Over the last several months as Hungary has been at the forefront of the debate over Europe’s response to the migration crisis, we’ve fielded a lot of pointed questions about our government’s response, about the fence reinforcing Hungary’s southern border – which is an external border of Europe’s Schengen Area – and about the upcoming referendum in Hungary, scheduled to take place October 2.
Often times, they are smart questions, like how to work with Turkey and other countries on the front lines of the crisis to halt the flow of migrants, crack down on human trafficking and improve Europe’s border security.
Other times, not so much. Other times, the questions are jaw-dropping in their utter confusion about Europe and the rules at play in this migration issue.
Take for example this question from Evan Davis at BBC Newsnight. In an interview with Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Péter Szijjártó, Davis asked about the upcoming referendum and we get this exchange (watch here):
Evan Davis, BBC: It sounds like you like some European laws, like free movement for your people to emigrate to the UK, which has caused a lot of disruption in the UK, some people would say. But you don’t like other European laws, which mean people can emigrate to your country. That doesn’t seem reasonable. [Emphasis added.]
Minister Szijjártó: No, no. You must not confuse these two things because free movement of people means that citizens of European Union can move freely around European Union member states. What we don’t accept is that there are people [from non-EU countries] who would like to violate our borders. You know, there are European and international regulations how you can cross borders between countries. And during the recent year, there were 400 thousand people who violated our border…
Then, not realizing his mistake, Davis embarrasses himself further by adding:
Evan Davis, BBC: Ok, well many would just say that rules are rules, and you have to take all the rules or you don’t take the rules.
Which rules? you might ask. If you were wondering what on earth he was he talking about when he asked about “other European laws, which mean people can emigrate to your country”, well, you’re not the only one.
This is part of the reason the public discourse on this issue is in the sorry state that it is today. A journalist from one of Europe’s most prominent media outlets, in an interview with a foreign minister, appears fundamentally confused about the rights of citizens in the EU, the freedom of movement, and the rules for non-EU citizens attempting to enter the EU.