Europe

Migrants crisis: Hungary's Orban urges EU rethink

Hungarian soldiers construct temporary fence on border with Croatia (22 Sept) Image copyright AP
Image caption Hungary has sealed its border with Serbia and is temporarily erecting a fence on the frontier with Croatia

It may be a peace offer from the most unexpected quarter, but Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban is preparing to shock Wednesday's EU leaders' summit with a solution of his own to the migrant crisis - and it will be costly.

Hungary will propose that each of the 28 EU members pays 1% of its income from the Union, plus 1% of its contributions to it, into a special fund.

In Hungary's case, that would amount to €1bn (£720m; $1.1bn).

Close to 250,000 migrants have entered Hungary this year - 70,000 this month alone - and it has become a transit state on the Western Balkan route to Germany and other EU destinations.

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Media captionBethany Bell at Nickelsdorf - on the border with Hungary - says migrants cheered when they realised they were in Austria

The government has tried to stop migrants coming by erecting a border fence and giving the army extra powers to keep them out. And, along with three other Central European states, Hungary has been outvoted on an EU quota plan for taking in another 120,000 refugees.

The proposed special fund would be used, Mr Orban will argue, to improve conditions in the refugee camps in countries neighbouring Syria - especially Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan - and to bolster Europe's external borders.

Orban: Europe's borders threatened by migrants

Why EU deal on migrants is so tricky

Why Central Europe says No

Image copyright EPA
Image caption Mr Orban is relying on the assumption that Europeans do not want the influx to continue

Too much, too late?

The Hungarian plan rests on two premises. That European voters share his view that the ongoing influx would change Europe beyond recognition, if allowed to continue, and that they don't want that. And that if conditions improve where they are, the migrants will stay there, in the hope that they can one day rebuild Syria.

The Hungarian prime minister clearly also hopes that the plan will prove his own fence-building approach right - that Europe should defend its borders first, before it even starts discussing quotas.

He may also add that Hungary would be willing to accept a voluntary quota, if his proposal or parts of it are accepted.

The Orban proposal may be too much, too late for other European leaders.

Despite fierce anti-migrant rhetoric and an ever-lengthening border fence, the Budapest government has failed to stop the influx of migrants, other EU leaders may point out.

'Change of emphasis'

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Hungary blames EU policies for the influx of migrants through the Western Balkans

In a sign that it expects the movement of migrants to continue, the government yesterday ordered 192 heatable tents, each of which can house 20 people, from Finland.

"This is not a change in our policy, but it is a change of emphasis," Gergely Prohle, a former Hungarian ambassador to Berlin, now deputy state secretary in the Fidesz government, told the BBC.

"We have always said that the EU must be able to control its borders. This proposal shows our willingness to help, on a humanitarian level, whilst not risking the social cohesion of our country."

Hungary, he emphasised, had no colonial past, little experience with immigrants, and a large Jewish community who would be the first to fear a large Muslim influx.