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24th Oct 2020

EU says Orban's new national poll contains 'fake news'

The European Commission has described a question contained in Hungary's new national public consultation exercise as "fake news".

The Orban government questionnaire, launched earlier this week, suggests - among other things - that the EU is intent to force a constitutional change to allow more migration.

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But Vera Jourova, the European commissioner for values and transparency, told reporters on Wednesday (10 June) this was a lie.

"This is fake news, this is not true," she declared - noting that Hungary's right-wing government had carried out similar misleading polls in the past.

Jourova said the European Commission may once again be forced to take action in stamping out a misleading Hungarian government campaign, by pro-actively fact checking their claims.

"I will leave [that] for a later decision," she said.

Hungary's government under prime minister Viktor Orban on Monday sent out a questionnaire, billed as a national consultation to some eight million eligible voters.

One of the questions claims the European Union is preparing an offensive against the immigration-related regulations of the Hungarian constitution.

"They want to force us to amend the Fundamental Law's articles that prevent migration," claims the preamble to the question.

The document then proceeds to ask if the Hungarian government should insist on its anti-immigration rules - at the risk of an open conflict with Brussels.

Fined and forced to apologise

Orban oversaw a similar poll in 2017 focused on Hungarian-born US billionaire philanthropist George Soros.

That poll also made misleading statements, including comments about the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, a Budapest-based human rights group.

The NGO sued the Hungarian government and won its case in the Supreme Court.

"We were awarded two million Hungarian forints in damages at that time and also the government webpage had to for 30 days contain an apology," said the NGO's co-chair Marta Pardavi.

Pardavi added they are using the money to finance their free legal assistance to people in need.

She also noted Orban's latest assault on variously migrants, the European Union, and George Soros is part of a wider propaganda campaign by the government to shore up public support.

Pardavi suggested it may be linked to an on-going legal battle between the European Commission and Hungary at the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg.

The European Commission is challenging Hungary over its so-called "Stop Soros" legislation, which criminalises assistance to migrants. The commission had also initially challenged a constitutional amendment, further restricting people's right to asylum. However, a source told EUobserver the Commission later dropped its reference to the constitutional amendments.

The Hungarian constitution at the time was tweaked to prevent the settlement of an "alien population" - seen as a swipe to any EU plans to relocate migrants.

With the European Commission set to unveil its pact on migration, which could include plans to distribute asylum seekers across member states, the Hungarian government appears to be pre-empting a showdown with Brussels, with support from its voter base.

Meanwhile in the European Parliament, the centre-right European People's Party (EPP) remains unwilling to boot out Hungarian MEPs that belong to Orban's Fidesz party.

The EPP is the parliament's largest party and numbers around a dozen Fidesz members. But strains are showing.

Austria's Othmar Karas, a centre-right MEP and a vice-president of the European Parliament, tweeted on Thursday that the latest display by Orban's government "de facto excludes itself from the @EPP."

There was no immediate reaction from Manfred Weber, who chairs the political party. After setting up a so-called 'wise men' group to advise the EPP on Fidesz' membership, the MEPs have been suspended but not formally expelled.

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