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Mar 18, 2016

EU Migration Summit: Hungary says no to mandatory resettlement

“For the past several days we’ve working on behalf of the Hungarian interest that any kind of refugee exchange, settlement or movement of people would only happen on a voluntary basis. We have a chance to achieve this,” said Prime Minister Viktor Orbán upon his arrival at the EU Council meeting on Thursday. In response to a journalist asking about his prognosis, the prime minister confided, “I always feel good before a summit. Let’s see afterwards.”

This week’s summit meeting of EU heads of state and government carries special importance, for the main item on the agenda is an agreement with Turkey. The agreement was postponed at the previous summit after the Turkish delegation upped the price of helping the EU in the management of the migration crisis, demanding higher financial compensation, visa-free EU travel for Turkish citizens and the reopening of negotiations on Turkey’s EU accession.

Despite being one of the initiators of an EU agreement with Turkey, Hungary was the first to oppose an agreement that would enforce mandatory resettlement of migrants from Turkey into EU member states without the consent of member states. Leading up to the summit, Hungary’s position said that an agreement with Turkey is necessary, but the accord must be a strong one reflecting the EU’s interest and be accompanied by EU action to reinforce its own borders. Hungary understands that an agreement with Turkey would come with a price but does not support mandatory resettlement, and prefers to give priority to Ukraine over Turkey for visa-free EU travel.

The prime minister struck an optimistic tone. “I sit down at the negotiating table with the aim that if an agreement with the Turks takes place, then any resettlement of arrivals from Turkey would be voluntary and not compulsory.”

“We must protect Hungarian interests,” PM Orbán said.

EU member states agreed late Thursday night on a response to Turkey’s counteroffer, but the heads of state and government were not keen on commenting ahead of Friday’s negotiations with Turkey. According to press reports, however, the draft agreement considers resettlement voluntary and offers the prospect of visa-free EU travel for Turkish citizens only after Ankara has fulfilled all the legal requirements.

Today, leaders of EU member states negotiate the accepted draft proposal with Turkey. Prime Minister Orbán and other leaders are expected the comment later on Friday.

For more on the summit and for the Prime Minister’s press briefing, follow the latest updates from About Hungary.