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Orban’s referendum failure. But populism continues to have a strong hold, while migrants continue to arrive

The referendum called by the Hungarian premier failed to reach the quorum. But Euroscepticism and anti-migrant sentiments are widespread throughout the Country. Fidesz party leader uses the popular vote to his avantage, although opposition parties want him to resign. The debate on the future of the “common home” remains a hot topic across the EU

Who knows if Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has ever looked straight in the eyes of an African or Middle Eastern migrant arriving on European shores with the burden of his exhaustion, bearing the signs of hunger, violence, and war; one of those refugees who represent an objective problem – no use denying it – for the Countries of arrival, who Europe refuses to welcome, failing to show a minimum degree of solidarity. Those are the youths, the women and men fleeing their home countries, which Italy and Greece, despite themselves, try to accommodate, amidst disorganization and widespread discontent, in order to comply with international law, and to ensure a minimum level of humanity …

Orban wanted an anti-migrant referendum that would preserve his country’s “purity” of identity and religion (he even mentioned Christianity).

Voters were asked to answer a clear question: “”Do you want the European Union to be able to mandate the obligatory resettlement of non-Hungarian citizens into Hungary even without the approval of the National Assembly?” Put in simple terms (and turning a blind eye to the Country’s free adhesion to the EU Treaty following the fall of the Iron Curtain) the question was: who decides in Hungary, Europe or the Hungarian people? The outcome of the referendum was an unpleasant surprise for the Premier. In fact, only 43% of the electorate voted (approximately 3 million out of 8 million eligible to vote), thereby annulling the result of the referendum, which required an absolute majority of voters. However, over 90% of those who went to the polls said “NO”. On these grounds Orban now trumpets that Hungarian people don’t want foreigners on their soil and that the EU has no power to impose its decisions on Budapest.

At domestic level Orban says that his Eurosceptic and nationalistic positions are supported by a large majority. Leading opposition leaders that had called on the voters to desert the polls, slammed the government for the failure and asked for the Premier’s resignation. Their request is supported also by Jobbik’s right-wing ultranationalist party. For sure Orban will keep his post. He voices a widespread conviction when he says that a large majority of Hungarians “agree with the government”, namely, that migrants constitute an expense for Hungarian citizens, bringing into the Country terrorist outposts, along with religions that are “alien” to its citizens. The alternative option, for Orban, is to ensure that migrants remain in Italy and Greece. “Solidarity”, a historical pillar of the European common home, can wait. Out of 160 thousand refugees landed on European shores, only 5 thousand were relocated. The Commission has wanted to relocate 1294 refugees into Hungary, but Budapest simply bolted its doors.

Considering the broader scenario, the referendum called by Orban solicits the need for another referendum. In the UK, Prime Minister David Cameron was determined to hold a Brexit vote that he was sure to win, thereby ensuring his Country’s permanence in the EU whilst renegotiating London’s obligations. Having lost the challenge, Cameron was forced to resign, relegated to the backroom of History. On the same day as Hungary’s referendum, Colombia voted NO to the government-FARC peace deal, which shows that governments often follow the opposite direction of their electorate.

The outcome of the Hungarian referendum reaffirms two certainties and raises two questions. With no doubt

With or without a referendum, the question on the reception of migrants can be neither ignored nor postponed.

The full magnitude of the problem must be addressed, including all the concrete implications. It has been shown that walls don’t stop people on the move. It is a question of reaching shared solutions at European level – and the EU, in spite of everything, appears to be the only realm where it could be done – assuming the responsibility of human lives adrift, without renouncing the obligation to defend the rights and safety of the EU citizens.

The second certainty is that the wave of populism and anti-Europeanism rode by various European government and party leaders – fuelled on the three-fold front of migration, economic crisis and terrorism – shows no sign of decline. The only way to dissipate the fears of millions of European is for the political realm to provide concrete – albeit complex, far-sighted and definitive – solutions. Nobody has a magic wand, and certainly not the imperious leaders of the populist right that are gaining grounds across all corners of Europe.

As for the two questions, the first involves Hungary’s political future. Will Orban attempt an internal conciliation and a minimum level of openness to Brussels’ demands, or will he stiffen his political claims following the direction of Putin or Erdogan? On her part – the second hanging question – will the Europe of peoples and States grant further support to extremist leaders or will she manage to reach reasonable, negotiated – perhaps suffered – solutions, thereby meeting the ongoing challenges once and for all?

What will be the attitude of Community Europe at internal level? Will it continue following the dangerous path of division, or will it be able to close ranks under the banner: “united we stand”?

For while it is true that Eastern Europe demands sacrosanct respect for national “diversities”, Northern, Western and even Southern Europe is increasingly intolerant towards anti-European governments – Poland is the most frequently mentioned example in Brussels and Strasbourg – which squeeze the EU through structural funds.

The above-mentioned certainties and questions appear to run along parallel tracks. But it should be understood that the path is the same and it involves everyone without distinction.

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