Referendum on EU’s Mandatory Quota System: New Unity and Changes to the Fundamental Law

More than 3.36 million Hungarians voted “no” in the October 2nd referendum on the EU’s proposed quota system, an overwhelming 98 percent voting in favor of the government’s position that the decision on relocation of non-Hungarians should remain a national competence.

Those 3.36 million voters in a country of 8.2 million voters represent a new unity. Since the democratic changes in 1989, rarely have so many Hungarian voters turned out to cast a ballot in support of one cause as they did in the October 2 referendum. In response to this new unity, the government of Hungary is proposing to incorporate this expression of the people’s will in the Fundamental Law, Hungary’s constitution.

Normally, if more than 50 percent of eligible voters take part in a referendum, the results automatically become public law in their own right. However, due in part to the fact that 44 percent of the voting public came out in force to cast their vote, passing these new laws requires additional support from members of Parliament.

Points in the proposed amendment to the Fundamental Law include: 

  • A clear statement on preventing Brussels from ordering the resettlement of migrants to Hungary under a resolution without the consent of the Hungarian parliament, and a ban on mandatory group resettlements.
  • A declaration that the resettlement of people without the right to free movement and stay in Hungary can only take place on the basis of individual requests assessed by the Hungarian authorities in procedures outlined in Hungarian laws enacted by parliament.
  • A change to the “national creed” of the constitution, stating “it is the state’s fundamental duty to protect Hungary’s constitutional identity rooted in its historical constitution,” highlighted in Article 1.

Background on the referendum

Hungary held a popular referendum on October 2nd, 2016, on the so-called quota system, the plan whereby the European Union would relocate a certain number of migrants to the territory of Hungary.“Do you agree,” the referendum question asked voters, “that the European Union should have the power to impose the compulsory settlement of non-Hungarian citizens in Hungary without the consent of the National Assembly of Hungary?”

As one of the fundamental values of the European Union, the prime minister said in explaining the need for the referendum, democracy “means decisions, which significantly changes their lives and affects the lives of future generations cannot be made over [the people’s] head.” He added that “introducing the [mandatory] resettlement quota without the consent of the people is an abuse of power.” A plebiscite is a “European thing,” and the government “recommends it wholeheartedly to others,” he said, suggesting that other European countries follow Hungary’s example.

Prior to the referendum, the government of Hungary made clear its opposition to the idea of the mandatory resettlement quotas, which would relocate tens of thousands of migrants in the coming years from other European Union member states to Hungary. The relocation of such a large number of migrants to Hungary would have significant impact on the country’s social welfare system and cultural integrity and raise security concerns. The monthly costs associated with relocating a migrant would be higher than the minimum wage.

The proposed mandatory quota system has no democratic mandate and in many cases is being imposed against the will of EU member states and their voters. It remains a dysfunctional idea, proposing to relocate migrants to member states where the migrants themselves do not want to go and – because the voters or the elected leaders have not had a say – where they are not necessarily welcome. Furthermore, the mandatory quota system would endanger the freedom of movement, the borderless travel within the Schengen zone.

The quota system would also not do anything to address the root cause of the migration and would serve as an open invitation for many others who would migrate to the European Union for economic reasons. According to reports, the potential number of migrants, including such economic migrants, could reach up to as many as 39 million people.

European leaders do not have the authority to decide on a mandatory resettlement system against the will of the leaders of the member states. That is why Hungary, along with other member states, has opposed the initiative in the European Council and turned to the European Court to overturn the mandatory quota system after it was accepted over the objection of Hungary and others.

This is not a question of solidarity but a question of democracy and common sense. Hungarians have in fact shown solidarity in the migration crisis by protecting the southern border, an external border of the Schengen zone – bearing all associated costs in the national budget – unlike some other EU member states that did little to uphold their Schengen responsibilities.

Such a decision on resettlement quotas cannot be ordered from Brussels and imposed on the member states without the knowledge and support of the people. “The Hungarian government takes the view that neither the EU, nor Brussels, nor the leaders of Europe have the authority to do this. In fact, there is no European body or agency of any kind which has been vested with such authority,” Prime Minister Orbán has said. The Hungarian government carried out a consultation with voters in 2015 to solicit the people’s opinion on the migration crisis in the European Union, which clearly showed an overwhelming majority supporting stricter, protective regulation of migration.

“No one has asked the European people,” Prime Minister Orbán said prior to the referendum, “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,” PM Orbán said.