The Strategist

Hungary referendum: Passive resistance or indifference?

10/03/2016 - 14:44

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said that he will amend constitution to toughen national migration legislation. Prime Minister announced this decision in spite of failure of a referendum held on Sunday. The Hungarians were invited to comment on the system of distribution of migrants across the EU countries. The referendum was officially declared invalid because voter turnout was 43% at required 50%. Yet, more than 98% of votes were against the EU migration quotas, and Viktor Orban promised to consider their opinion.

Európai Bizottság/ Végel Dániel
Európai Bizottság/ Végel Dániel
"A valid referendum is always better than an invalid one, but legal consequences will the same" - warned Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban on the results of Sunday's national vote. Prime Minister congratulated his supporters with success on the referendum, and promised that he will bring to parliament amendments to the constitution in order to toughen the Hungarian laws on immigration. "Can Brussels, the democratic community of European states, impose their own views on Member States, where more than 90% of voters oppose their will?" - he referred to reporters with a rhetorical question.

Meanwhile, the National Electoral Commission declared that the referendum has failed. During the voting, citizens of the country responded to the following question: "Do you want to allow the European Union to decide on relocation of non-Hungarian citizens to Hungary without consent of the National Assembly (Parliament)?". 98.32% were against it, but the total turnout was only 43% instead of 50% required for recognition of its results. According to the opposition, the low turnout was a "passive resistance" to political course of the current Eurosceptic government. However, Viktor Orban chose to interpret results of the voting as unequivocal support of his course. "Brussels or Budapest - that was the question. And we decided that the right choice is for Budapest ", - he explained.

The Hungarian Parliament approved the plans to hold a referendum in May. Earlier, in 2015, the European Commission unveiled a plan of individual quotas to compulsory distribute 160 th. refugees among the 28 EU countries. It was assumed that the countries who are forced to take the largest number of migrants (mainly Italy and Greece) will be partially freed by the end of September this year. However, only 5.6 thousand refugees have been relocated within the quota system so far.

Initially, the migration crisis contributed to a sharp increase in popularity of the right-wing supporters. However, the referendum still put Orban in danger. Relations with the European Union are longstanding, and the refugees, after all, are a temporary phenomenon. Unconditional value against a pretty abstract threat. 

The government’s campaign ("Did you know that Paris attacks were committed by migrants?", "Do you know that number of sexual assaults on women in Europe has increased dramatically?") couldn’t have mobilized a sufficient number of people out to get to the voting booths. Along with the Hungarian opposition, there are some external observers to enjoy this outcome. Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn described the turnout in the referendum as "passive resistance" of most social stratums of Hungary: "It's not a very good day for Mr. Orban, but still good for Hungary and Europe."

It is obvious that Brussels and, of course, Berlin, will focus exclusively on the formal side of the issue. The referendum is invalid and, therefore, the Hungarians don’t care about the quota that much. This can be, and certainly will be, used not only against Hungary, but also against all Visegrad Group. Recall that it includes Poland, Czech Republic and Slovakia, which also resisted the idea of redistribution of refugees.
However, 9 out of 10 voters expressed their dissatisfaction with the quota. This means that the European Union will inevitably get next exacerbation of the debate on this subject, that is, exactly what would have happened if the referendum proved valid.