Hungary to hold referendum on EU migration plan
By Eszter Zalan
Hungary will hold a referendum on European Union plans for a system of mandatory quotas, prime minister Viktor Orban said on Wednesday (24 February) at a press conference.
Voters will be asked to answer the question: "Do you want the EU to be able, without the consent of the Parliament, to prescribe the mandatory settlement of non-Hungarian citizens into Hungary?". Orban did not specify when the plebiscite would be held.
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The Hungarian prime minister said that nobody has asked the European people so far if they support, accept or reject the migrant quota system, which could fundamentally change their lives.
"You cannot make decisions over people's heads, against the will of the European people on issues that seriously affect their lives and that of future generations," he said, arguing it is a question of European democracy.
Orban also said the migrant quotas would redraw the ethnic, cultural and religious map of Hungary and Europe.
"The government is bowing to public sentiment. We feel that introducing resettlement quotas for migrants without the backing of the people amounts to an abuse of power," he argued.
The maverick PM said he would recommend holding a referendum in other countries as well.
Orban added that this is a fundamental and unavoidable question: "can anyone else decide for Hungarians who we Hungarians should or should not live with?"
Hungary rejected the decision on mandatory relocation quotas for 120,000 asylum seekers decided by qualified majority in the EU Council last September, where Hungary was overruled.
Along with Slovakia, Hungary has challenged the decision at the bloc's top court, the European Court of Justice.
Under the council decision, Hungary would have had to take in 1,294 asylum seekers from Italy or Greece, but has refused to do so while the court case is pending.
Orban earlier in the week told parliament that the EU plan to expand last year's one-off decision into an automatic mandatory resettlement programmewould top the agenda at the March EU summit.
"What's at stake at the European Council meeting in March is whether to have the prime ministers' blessings on a mandatory resettlement quota system, as part of EU law, that would continuously transfer migrants here, that we don't want to allow in," he said in a speech on Tuesday.
Hungary has been criticised for erecting a fence last year along its southern border with Serbia and Croatia to stop the flow of migrants.
Orban has also been advocating for months a strengthening of the EU's external borders and creation of a second line of filters for migrants at the Macedonian-Greek border.
Earlier in the week, Orban said that at last week's summit the EU had accepted the Hungarian approach, namely stopping migrants as a priority.
"In a political sense we are now where the EU should have been a year ago," he said.
"The Balkan countries and Austria have taken the path of common sense," Orban told the parliament, referring to the decision of the countries along the Western Balkan migration route to tighten border restrictions.