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Hungary Analysis

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Hungary MPs reject constitutional ban on migrants and refugees

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Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán speaking in Budapest, 4 October 2016. Reuters/Laszlo Balogh

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban failed on Monday to get the number of parliamentary votes needed to write a clause forbidding the resettlement of foreigners into the country’s constitution. Orban’s second consecutive failure to fight European Union migration policy could nonetheless bolster his position in the long term.


In little over a month Orban’s government has held a referendum and sought a constitutional amendment seeking to reject a European Union (EU) plan that would see Hungary take in 1,294 of some 160,000 asylum seekers relocated among member states.

On 2 October 98 percent of voters chose to reject the EU quota system in a referendum but its 40.4 percent turnout meant it fell short of the 50-percent threshold required to be valid.

On Monday all 131 MPs from Orban's Fidesz party voted in favour of a proposal that would effectively enshrine a rejection of the EU quotas in the country’s founding document but it was still left two votes short of the two-thirds majority needed for constitutional changes.

The far-right Jobbik party, which is not in favour of the EU quotas, withdrew its support over a separate cash-for-residency scheme that the Orban government introduced three years ago.

Under that scheme, wealthy foreigners can essentially buy special bonds from offshore companies that allow them to live and operate within Hungary.

“It’s a crazy system and extremely hypocritical to say that the poor migrants cannot come in but if you have enough money and you finance terrorism, for example, you buy a government bond through an offshore company and you get a residence permit in our country,” says Jobbik MP Marton Gyongyosi.

“This should be finished before we say no to the migration quotas,” he continues. “We just don’t want to do the job half way.”

Two losses for long-term gain?

But Daniel Bartha, executive director of the Budapest-based Centre for Euro-Atlantic Integration and Democracy, suggests Fidesz anticipated the far-right party would pull its support and pressed on “to create a stigma against Jobbik, saying they are not seriously against the migration quotas, to put them in an uncomfortable position and use it against them”.

And despite Monday’s vote, the prime minister is unlikely to see any of his support base erode at home.

“Now Fidesz can communicate that all other parties are in betrayal of the nation and that only his party and his government can protect the country from the migrants and the quotas of the European Union,” says Robert Laszlo, elections specialist at Budapest-based consultancy Political Capital.

“Mr Orban is only interested in what his own voter camp thinks and this is 2.5 million people, which is more than enough for an election victory in 2018,” the date of the next general election.

If the failures of the constitutional proposal and referendum will not give Orban any leverage against his EU opponents, he could still bolster his position as one of the most prominent opponents to EU migration policy.

“It is hard to question the legitimacy of his support, because he has meaningful support in parliament and he has almost 40 percent of Hungarian voters voting against the quotas in the referendum,” says Bartha, who adds Orban and his party are on a solid footing.

“Everybody’s slowly preparing for the 2018 elections but nobody really has the means to mobilise people, because the media is totally controlled by Fidesz and Fidesz-related oligarchs. The referendum mobilised Fidesz voters. So it’s quite a good momentum for them.”