7 statements about the referendum
- The one and a half year-long political campaign, which has been the most expensive one ever in Hungary, was not enough for a valid referendum. The 40% voter turnout shows that the campaign considerably underperformed the governing party’s expectations, the representatives of which had been talking about the importance of the validity of the referendum before the start of the last week of the campaign.
- Fidesz, in opposition, convinced more than 3.3 million people to vote in line with their recommendation, which was a “yes” vote at the time. Now, 3.2 million people voted as the party suggested. What counted as a breakthrough eight years ago in opposition counts as a disappointing result at this referendum due to the fact that the bar was set too high. The number of people voting “no” is just slightly higher than the size of Fidesz’s and Jobbik’s camp together.
- In terms of the consequences for party politics, Fidesz only suffered a temporary defeat. Although the referendum is invalid, the large share of “no” votes allows the governing party to evaluate the result as a victory. The government’s stability is not in doubt. The chance for a snap election has become minimal.
- The high share of invalid votes (6.3%), an option promoted by civil organisations, is significant. This indicates that voters who wanted to actively demonstrate against the referendum question participated in relatively high numbers.
- Internationally, the invalid referendum is a failure for Viktor Orbán. In terms of public law, not even a valid referendum could have overwritten a decision made by the European Union, but an invalid referendum is not even suitable to exert political pressure. All this does not mean that a decision on refugee quotas in the European Union is now expected to be taken. Irrespective of the referendum, there is no substantial political support, not even among Western member states, for any kind of future scheme to mandatorily relocate refugees. Thus, even if a decision on this was made next spring, it would most probably be on a voluntary basis.
- However, it could create tensions after the referendum that following the prime minister’s announcement the National Assembly might create legislation or amend the Fundamental Law. Brussels would start an infringement procedure in two cases:
- If the legislation had retroactive effects. For example, if the parliament declared in law that Hungary is unwilling to implement the Council decision made by ministers of the interior in September 2015. This would be pointless, since even the Hungarian government admitted that the referendum is not retroactive, it concerns a future decision.
- If they create a law declaring that Hungary is unwilling to implement any future EU decision on the mandatory relocation of refugees. This would only have symbolic significance.
- The invalid referendum could be a warning to the governments of the Visegrád Group regarding how much one can gain by focusing on anti-immigration policies. Although in their fight against the quota system the V4 is rather unified, the Hungarian and Polish leadership’s recent anti-EU rhetoric represents a more hardliner stance compared to their more moderate colleagues in Slovakia and the Czech Republic. The leaders of the V4 started to distance themselves from Orbán after the EU summit in Bratislava, a process that is expected to continue in the future. Orbán’s main allies in Europe will continue to be the pro-Russian far-right parties whose main intention is to weaken European integration.