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Outcome of Hungary vote on EU migrant quotas will be 'hugely symbolic'

Hungarians are voting in a referendum on mandatory migrant quotas. Credit: Reuters

The referendum bug appears to be catching. Today it is Hungary’s turn to tell the EU “Our people have spoken, and that trumps your rules”.

The outcome of today’s vote is a foregone conclusion. There will be a big majority in favour of rejecting any further attempt by Brussels to send them refugees for resettlement, the only question is whether the turnout will be sufficient (50%) to make the vote legally binding.

The Hungarian government has urged the population to vote 'no' Credit: Reuters

The opposition have given up all hope of winning, and are simply urging their supporters to stay at home and reduce the turnout figures.

But this has never really been about legal thresholds - it is pure politics, designed by Prime Minister Victor Orban to position himself as the people’s champion against Brussels.

Prime Minister Victor Orban casts his ballot. Credit: Reuters

Hungary’s quota was a mere 1,294 refugees, but even that was too much for Orban. Instead he wants to be seen as the man who is saving ‘Christian’ Europe from a ‘Muslim invasion’, the man whose fences brought the refugee crisis under control and whose vision of an ‘illiberal democracy’ (his words) should be the answer to the ‘liberals in Brussels’.

So while the substance of this vote is pretty insignificant, the symbolic importance is going to be huge, right across Eastern Europe.

The opposition are already painting parallels with the Brexit referendum, not because anyone is talking about Hungary actually leaving the EU, but because they warn that, once you start down this road, it may not be long before you end up in the same place as the British.

The reaction from Brussels tomorrow will be interesting. They have already threatened Hungary with fines of €270,000+ per refugee that they refuse to accept, but it’s unlikely such fines would ever actually be imposed, let alone paid.

Buffeted by multiple crises the European Commission is no shape for a head on confrontation with Budapest, but if it does nothing what will the Greeks and Italians say about the tens of thousands of refugees on their soil who are going to need to be resettled somewhere?

It’s a mess that no-one has any convincing ideas how to clear up. And today’s vote will only make it messier.