Migrant quota plan challenge rebuffed
Hungary and Slovakia pledged to continue opposing asylum seekers relocation by using all possible means
8 September, 2017
The European Court of Justice, EU's highest court, rebuffed last Wednesday complaints by Slovakia and Hungary about EU migration policy, upholding Brussels' plan to force Member States to take in asylum seekers, news wires reported. In an eagerly awaited decision, the court found that the EU was entitled to order national governments to take in quotas of mainly Syrian refugees relocated from Italy and Greece. “The court dismisses the actions brought by Slovakia and Hungary against the provisional mechanism for the mandatory relocation of asylum seekers,” the Luxembourg-based court said, adding it rejected the complaints “in their entirety”. “The mechanism actually contributes to enabling Greece and Italy to deal with the impact of the 2015 migration crisis and is proportionate,” it stated.
Despite the court's decision, Hungary and Slovakia pledged not to change their opposition to taking in asylum seekers. Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto called the court decision outrageous and irresponsible, and added that “the real battle has just begun.” He pointed out that Budapest will take all legal action possible to prevent relocating people into Hungary “against the will of the Hungarian people.” Slovak PM Robert Fico said his country respects the European Court of Justice's (ECJ's) decision but it will not change his position. “We will continue to work on having solidarity expressed in different ways other than forcing on us migrants from other countries that don't want to be here anyway,” he was quoted as saying.
Commenting on the court's decision, Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said Member States should swiftly move on relocating asylum seekers. “All Member States should be focusing on delivering, there is no time to waste,” he told reporters in Brussels, adding that “it is time to be united and show full solidarity.” “Does Hungary really mean it, when authorities say they want to show solidarity? Solidarity cannot be a la carte,” Avramopoulos said, referring to a recent request by Budapest to the Commission to finance its border fence. He pointed out that the ECJ's decision is encouraging and that he hoped to reach a final compromise by the end of the year.
The relocation programme, set up by the Commission, was approved by majority vote of Member States in the face of opposition from some countries in the EU east, who said their societies could not absorb mainly Muslim immigrants. It provided for the relocation of up to 120,000 people. A further programme for resettling people directly from outside the EU has also struggled to hit targets for taking in asylum-seekers. The Commission said last Wednesday that 27,695 asylum seekers have been relocated so far from Greece (19,244) and Italy (8,451). It estimates that another 2,800 still need to be relocated from Greece, while Italy counts 7,200 who are eligible so far this year - of which only 4,000 have been registered for relocation.
“The quota system does not work, so the court decision is, perhaps, irrelevant at the moment,” Slovak Economy Minister Peter Ziga told reporters, adding that a new mechanism was needed, though the problem was not as grave, as arrivals had declined. “I think the Commission will find a way to solve this problem,” Ziga added. Eastern leaders say the Union should control its borders better to crack down on illegal immigration, something Brussels says it has succeeded in doing in the past two years.
The EU has taken in more than 1.7m people from the Middle East and Africa since 2014. But, after a mass influx in 2015, numbers have gone down steadily following actions last year that all but closed the route from Turkey to Greece and from Greece to the Balkans and northern Europe. The EU has also increased support for Libya to curb arrivals in Italy.
The eastern EU states say they can send equipment and border guards to the bloc's external frontiers in solidarity. Hungary and Poland have refused to host a single person under the 2015 sharing scheme, while Slovakia and the Czech Republic have each taken in only a dozen or so. But, Western EU states claim the easterners cannot be exempted from showing solidarity.
Separately, the Commission announced in its fifth report on the Partnership Framework on Migration that measures put in place to better manage migration along the Central Mediterranean Route, and with partners in Africa, are starting to bear fruits. The number of deaths at sea has significantly decreased over the summer, alongside a substantial reduction in the number of migrants crossing the Central Mediterranean.