Hungary to hold EU migrant quota referendum by October
by Daily Sabah with Wires
ISTANBULMay 04, 2016 - 12:00 am GMT+3
by Daily Sabah with Wires
May 04, 2016 12:00 am
Hungary will hold a referendum in September or early October on whether to accept any future European Union quota system for resettling migrants, the prime minister's office said on Tuesday.
Prime Minister Viktor Orban has taken an increasingly anti-immigrant stance since the migration crisis escalated last year and opposes a plan, agreed by a majority of EU governments in September, to redistribute 160,000 migrants around the bloc.
Along with Slovakia, Hungary has launched a court challenge against that plan, which will set quotas for each EU country to host a share of the migrants over two years.
The referendum will ask Hungarians whether they would accept any permanent quota system beyond that.
The question voters will be asked is: "Do you want the EU, even without the approval of Hungarian parliament, to be able to prescribe the mandatory resettlement of non-Hungarian citizens in Hungary?"
"There are crazier and crazier ideas coming up in Brussels. It seems that Brussels has not given up on the plan for mandatory resettlement," Antal Rogan, Orban's cabinet chief, told a news conference.
Once parliament approves holding the referendum, President Janos Ader will set a date on the matter that Rogan said was an "issue of national sovereignty".
Hungary has erected a steel fence along its southern border to stop migrants and refugees, many of whom arrive in Greece fleeing war in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, and try to travel north to settle in countries such as Germany and Sweden. Several other countries in southeastern Europe have also put up fences.
The agreement to curb migrant flows from Turkey to the European Union should be replicated with African nations, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said in a speech last week.
"Albeit agreed in an emergency situation and hence perfectible," the agreement "should not remain a one-off case," Renzi wrote in a letter to EU leaders.
If that were not to happen, "we would be witnessing an imbalance in terms of resources and political capital employed in one geographical area compared to other areas that are no less important when tackling the issue of migration," the Italian premier said.
Renzi's letter presented a separate four-page "Migration Compact" in which the Italian government opened up to EU debate several ideas. The paper suggested that the EU could offer African nations money, as well as entry quotas for workers, students and researchers, in return for them tightening border controls with the help of on-the-ground EU police missions, all "in line with international standards."
Last week, Italy and Austria played down tensions that flared after Austria said it might reintroduce border controls at the Alpine Brenner pass to keep migrants from entering from Italy.
A day after Italian PM Renzi said Austria's announced plans to build a fence at Brenner was "shamelessly against European rules," Austria's new Interior Minister Wolfgang Sobotka said he had come to Italy "to calm tempers." Italy also told Austria it would prove Vienna was "wasting money" on anti-migrant measures and closing the border between the two countries would be "an enormous mistake."
Both Italy and Austria are members of the European Union's Schengen open-border zone, but free movement has been jeopardized by the reimposition of controls at some key crossings by countries affected by the migrant influx. "There will be no wall," Sobotka told reporters after meeting his counterpart Angelino Alfano. "If, and only if it is necessary, will we introduce more controls (at Brenner) by slowing traffic and trains ... but circulation will be guaranteed."
Any toughening of border controls at the Brenner Pass would slow traffic on an important route from Italy to Germany, Italy's top trading partner.
Hundreds of thousands of migrants fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and Africa have crossed the Mediterranean to Italy since 2014, and Austria has said Rome must stop them from travelling on towards northern Europe. On Wednesday, Austria outlined plans to erect a 370 meter-long fence at the Brenner Pass, which is the busiest route through the Alps for vehicles carrying heavy goods, but Sobotka said on Thursday that it would be used only to "channel" people and was not a barrier. Renzi has warned that closing the pass would be a "flagrant breach of European rules" and is pushing the European Commission to force Austria to hold off on a move which many fear could symbolize the death of the continent's Schengen open-border system.
Sobotka told Alfano that "preparations are under way in case there is an extraordinary surge of migrants," Alfano said. Sobotka said as many as a million migrants in Libya were poised to cross the sea to Europe this year. Italy says the true figure is much lower, but arrivals are expected to surge during the summer months. Some 27,000 migrants have arrived in Italy by boat this year, the Interior Ministry says, and the coastguard said 600 were rescued on Thursday.