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6th Jun 2020

Court: Three countries broke EU law on migrant relocation

  • Anti-migration central European countries were outvoted by other member states in the original 2015 vote on taking in asylum seekers (Photo: iom.int)

The EU's top court ruled on Thursday (2 April) that Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic broke EU law by refusing to take in their share of asylum seekers in 2015.

"By refusing to comply with the temporary mechanism for the relocation of applicants for international protection, Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic have failed to fulfil their obligations under European Union law," the Luxembourg-based European Court of Justice (ECJ) said.

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It also found Poland and the Czech Republic at fault for failing to fulfil an earlier decision by the council of member states with regard to some 40,000 migrants.

The court said that in refusing to comply, the three member states had no right to cite 'maintaining law' or 'safeguarding internal security', or claim that the relocation programme was 'dysfunctional'.

Hungary's justice minister Judit Varga tweeted that the "EU compulsory relocation system of migrants is dead and today's CJEU judgement won't change that. It must be lonesome in the saddle since the horse died."

Now, it is up to the EU Commission if it wants to follow up the court ruling.

The commission could determine that the original 2015 council decision can still be implemented and launch a second infringement procedure for financial penalties.

All of those commission considerations would be subject to scrutiny by the court.

'Original sin'

In 2015, during the influx of migrants to Europe, member states decided to distribute people among EU member states.

The decision was taken by home affairs ministers - where Hungary, Romania, Slovakia and the Czech Republic were outvoted by other member states.

Warsaw, under a different government, agreed with the 2015 decision.

(The commission has removed the webpage on the relocation figures.)

But commission figures from last October say that in total, 34,712 people were relocated from Italy (12,713) and Greece (21,999) under the scheme, with a lower number of people eligible, due partly to a slowing of the influx, than previously expected.

Hungary did not take any asylum seekers, the Czech Republic took in only 12. Poland took none. Slovakia eventual offered temporary shelter to more than 1,200 people who filed for asylum in neighbouring Austria, so was not sued by the commission.

Hungary and Slovakia challenged the decision of the ministers in court, arguing that the ministers' vote was contrary to an earlier commitment by EU leaders.

In 2017, however, the ECJ ruled that the relocation quotas were legal.

In 2015, 120,000 asylum seekers were supposed to be shared among member states, relocating 50,400 asylum seekers from Greece and 15,600 from Italy.

Originally, the commission offered Hungary the option to relocate 54,000 people from the central European country, but prime minister Viktor Orban refused.

Some diplomats from the rebel EU countries refer to the quota vote as an "original sin" that broke trust between the commission and eastern and central European governments.

It also fuelled years of campaigning by Orban domestically against both the EU and migration.

The bitter rift over migration and especially relocation quotas has been driving a wedge between member states ever since.

The commission in 2016 unveiled new proposals to reform the EU's asylum system - but its permanent mechanism to relocate migrants in a possible new massive influx was fiercely rejected by Hungary and Poland.

The commission earlier this year binned its efforts to reform the Dublin asylum system based on that proposal and is working on new ones.

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