No, the EU didn’t just lose in Hungary

Here in the UK the pro-Brexit press are going absolutely wild over the result of Hungary’s referendum on EU plans for migrant quotas. This is nothing more than opportunistic blustering to suit their own anti-EU narrative. Yes, over 90% of people who voted have rejected the EU’s plans for migrant quotas, but the turnout for the referendum was only around 43%. The turnout is important, and here’s why…

Some countries, like Hungary, have a minimum turnout threshold for a referendum result to be deemed valid. There are a bunch of good reasons for this, but we’ll stick with the one that’s relevant. Having a turnout threshold prevents unscrupulous governments from winning a mandate with an unfairly loaded question.

Consider the following (exaggerated) example question:

Should the government increase taxes to prevent the need for private services in the NHS?


You can see how this referendum would be unfair. The public are unlikely to want higher taxes, but they also want a well-funded, publicly-owned national health service. However the public vote in this hypothetical referendum, the government could say “we have a mandate to do this, you chose it, it’s your fault”. The reality is that politics is complicated and non-binary. The NHS could easily be funded by reducing the defence budget or something. This is where the turnout threshold comes in.

If there is a turnout threshold, as there is in Hungary, the public have another choice: stay at home and invalidate the result. Don’t give your government the satisfaction of forcing you into making a bad choice. The Hungarian public stood up to their government today and refused to play into their mind games. That is all.