Single questions, complex problems: Comparing the Greek bailout referendum (2015) and the Hungarian migrant quota referendum (2016)
A referendum to decide whether Greece was to accept the bailout conditions in the country's debt crisis proposed by the Troika took place in the summer of 2015. Even though voters rejected the bailout conditions, nonetheless, the Syriza-led government accepted a bailout package containing larger pension cuts and tax increases than the one rejected by voters in the referendum. A few months later, on February 2016, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán announced that the Hungarian government would hold a referendum on whether to accept the European Union's proposed mandatory quotas for relocating migrants and refugees. While an overwhelming majority of voters rejected the EU's migrant quotas, turnout was too low to make the poll valid.
These referendums are far from isolated instances. Rather, they form part of a recent surge, whereby member states are increasingly confronting, through the ballot, the institutions and policies of the EU. These referendums and/or demands for them are driven by transnational rather than strictly domestic causes, such as developments in the Eurozone and the handling of migration and asylum. Comparing the two aforementioned referendums provides an opportunity to better understand what explains this surge, and what its consequences may be. The paper is based on the systematic analysis of the campaigns leading up to the ballots. It argues that national referendums serve a double purpose: domestically, they are used to increase the popularity of the incumbents and to sideline the opposition; internationally, they are meant to expand the bargaining power of the government.
Anna Kyriazi is a doctoral researcher at the European University Institute in Florence, Italy. Her primary academic interest is in the field of comparative ethnicity and nationalism, with emphasis on the peripheries of Europe (East and South). In her thesis project she examines the education of minorities in a comparative perspective. Her work has appeared in Ethnic and Migration Studies and Ethnicities. She has also worked as a researcher in a number of research projects (POLCON, EuandI, EduLife, MaxCap). Anna is Visiting Research Fellow at IBEI from January to July 2017.
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