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Migration

Why the referendum in Hungary?

| September 29, 2016

The Orbán government has openly campaigned for a No vote in the October 2 referendum on whether the EU should be able to “mandate the obligatory resettlement of non-Hungarian citizens into Hungary” without approval of the national assembly. The government believes strongly that matters of migration and citizenship must remain the competence of individual member countries, not the Union.

Critics, as expected, have labeled the referendum as the first step in a Hungarian “Brexit.” On the contrary, Prime Minister Orbán has been unequivocal about the country’s support for the European Union. It was, in large part, Orbán’s government that negotiated Hungary’s accession and put the question to a referendum vote in 2003. Fidesz, then in opposition, staunchly supported it, as did the voters. Support for EU membership is among the highest in Europe, according to recent study by PEW Research Center.

There is no question Hungary belongs in Europe.

This referendum, then, is about what kind of Europe we will have in the future. Do we want to allow EU institutions to usurp powers they have not been given by the founding treaties? We see today an EU that is seriously challenged, in no small part because decision-makers and bureaucrats in Brussels have become too out of touch from the will of European citizens. By giving the people a voice in such an important matter – the right to decide who has the right to live in one’s country – Hungary wants to send a strong message to the EU, one that we hope will help the Union to correct its course.

In an attempt to respond to the migration crisis, the European Commission has proposed, in a number of variations, a migrant resettlement scheme that would foist illegal immigrants onto member countries, often against the will of national governments and migrants themselves.  It was first put on the table as a one-time measure and thus circumvented a procedure that would require the agreement of all member states, but the Commission’s subsequent proposals outline a permanent and mandatory plan.

Some have interpreted the words of president Jean-Claude Juncker at his State of the Union speech as a withdrawal of these plans, but a withdrawal of the plans was later denied on two occasions by his spokesperson.

While the Summit in Bratislava gave greater – and long overdue – priority to tighter controls on the Schengen zone’s external borders, the general approach hasn’t changed. The debate is still focused on how to receive the massive influx of illegal migrants instead of how to stop it. We should be focused on finding ways to process asylum claims outside the EU and sending help where it is needed instead of bringing trouble into the EU.

A mandatory relocation scheme only adds to the pull factor and worsens the crisis. We support sending humanitarian aid and setting up centers outside the EU to receive migrants and process asylum claims. Hungary has already contributed to such efforts, and was among the first to send doctors and medicine to the refugee camps in Greece Hungarian initiatives to more effectively respond to the migration crisis, including stepping up border security, have helped Europe avoid an even deeper crisis.

We believe there is a role for the European Union in this crisis, but when it comes to the decision of who will live in our country and by what criteria, we will defend our national sovereignty. There are security-related concerns and consideration of social-economic consequences. But there’s also more important reason.

Ignoring the will of citizens, as we have seen in recent local elections, can come at a painfully high cost. At the end of the day, all European citizens will vote on the way the migration crisis is handled. In Hungary, it will be at a referendum, in other countries voters will make themselves heard at general elections, presidential elections or local elections.

It would be to the benefit of the EU as a whole if decision-makers in Brussels and in member countries shifted their focus to stopping illegal migration before radical parties take the upper hand.

(A slightly edited version of this article was originally published in Politico, September 29, 2016.)