On the 2nd of October, Europe was hit, once again, by a referendum (well done Britain, we started a craze). The question posed to the Hungarian public asked whether they would like to be subjected to housing 1,294 migrants as part of the 160,000 migrants that are to be shared between members of the EU. It was Hungary’s PM, Viktor Orbán, who was heading up the ‘No’ campaign.
There was celebration in both Hungary and within the European Union as the results were released. Though 98% of the voters were in favour of the ‘no’ campaign, less than 50% of the electorate turned out to vote, making the referendum void. This created a somewhat confusing outcome for the EU. The referendum is not legally binding, but it has further emphasized that there are holes in the once shining, cohesive core of the European Union.
The referendum was prompted by the EU’s Emergency Response Mechanism, adopted in September 2015, at the height of the refugee crisis. Hungary was one of the four countries, along with Czech Republic, Slovakia and Romania, to vote against the bill. Zoltan Kovacs, a Hungarian government spokesman, said that the expected quota is “unlawful, unworkable and dangerous”, echoing the words Sebastian Kurz, Austria’s foreign minister, who said “the target is totally unrealistic”.
When asked about the referendum, Orbán answered “We are proud that we are the first…Unfortunately we are the only ones in the European Union who managed to have a (referendum) on the migrant issue.” It is clear that he wishes to inspire copy-cat votes across the EU in an attempt to inspire what he has called a “counter- revolution” against centralized power, otherwise known as ‘Orbánisation”.
Ultimately, the referendum was an attempt to strike a blow at the EU’s authority. Its principles of diversity, tolerance, and openness seem to be slowly crumbling, with Brexit arguably fanning the flames of the formidable current of nationalism and xenophobia. Fear is creeping in, with countries seeking to protect themselves from threats of terrorism, a point to which Orbán drew attention during the referendum campaign, mirrored in slants used by the far right in Britain.
Worryingly, it seems that the EU is losing its potential as a uniting factor, the viability of its being. Hungary, Britain, and arguably Greece last year, have shown that any attempt by the EU to make its member countries shoulder responsibility at this critical time risks a rebellion in the polling stations, where anti-EU parties seem to be one step ahead.
This a watershed for the whole of Europe. The way in which the EU addresses the crisis will have to change. This issue has never been approached from a solidarity-based standpoint, and as a result, we’ve seen panic in all member countries. It is now that the EU may start to realize that members have had enough of the notion of unity. We can contest the validity of the referendum itself, but more voted in this referendum than voted in the 2003 referendum which brought Hungary into the EU. Does this act from Hungary carry more weight than we like to admit?