Thursday, September 29, 2016

Hungarians set to reject EU refugee quota plan in a referendum

Hungarians are poised to reject the EU's troubled refugee quota plan in a referendum on Sunday, potentially further boosting the European clout of fiercely anti-migrant Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

Latest polls indicate the "no" camp will comfortably win, although if the turnout fails to reach 50 percent, the vote will be deemed invalid.

Orban's right-wing government has led a huge media offensive urging the eight-million-strong electorate to reject the EU proposal, which seeks to share migrants around the 28-member bloc via mandatory quotas.

The European Commission, the bloc's executive arm, said Wednesday the outcome would not affect the quota plan or other EU treaties, despite Orban's insistence that the rejection of the deal would have legal repercussions for the bloc.

"Member states have a legal responsibility to deliver on decisions already taken," Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos told journalists.

Nevertheless, the vote puts further pressure on a deeply split Europe, already weakened by its worst migration crisis since 1945 and Britain's decision in June to leave the bloc.

"If referendums are going to be organized on every decision of the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament, legal security is in danger," EC President Jean-Claude Juncker warned in late July.

Observers say a rejection of the EU deal is also likely to strengthen Orban's role as a populist antithesis to German Chancellor Angela Merkel's "open-door" policy.

Hungarian opposition parties have called for a boycott of the October 2 ballot, which will ask voters: "Do you want the EU to be able to mandate the obligatory resettlement of non-Hungarian citizens into Hungary even without the approval of the National Assembly?"

The deal in question is aimed at easing pressure on Greece and Italy, the main entry points into the EU for hundreds of thousands of refugees mostly fleeing war in Syria.

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