17th Mar 2018

Report: Hungary could push for treaty change on migration

  • A counter-campaign against the government's call for referendum vote reminds Hungarians that "there is a war in Syria". (Photo: Eszter Zalan)

Hungary's government might push for a treaty change to keep asylum rules in national competences if it wins a referendum on migration quotas on 2 October, Hungarian daily Nepszabadsag reported Wednesday (21 September).

The paper quoted senior government officials saying that if the majority reject the EU's migration quotas, prime minister Viktor Orban could use the momentum to change the Lisbon treaty.

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According to the paper, Hungary would propose exempting national migration rules from the common European policies.

Orban has been a key figure among leaders of eastern European countries which have been calling for reinforced national competencies.

The Hungarian prime minister said in July he had an "ambivalent relationship" with treaty change.

Speaking after the EU summit he told journalists that even though it was not time for treaty change, "when tempers calm down, we should ask ourselves: aren't there problems in this treaty that we should rethink?"

Hungary's government had already challenged the quota plan in the EU's top court, the European Court of Justice.

Voters support the government's position, polls have shown, the question is whether enough people bother to show up to surpass the 50 percent threshold to make the plebiscite valid.

While Hungary's referendum will not have direct legal consequences for the EU, the government said it wanted to use the extra mandate to close down discussions on the quota.

Nordic disputes

In the meantime, Nordic countries are calling on the EU to act, as Hungary has refused to take back asylum seekers from other EU and other European countries under the bloc's asylum rules, called Dublin regulation.

In a 9 September letter seen by AFP, ministers from Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden expressed their "great concern" at Budapest's refusal to abide by the Dublin rules under which refugees must seek asylum in the first EU country they enter.

The joint letter quotes from a statement sent by Budapest to fellow EU nations in May, which insisted that Hungary "cannot accept any incoming Dublin transfers". Hungary has argued that the migrants first entered the EU in Greece.

The ministers argue this is "a violation of the EU law and it is not acceptable" and called on EU migration commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos to "act promptly".

While the EU Commission has launched probes into Hungary's asylum laws, but on the Nordic issue has been reluctant to act.

An EU Commission spokesperson confirmed that migration commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos has received a letter.

"As for all correspondence, the Commission will reply in due course. Regarding the issue of Dublin transfers, the Commission is in contact with the Hungarian authorities," the spokesperson added.

No-go zones

The government's referendum has caused a diplomatic spat with the UK.

The British embassy in Budapest has complained to the Hungarian foreign ministry about the publication of a leaflet sent to millions of people that suggested parts of Britain and other countries had become "no-go areas" because of high numbers of migrants.

"This leaflet is clearly inaccurate. There are no areas in the UK in which the laws of the UK cannot be enforced," Britain's foreign office said in a statement according to AFP.

"There are no-go zones in Europe and we don't want no-go zones in Hungary," Hungary's foreign minister Peter Szijjarto told BBC on Wednesday.

There a few migrants in Budapest, and the government has refused to accept the migrants it was assigned – just under 1,300 people – under last year's EU quota plan.

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