Europe’s next big referendum may just have been set. Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban wants the people’s backing to reject a new EU migrant quota scheme. Hungarians will go to the polls on October 2. Reuters reports:
President Janes Ader said in a statement posted on his office’s website on Tuesday that the vote will be about the following question: “Do you want the European Union to be entitled to prescribe the mandatory settlement of non-Hungarian citizens in Hungary without the consent of parliament?”
Hungary is already fighting an EU relocation scheme established during the height of the crisis last year, which will set quotas for each EU country to host a share of the migrants over two years. Along with Slovakia, Budapest has launched a court challenge against the plan.
But the EU is also discussing a change to asylum rules that would require member states to accept a quota of refugees or pay a penalty for them to be housed elsewhere.
Antal Rogan, Orban’s cabinet chief, said on Tuesday the flow of migrants had to be stopped.
“The Hungarian government asks Hungarian citizens to say no to mandatory resettlement and to say no to the immigration policy of Brussels,” Rogan told reporters. “Only Hungarians can decide with whom we want to live in Hungary.”
The legal consequences of such a vote may not be as stark as Brexit, where there was a straight in-out decision that (presumably) will lead directly to the invocation of the exit clause of the Lisbon Treaty. Here, it’s unclear whether this will do anything beyond bolstering Orban’s mandate to fight changes to the immigration policies at a European level. But that’s still pretty explosive stuff; it would deepen the divisions on the EU’s most contentious political issue. Depending on how the EU implements the change and how Orban fights it, it could potentially trigger an intra-European constitutional crisis.
So far the pro-EU playbook both for fighting referenda and for arguing about immigration in general has been to insinuate (or increasingly, say outright) that the voters who lean the wrong way are racist, and to suggest that the wrong sort of vote will undo the European project as a whole, putting an end to the post-nationalist moment. But in a world where the EU still doesn’t have a credible plan to staunch immigration flows, nor how to unwind the euro mess, nor really an idea of how to get that post-nationalist project back on track, voters are less afraid of the latter, and increasingly unswayed by the former. The eurocrats have cried
wolf racist too often over the years for it to be taken as seriously as it once was. And while racism may play a role in some people’s thinking, even the most cosmopolitan person can be worried about the current European migrant/refugee crisis.
As the Brexit referendum should have shown, the old politics-as-morality-play instincts aren’t getting it done any more. The pro-Europeans are going to have to up their game if they want to keep this project together.