Sunday

29th Mar 2020

Hungary demands EU payments for border wall

  • Hungary says it has spent €800 million on border fences. (Photo: Freedom House)

The Hungarian government is demanding the EU pay for half of the border wall erected along its southern borders to stave off migrants.

Hungary has spent some €800 million erecting fortified fences over the years on its borders with Serbia and Croatia, a move it says defends the rest of the European Union against unwanted migrants.

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The demand for the EU to pay €400 million was made on Thursday (31 August) by Janos Lazar, the prime minister's chief of staff, who told reporters that "Brussels should pay its share".

Earlier this week, the government decided to extend a state of emergency for another six months because of what it says is a threat of terrorism posed by mass immigration.

But the €400 million demand is likely to receive short shrift from the European Commission, which has said in the past that such fences and walls are a national issue it cannot condone.

In 2012, the Commission condemned a Greek-erected 12.5 km fence along the Turkish border to prevent migrant crossings, although the EU had co-financed some two dozen thermal vision cameras set up around the same area.

Hungary, for its part, had also introduced rules that allow authorities to apprehend anyone caught within an 8 km zone from its border fences and return them to so-called transit zones set up in 2015 on the other side. Some 19,000 had been sent back last year to Serbia or blocked from entering the country.

It has also set up shipping container units to house asylum seekers along the borders in conditions described by civil rights groups as prison-like.

Hungary's latest demand also comes ahead soon-expected rulings from the European Court of Justice (ECJ), following complaints against the EU's relocation scheme. The scheme initially aimed to relocate 120,000 asylum seekers from Greece and Italy to other EU states over a two-year period.

Both Hungary and Slovakia had asked the Court to annul the decision on the basis that enforcing the scheme was illegal. But in July, the Court's advocate general recommended, in a non-binding opinion, that the Court dismiss the cases.

The two-year relocation scheme's provisional deadline is this month, with only around 25,000 people moved from Greece and Italy as of late July. With fewer and fewer people eligible for relocation, the EU commission is now calling the scheme a success, despite the original target being much higher.

"It is perfectly feasible for member states to carry out the relocations and make the programme a success," a Commission spokesperson told reporters on Thursday.

Hungary and Poland have not taken any, and the Czech Republic has not relocated anyone since last year. All three may end up at the ECJ after the EU Commission launched infringements against them.

As of July, only Malta, Latvia, and Norway - a non-EU member state - have met their relocation quotas.

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An initial plan to relocate 160,000, which was later amended to 98,000, now appears to drop even further after the European Commission said the new objective was to dispatch only eligible asylum seekers from Italy and Greece.

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A 12.5km fence rolled with barbwire along the Greek Turkish border is part of a larger initiative to secure Europe from migrants seeking a better life.

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An EU naval operation set for launch in April off the Libyan coast may be derailed following objections by Austria and Hungary. Both want the power to end the mission should migrants be lured into being rescued.

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