugee transit at its norther border. The Mediterranean state, which is the first port of call in the EU for people arriving from Turkey, warned of a humanitarian disaster if migrants are prevented from traveling further north.

The European Commission has declined to comment on Hungary’s planned vote. Some lawyers in Budapest have called it unconstitutional because the charter doesn’t allow votes on matters outside of parliament’s power or obligations stemming from international agreements.

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