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Hungary is the latest country to lash out at the EU by calling a controversial referendum

Billboard in Hungary.
AP Photo/Bela Szandelszky
By Kata Karáth
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

The European Union is set to receive another referendum rebuke.

Just 12 days after the UK voted to leave the EU, Hungary announced today (July 5) that it will hold a referendum on October 2 on whether to accept quotas for resettling asylum seekers currently held in camps, which the EU plans to impose on most member states. Though the final quotas are not set yet, according to the latest estimates Hungarians will vote whether to accept or reject 1,294 people.

This is the question Hungarian voters will answer, according to a statement (link in Hungarian) by president János Áder:

Do you want the European Union to be entitled to prescribe the mandatory settlement of non-Hungarian citizens in Hungary without the consent of parliament?

The negative tone is no accident. The government of prime minister Viktor Orbán has been pouring its energy into urging the electorate to reject the quotas since the refugee crisis peaked in the country last summer.

Even before it set a date for the referendum, the government installed a series of billboards throughout the country, all colored the same blue as the EU flag. The most recent bears the slogan: “This is a message to Brussels so that they can understand!” The insinuation is that Hungary should send a clear signal to the EU, perhaps by rejecting its edicts.

Hungary, which sits on a major transit route for migrants traveling from Turkey to Germany, has drawn criticism over the past year for its harsh stance on refugees, which included the building of a razor-wire fence on Hungary’s southern border in an effort to stop people crossing into the country.

The stance has led to open dissent. The so-called Hungarian Two-tailed Dog Party—an official political party founded to mock the government—has erected its own billboards mimicking the government’s. They carry messages of welcome and tolerance. Some billboards have also been altered so that the sentiments are of inclusivity rather than division.

Here, the government’s official poster has been modified with a caption saying “Send us more money!”:

Despite the pushback, the government’s strategy seems to working. Of 1,000 Hungarians polled in May, around three-quarters said they don’t want to see any refugees resettled in the country, according to the Perspective Institute, a Hungarian non-profit research company.

The EU has proposed a financial charge of €250,000 ($278,000) per refugee for member states refusing to accept their share of asylum seekers. It looks like many Hungarians think that is a price worth paying.

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