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23rd Jan 2022

Top court finds Hungary and Poland broke EU rules

  • Hungary also erected a fence on its southern border in 2015 to stop asylum seekers from entering the country (Photo: Freedom House)

The EU's top court on Thursday (17 December) in three separate cases took issue with Hungary and Poland's application of EU rules.

The European Court of Justice in one case ruled that aspects of Hungary's asylum process were in violation of EU law,

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The court ruled that Hungary's detention of asylum-seekers in two so-called "transit zones" along its souther border with Serbia violated EU rules, and that forbidding them to remain in the country throughout the appeal process was also against the bloc's rules.

It said Hungary's legislation made "virtually impossible" to make an asylum application - restricting access to international protection procedure is in violations of EU rules.

The court also ruled that the forced deportation of people who were staying illegal in Hungary, ignoring EU guarantees, also went against the bloc's rules.

The court also said the 2015 migration crisis did not justify Hungary's decision to override EU rules.

The ruling followed an opinion by the ECJ in May, saying that confining asylum-seekers in metal containers, and in some cases deprived of food, at the transit zones were illegal.

In response, the Budapest government closed the them.

The ruling ends an infringement procedure that began in 2015.

In response to the close to a million asylum-seekers crossing Hungary towards western and northern Europe, Hungary designated Serbia a safe transit country, automatically rejecting applications of those who have passed through there. The government argued the transit zones were not detention centres, as people were free to go to Serbia.

"Today's verdict will hopefully put an end to one of the most shameful practices in Hungarian asylum policy," András Kristóf Kádár, co-chair of the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, a Hungarian rights group, said.

Hungarian justice minister Judit Varga said in a Facebook post that the EU court's ruling "has become devoid of purpose, as the circumstances at issue in the present proceedings no longer exist."

"The EU Commission is planning on writing a letter to Hungarian authorities in order to ensure that this judgement is enforced," commission spokesman Adalbert Jahnz told reporters.

Polish judiciary

A separate opinion from the court's advocate general said Poland's clampdown on judicial independence broke the bloc's rules.

The non-binding opinion said new rules that made it impossible for judges to appeal if their candidacy for Supreme Court posts was turned down violated EU law.

The rules introduced last year was part of the governing Law and Justice party's overhaul of the judiciary which has sparked serious concerns in the EU.

In a third case on Thursday the court underlined the concerns of a Dutch court over people's right to a fair trial in Poland, but said an extradition request by Poland should not be refused automatically.

"The existence of evidence of systemic or generalised deficiencies concerning judicial independence in Poland or of an increase in those deficiencies does not in itself justify the judicial authorities of the other member states refusing to execute any European arrest warrant issued by a Polish judicial authority," the court said in a statement.

An Amsterdam court wanted to know if Polish extradition requests could be halted over "the existence of evidence of systemic or generalised deficiencies concerning judicial independence in Poland."

The court said that such requests should be decided on a case-by-case basis and if after a thorough assessment there is "a serious and persistent breach" and the person will not get a fair trial, the request can be denied.

The court had already issued a similar ruling when an Irish court asked about the Polish judiciary in another extradition case.

Both Poland and Hungary are under EU scrutiny for breaking the rule of law and rolling back on EU values.

The two governments recently initially blocked the EU's seven-year budget and the Covid-19 recovery fund over their objection on linking EU funds to the respect for the rule of law.

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