Hungary could push for EU treaty change after Oct. referendum: report

September 21, 2016 4:45 AM EDT

Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban speaks during a news conference in Warsaw, Poland, August 26, 2016. Picture taken on August 26, 2016. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel

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BUDAPEST (Reuters) - Hungary's government could press changes to the European Union's fundamental Lisbon Treaty to strengthen members' sovereign powers if it wins clear victory in a referendum on rejecting migrant quotas, the daily Nepszabadsag said on Wednesday.

With less than two weeks until an Oct. 2 referendum on whether Hungary should reject EU migrant quotas, Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who opposes immigration into the EU, has largely managed to seal the country's southern border to migrants.

This has cemented support for his ruling Fidesz party as he prepares for a 2018 election, but drawn criticism from some rights groups.

Nepszabadsag said if more than half of Hungary's eight million voters cast a valid vote in the referendum, likely to show strong support for the government, Orban, a key figure in a eurosceptic alliance of ex-Communist east European states, could use the momentum to bolster his efforts to rein in Brussels.

The report, which did not name its source, said Hungary could propose exempting national migration rules from common European policies, trouncing any scheme to share responsibility for migrants among EU member states. It gave no further details.


When asked about the unnamed report, government spokesman Zoltan Kovacs said in an emailed response:

"There is no change in the Prime Minister's stance ... that several fundamental circumstances have changed since the Lisbon Treaty, which Europe had not been prepared for," such as Britain leaving the bloc or the migrant crisis.

"This would justify talking about the Treaty as well," Kovacs said. "However, (the prime minister) has also said that Hungary alone was too small and not powerful enough to initiate or implement something like this."

The 2009 Lisbon Treaty set out the economic and political framework of the EU, created the office of a permanent president and enhanced the powers of the European Parliament.

European leaders meeting in Bratislava without Britain last week agreed to present new plans for reinvigorating the EU by March. Budapest and Warsaw are calling for Brussels to return more powers to EU member states.

There has been tension between German Chancellor Angela Merkel and ex-communist eastern states, which have refused to take in asylum-seekers, many of them Muslims, while Germany let in a million people last year.

Poland, the most powerful member in the ex-communist eastern bloc, has said the EU needs a new treaty, as the bloc had to reform to preserve its unity following Britain's decision to leave.

(Reporting by Gergely Szakacs)

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