Jul 12, 2016 - Zoltán Kovács

Hungary’s referendum wants to restore a strong European Union

The date is set: on October 2nd, 2016, Hungary will hold a referendum on the EU’s mandatory migrant resettlement quota system. The announcement of the date of the referendum, coming as it did just a few days following Brexit led some to suggest that the Hungarian vote will be another plebiscite on leaving the EU. Some critics, of course, deliberately confused the two for political reasons.

Fact is, Hungary’s referendum has nothing to do with exiting the EU. Prime Minister Orbán has been clear about this government’s support for a strong EU, and he expressed quite publicly his hope that the UK would remain, numerous times. Most recently, in an article published on Monday in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, in which he reiterates his conviction that the EU’s economic and social struggles can be overcome. The solution: where more EU is needed, let there be more EU and where more national sovereignty is needed, let there be more national sovereignty.

The Hungarian referendum reflects the spirit of the latter. This referendum aims to push back on a bad policy, a flawed plan imposed by Brussels that has alienated more Europeans than any issue in recent times. The referendum in Hungary creates an opportunity to restore the European Union as a community where the voice of the citizens matters.

In October, Hungarians will have the chance to vote on the following question: "Do you want to allow the European Union to mandate the resettlement of non-Hungarian citizens to Hungary without the approval of the National Assembly?" The question, for legal reasons, concerns future EU plans for the compulsory resettlement of migrants among member states. (This referendum is not about the one-time resettlement of migrants that was passed by the European Council last September. We are challenging that decision in the European Court.)

We believe that the people’s voice should be heard on such an important matter as immigration. Despite the fact that the EU member states have a long tradition of putting issues to referendum – for example, some states voted on the Maastricht Treaty, on the Treaty of Amsterdam, on joining the euro, on the European Constitution, on the Treaty of Lisbon, and more – not everyone, it seems, considers it important to let the citizens have their say.

“Too many politicians are listening exclusively to their national opinion,” said European Commission President Jean Claude Juncker recently. “And if you are listening to your national opinion you are not developing what should be a common European sense and a feeling of the need to put together efforts.” It was an odd thing to say right before the Brexit referendum. Not surprisingly, his comment made its way into the British press and may very well have contributed to the terrible outcome.

This is an example of what Prime Minister Orbán has referred to as “the widening gap between European leaders and the common sense of the European people.”

“What Europe is doing today,” said the prime minister, “their own people disapprove of. It will become a problem.” He was referring, of course, to Brussels’ immigration policies and added, “I have never seen a single case where it is the people who eventually change their standpoints.”

The result of the Brexit referendum may be the most dramatic indicator that the EU’s appeal is on the wane, but it is certainly not the only sign. Parties campaigning for their countries to exit the European community are gaining significant support all over the continent. These political forces are tapping into a growing dissatisfaction, a sense of disenfranchisement from the European project, a frustration that everyday problems are not addressed at the European level and that living standards are not improving.

The migration policy that the EU has sought to impose upon the member states has no democratic legitimacy. The Orbán Government believes that the people should have a say in decisions that could have such deep and long-lasting impact on the fabric of our country and of Europe. The referendum we will hold in October will give them that opportunity.

Hungary’s referendum, despite what critics and political opponents have claimed, is much different than Brexit. In a popular vote that had a turnout of more than 72 percent, the Brexit referendum was more than 17 million British voters saying they had given up on the EU. Hungary’s referendum is Hungary attempting to strengthen a weakened EU, to restore it to its greatness as a European community where the voice of the people matters.