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Hungary's Orban Calls Migrant Relocation Referendum For October

  • RFE/RL

Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban

Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has announced that Hungary will hold a national referendum on mandatory migrant relocation quotas on October 2, in a move likely to exacerbate an increasingly divisive dispute among EU members as the continent faces its biggest wave of immigration since World War II.

Orban has been among the most outspoken of EU leaders opposed to plans that would force member states to accept quotas of refugees and other migrants, many of whom are escaping conflict and hardship in the Middle East, North Africa, and South Asia.

The Hungarian vote threatens to deliver another black eye to Brussels on the heels of fellow EU member United Kingdom's June 23 referendum to leave the bloc, which sent markets tumbling and has prompted a rethink of some of the fundamental planks of the decades-long effort at economic and political harmonization.

Hungary, a postcommunist state of around 10 million people, was among the first EU members to erect a barrier on its border with fellow EU countries amid the heavy illegal migrant flows in 2015, in what was widely seen as a direct challenge to the EU principle of free movement of goods and people.

Orban has lent support to officials in other skeptical EU member states, including neighbor Slovakia, to rein in Brussels following the Brexit vote.

The inflow of more than 1 million migrants from Syria and elsewhere has served as a rallying cause for critics of the European Union who argue that Brussels has overstepped its authority and failed to listen to the bloc's 500 million-plus residents.

EU officials are worried that a wave of similar referendums could follow the U.K.'s so-called Brexit vote, potentially crippling decision-making bodies and dashing hopes of maintaining institutions born of decades of tough negotiations.

The president of the Czech Republic, Milos Zeman, has already called publicly for a national referendum on both EU and NATO membership, fundamental priorities that the country successfully pursued after the fall of communism, although the Czech government has rejected Zeman's suggestion.

Opposition leaders in EU founding members France and the Netherlands have also demanded that the governments there conduct referendums on continued membership.

Brussels is weighing a change to EU asylum rules that could force member states to accept a certain number of refugees or pay a penalty to see them housed in another country.

Based on reporting by BBC and Reuters