Hungary Sets October Referendum as Orban Targets EU Quotas

  • President Janos Ader sets referendum date for Oct. 2
  • Government initiated vote before UK decided to leave bloc

Hungarians will vote in a referendum this fall on a European Union plan to share the burden of sheltering refugees as Prime Minister Viktor Orban seeks to add weight to his resistance against immigration.

President Janos Ader set October 2 as the date for the ballot, which was initiated by Orban against what he called the EU’s "abuse of power" in designating mandatory refugee quotas for member states. The cabinet, which has led a billboard campaign against immigrants and built fortifications to keep them out, proposed the referendum before U.K. citizens decided last month to leave the bloc.

While the precise legal implications of the Hungarian vote are unclear, it may deepen a rift among member states on how to tackle the influx of refugees and may further arouse anti-immigrant voices inside Hungary. The government has ruled out a referendum on leaving the EU itself for now, though several senior officials said they may support leaving if such a ballot was ever held.

"In light of the Brexit vote, the Hungarian referendum will carry a very strong message and the ruling elite in Brussels and other European capitals could interpret it as a slap in the face," Andras Szakacs, a political analyst at the Centre for Fair Political Analysis said by phone from Budapest.

Provocative Campaign

The country’s roughly 8 million registered voters will be asked the following question: "Do you want the European Union to be able to order the mandatory settlement of non-Hungarian citizens in Hungary without parliament’s consent?”

Orban has said Brussels must learn from the Brexit vote and change its immigration policy. While many Hungarians support that position, Szakacs said the cabinet may have to rely on a “provocative” campaign to ensure that enough people turn up to make the ballot valid.

“The Hungarian premier’s view on refugees is known,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said at a news conference in Berlin on Tuesday. “So I don’t expect the referendum to change the situation we have right now.”

Hungary’s radical Jobbik Party called on its constituents to support the government’s initiative, while some other opposition parties announced they would boycott the vote.

Hungary, along with Slovakia, has already filed a lawsuit to block an EU agreement on the one-time distribution of 160,000 refugees.

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