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Hungary: Parliament Rejects Legislation Blocking Refugee Settlement

(Nov. 16, 2016) The National Assembly of Hungary voted on November 8, 2016, to reject a proposed constitutional amendment aimed at blocking the settlement of new refugees in the country.  The amendment reportedly read, “[f]oreign populations cannot be settled in Hungary,” and “[i]ndividual foreigners (not including EU nationals) can only live in Hungary with the approval of Hungarians.” (Peter Murphy, Hungary’s Orban Suffers Rare Defeat in Refugee Vote, YAHOO! NEWS (Nov. 8, 2016).)

The purpose of the legislation was to block a quota of 1,294, set by the European Union, for the number of refugees fleeing areas of conflict in the Middle East to be relocated in Hungary.  (Ashley Hogan, Hungary Parliament Rejects Bill to Block Settlement of Refugees, PAPER CHASE (Nov. 8, 2016); European Commission, Annex to the Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council on the State of Play of Implementation of the Priority Actions under the European Agenda on Migration: Relocation – State of Play Table (Annex 4), COM(2016) 85 final, at 2 & 4 (Feb. 10, 2016), EUROPA.)

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán had proposed the amendment, but his ruling Fidesz Party was unable to obtain the two opposition votes necessary for securing passage in the Parliament by the requisite two-thirds majority vote. (Hogan, supra.)  In a referendum held in October on the issue, Hungarian citizens had voted to oppose any mandatory placement of the refugees in Hungary by the EU, but the referendum was invalidated by low voter turnout.  (Id.) Hungary, along with the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Romania, had opposed the EU resettlement plan when the scheme to relocate 120,000 refugees (in addition to 40,000 others already provided for) in EU Member States was put forward in September 2015. (Eyder Peralta, European Union Approves Quota System to Relocate 120,000 Refugees, NPR (Sept. 22, 2015); Press Release, European Commission, Refugee Crisis: European Commission Takes Decisive Action (Sept. 9, 2015); Ian Traynor & Patrick Kingsley, EU Governments Push Through Divisive Deal to Share 120,000 Refugees, GUARDIAN (Sept. 22, 2015).)

Orbán may resubmit the amendment for consideration by the National Assembly, but stated when asked about it that “the Fidesz board will decide.” (Murphy, supra.)

Constitutional Provisions on Amendment and Referendum

According to the Fundamental Law of Hungary, the country’s new Constitution, adopted in 2011 at the beginning of Orbán’s term of office, a proposal for the Law’s amendment “may be submitted by the President of the Republic, the Government, any parliamentary committee or any Member of the National Assembly,” and adoption of the amendment requires the votes of two-thirds of the National Assembly Members. (The Fundamental Law of Hungary (Apr. 25, 2011, translation as of Oct. 1, 2013), art. S(1)&(2), Hungarian National assembly website.) The Speaker of the National Assembly is to sign the amendment within five days and send it to the President of Hungary, who is to sign the legislation within five days of receipt and order its promulgation in the official gazette, unless he or she finds that a procedural requirement with respect to adoption of the amendment has not been met.  (Id. art. S(3).)  If that is the case, the President will request that the Constitutional Court examine the issue.  If the Court’s examination finds no violation of the requirements, the President will immediately sign the amendment and order its promulgation.  (Id.)

The National Assembly must order a national referendum at the initiative of at least 200,000 voters; it may order a referendum at the initiative of the President, the Government, or 100,000 voters, and the decision made through a “valid and conclusive referendum” is binding on the National Assembly. (Id. art. 8(1).) While national referenda may be held on “any matter falling within the functions and powers of the National Assembly” (id. art. 8(2)), there are certain prescribed matters on which they may not be held, such as those having to do with amendment of the Fundamental Law, the contents of central budget or taxation laws, or obligations arising from international treaties.  (Id. art. 8(3).)  In order for a national referendum to be valid, more than half of all voters must have cast valid votes, and to be conclusive, more than half of the valid votes must have the same answer to a question posed.  (Id. art. 8(4).)