Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has claimed victory in a referendum on whether or not to accept mandatory EU quotas for taking in refugees, with 98 per cent of voters rejecting the plans laid out by Brussels. However, the result of the plebiscite has been voided, voter turnout having failed to pass the 50 per cent threshold.
Orbán himself acknowledged that "a valid referendum is always better than an invalid referendum", but said the result still gave him a mandate to "ensure that we should not be forced to accept in Hungary people we don’t want to live with" when he next meets with EU leaders.
The Prime Minister hoped that other member states would follow suit and hold similar referenda.
Reaction from EU policymakers was swift, with the Chair of the European Parliament's 189-strong S&D group, Gianni Pittella, commenting, "The whole of Europe has won. Populism and xenophobia have lost. Orbán's lies have come up against a brick wall. The wall of hatred, lies and razor wire Orbán has built up to block refugees fleeing war is hopefully starting to fall down. The migration crisis needs a long term European answer based on solidarity and shared responsibility.
"We congratulate the majority of the Hungarian citizens who decided to stay at home and to truly act democratically by not playing Orbán's dirty games, making this referendum invalid."
Belgian Liberal MEP and head of Parliament's ALDE group Guy Verhofstadt, said the Hungarian Prime Minister had "lost his bet".
"Hungarians have showed they don't support and will not follow populist, xenophobic and racist policies," he said, adding, "The solution to the refugee crisis is not hatred or fear; we need a humane, common European response."
Tamás Meszerics, a Hungarian member of the Parliament's Greens/EFA group, was pleased that, "Despite an extremely aggressive propaganda campaign, a majority of the Hungarian electorate did not cast a valid vote. Even in the face of a hate-mongering campaign, the majority resisted, offering some of hope in what is an otherwise deeply regrettable result."
His colleague Benedek Jávor added, "The real threat to the European Union is not migrants but the irresponsible approach of member states. It is extremely worrying that some member states are actively seeking to undermine EU solidarity for internal political games, and the way the Hungarian government has approached today’s referendum is a prime example of this."
The EPP group in the European Parliament - which Orbán's Fidesz party is affiliated to - has remained tight lipped on the result.