Ruling comes amid rising tensions between the EU’s Western and Eastern members over whether the bloc has the authority to resettle refugees
The European Union’s top court on Wednesday ruled that Hungary and Slovakia must admit migrants as part of a refugee relocation program, a significant victory for Brussels that resurfaces deep disagreements over immigration policy within the bloc.
The ruling comes amid rising tensions between the EU’s Western and Eastern members over whether the bloc has the authority to resettle refugees in countries whose politicians have called for refugee bans, an issue which has roiled politics across the region since a major influx of people two summers ago.
In Hungary, a senior official said the government wouldn’t accept the ruling. The prime minister and his cabinet were in a meeting immediately after the news broke to discuss legal and political options to oppose it.
Prime Minister Viktor Orban has consistently rejected the idea of refugee quotas and instead asked the EU to contribute to a border fence his government erected to prevent migrants from entering the country. European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker in an interview with the German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung on Wednesday rejected that request and said Hungary must show solidarity with other nations in dealing with the refugee burden.
“ECJ confirms relocation scheme valid. Time to work in unity and implement solidarity in full,” tweeted EU migration commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos.
Officials in Slovakia said they would soon issue a more detailed response but initially appeared to accept the ruling. “Of course we respect the decision made by the court,” said Slovak Foreign Ministry spokesman Peter Susko.
In its judgment, the European Court of Justice rejected legal arguments brought by the two countries and said that the EU was right to set up an emergency relocation program in 2015, at the height of the migration crisis that swept the continent. The program was aimed at redistributing more evenly across the bloc up to 120,000 asylum seekers who had arrived in Greece and Italy. Only 28,000 people were moved under that program, which was supposed to be completed this autumn.
In 2015 the program was adopted by a majority vote with Slovakia, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Romania opposing. Poland at the time agreed to the program, but a new government in Warsaw subsequently changed course and refused to take in any refugees. Poland also backed Slovakia and Hungary in the proceedings before court.
The case is a likely to fuel ongoing spats that Poland and Hungary are engaged in with the European Commission, the bloc’s executive branch. The fights center on what Brussels considers democracy-eroding measures being put in place in the two countries. The commission has separately started legal proceedings against Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic for refusing to accept any asylum seekers under the relocation plan. If they don’t change course by the time a ruling is made, the countries could face financial penalties.
The Wednesday ruling follows a legal opinion by the court’s top lawyer, who said in late July that the two countries’ case should be dismissed.