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Aug 31, 2016 - Zoltán Kovács

Hungary’s October 2 referendum: the stakes couldn’t be higher

In a little over a month, Hungarian voters will go to the polls in a national referendum. They will vote on one question: Do you want the European Union to be able to mandate the obligatory resettlement of non-Hungarian citizens into Hungary even without the approval of the National Assembly?

Some critics have dismissed it as populist and others have tried to paint it as a Hungarian version of Brexit. Both are terribly mistaken. What’s at stake here is an issue vitally important to the national interest.

It’s plainly not about Hungary’s EU membership. That question was resolved in a national referendum back in 2003, EU accession winning an overwhelming majority and unequivocal support from today’s ruling party, Fidesz. Prime Minister Orbán has always been clear about the fact that Hungary’s proper place is in Europe.

Rather, the referendum is about what kind of Europe. Do we want to allow EU institutions to usurp powers that they have not been given?

Over the past year, we have seen Brussels propose in a number of variations a migrant resettlement scheme that would foist some of the nearly 1.5 million illegals onto member states, often against the will of both the member states and the migrants themselves. At the time, European decision-makers said this would be a one-time measure and thus circumvented a procedure that would require the agreement of all member states. But they’ve made it clear through their subsequent proposals that this would not be a one-time affair.

We say that it’s not up to Brussels to decide who can and cannot live in our country or in any member state for that matter. That’s our decision.

For centuries, European civilization, particularly democratic governance, has served as a model. Europe’s example, we asserted, set us apart.

But today, democracy is at risk in the European Union. A simple rule, that nothing should be forced on people without their consent, has been undermined. That’s especially the case in this matter, an aggressive resettlement policy that has the potential to change the social fabric and culture of a country.

The Hungarian government is not opposed to humanitarian aid and responding more robustly with camps outside the EU to receive migrants and process asylum claims. Hungary has contributed a fair share, being the first to send doctors and medicine to the refugee camps in Greece. Hungarian efforts to control and manage the migration crisis, including stepping up border security, have contributed significantly to Europe avoiding a deeper crisis.

However, we aim to defend our national sovereignty. We want to retain the right to be able to choose who may enjoy the right to live here and by what criteria. We have many reasons. Setting aside for a moment the clear connection between terrorism and illegal migration, we could point out that we will be the ones – not the EU – to bear the brunt of the social-economic consequences of economic migrant masses who do not want to stay in Hungary. But that’s not the most important reason.

More fundamental here is that we want our people to send a clear message to Brussels: democracy must be respected and the will of the people should not be overridden by a handful of bureaucrats and their delusional idea of a greater good. The price for ignoring the will of the people can be painfully high.

On October 2nd, Hungarian voters will be the first to have their say on this issue, on whether the European Union should be able to assume these new powers to decide on immigration. It’s a chance to raise their voices for democracy, for European values, for the European Union.

If Brussels keeps ignoring the voice of the people of Europe, the real worry is not Hungary leaving the EU but whether the EU survives at all. Not just for us Hungarians, but for the European idea, the stakes couldn’t be higher.