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Feb 28, 2016 - Zoltán Kovács

As the EU Moves to ‘the Hungarian Solution on Migration,’ Says PM Orbán, Hungary Must Let the People Decide in a Referendum on the Quota System

European leaders gathered in Brussels earlier this month for a European Council meeting on Britain’s proposed reform plans and again on the migration crisis. Though often heated and sometimes personal, the debate took Europe closer to the solution that Hungary and others have been proposing for months on migration: restore order at Europe’s borders before anything else.

“Hungarian derring-do would not have been enough,” said Prime Minister Orbán in his address to the Hungarian Parliament on Monday, emphasizing the importance of cooperation among the Visegrád countries in achieving these results.

“I would even say that, at this point in time at a European level, we are where we should have been one year ago,” the prime minister said in a press conference at the conclusion of the EU summit, adding that “the Hungarian solution [for the response to the migration issue] was approved.”

The migration crisis has been intensifying for a year now as the migrants that cross the European borders illegally become more aggressive. While Europe’s leaders were debating the issue in Brussels, a group of illegal migrants pulled a firearm on Hungarian border patrol officers when they were caught trespassing on the green border. Thanks to the restraint shown by the Hungarian officers, no one was hurt, but the incident served as a reminder that this migration problem is not going away on its own.

“If you read the document being issued, you will see that we have assigned top priority to protecting the borders and halting the masses of migrants. In other words we declared that they must be stopped, the external borders must be protected and the terms of the Schengen Agreement must be fully observed by everyone,” PM Orbán said at the press briefing.

The EU will convene another summit March 7 to address the migration crisis, and the mandatory resettlement quotas will remain on the agenda.

That’s why, as the prime minister announced earlier this week, the government of Hungary has chosen to hold a popular referendum on the quota system, this plan whereby the European Union would relocate a certain number of migrants to the territory of Hungary and other EU member states. The government’s position, which it wishes to make perfectly clear prior to the March 7 summit, is that no European body has the authority to impose the compulsory settlement of non-Hungarian citizens in Hungary without the consent of the Hungarian people.

“To date, no one has asked the European people whether they want, accept or reject the introduction of compulsory quotas. We, Hungarians, believe – and I am convinced that the government was yielding to the general desire of the public when it chose to call a referendum – that introducing compulsory resettlement quotas without the consent of the people is nothing less than an abuse of power. Therefore we shall ask the people of Hungary about this question, just as we asked them about Hungary’s accession to the European Union,” Prime Minister Orbán said.

Last week’s lengthy EU summit focused primarily on the British proposals for EU reform, and the migration issue was a secondary item on the agenda. When the summit finally did turn to the topic of migration, it became quickly apparent that more EU countries were taking the same line as Hungary, specifically the Visegrád countries, plus the countries on the frontline of the western Balkans migration route, the most heavily trafficked route to the EU, passing through Greece and southeastern Europe. Border protection must become a top priority and will enable countries to regain control of this unmanaged process. Last year’s chaos saw more than 1.5 million people crossing the EU’s borders illegally. Where Hungary was once a lone voice taking this position, now more countries realize what must be done to protect our freedoms in the Schengen zone, especially our freedom of borderless travel.

“Unidentified and unknown people in the millions emerged on the southern borders of Hungary and the European Union,” said PM Orbán. “In the autumn of 2015, the Hungarian response was clear and unequivocal: controls, identification, interception and turning back. This was precisely as is laid down in the Schengen Agreement. This was a difficult and costly policy, but a successful one in terms of protecting Hungary.”

“The good news,” he continued, is that “the southern border appears to be in order,” but because of other aspects of this migration crisis, the summit meeting on migration has been moved up to March 7.

The comments of Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi also attracted a fair bit of press attention. According to several accounts, PM Renzi said that new member states were not showing enough “solidarity,” so older member states may in turn withhold “solidarity” with the new member states in the allocation of structural funds to support their developing economies.

Comments like these do not help. They are malicious, disrespectful and, as I have said, sound like an attempt to blackmail the EU members that oppose quotas. What’s more, they make no sense because the structural funds are not a form of aid. The EU redistributes funds with the intent of eliminating structural differences within the European Union. Hungary opened up its markets in 2004 when the country joined the EU, and we did so in a disadvantaged position regarding our market and capital conditions. While Hungarians benefited from that opening, western European investors also benefitted greatly by Hungary opening and being part of the structural funds system. As Prime Minister Orbán said recently, “As much as they brought in here, they also took out.”

Furthermore, despite attitudes like those expressed by the Italian prime minister, Hungarians have in fact shown solidarity in the migration crisis by protecting the common border on the south – with all costs covered by the national budget – unlike some other EU member states that did little to uphold their Schengen responsibilities.

Confronting a mass migration that threatens Europe’s stability, the EU proved impotent in its initial response, allowing it to grow into a full-blown crisis. After the marathon summit meeting last week, we should not be pessimistic. Afterall, better late than never. Despite the once strenuous opposition by those who oppose the strong and orderly protection of Europe’s borders, the results of the summit mark a positive step forward.