Europe migrant crisis: EU court rejects quota challenge

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Hungary has built a controversial anti-migrant fence on its southern border with Serbia

The EU’s top court has rejected a challenge by Hungary and Slovakia to a migrant relocation deal drawn up at the height of the crisis in 2015.

The European Court of Justice overruled their objections to the compulsory fixed-quota scheme.

Hungary has not accepted a single asylum seeker since the measures were introduced two years ago.

They were an attempt to ease the pressure on frontline countries such as Greece and Italy.

But the ruling has sparked fury, with Hungary’s foreign minister vowing: “The real fight starts now.”

What’s the background to this dispute?

Since 2014, about 1.7 million migrants have tried to make new homes in the EU – and the numbers peaked in 2015.

In September that year, European leaders agreed to spread a total of 160,000 asylum seekers among member states over two years.

Hungary, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Romania voted against the quotas.

The issue was decided by a majority vote – usually followed on issues that do not affect national sovereignty.

Hungary was asked to take 1,294 asylum seekers, Slovakia 802.

To date, Hungary has refused to take a single asylum seeker, while Slovakia has accepted only about a dozen.

Only 28,000 people have actually been relocated under the scheme.

Why didn’t Hungary and Slovakia want to take in the asylum seekers?

In asking the court to annul the deal, Hungary and Slovakia argued at the Court of Justice that there were procedural mistakes, and that quotas were not a suitable response to the crisis.

Officials say the problem is not of their making, that the policy exposes them to a risk of Islamist terrorism and that it represents a threat to their homogenous societies.

Their case was supported by Poland, where a right-wing government has come to power since the 2015 deal.

But it was rejected by the ECJ which argued that the agreement “actually contributes to enabling Greece and Italy to deal with the impact of the 2015 migration crisis and is proportionate”.

It rejected the complainants’ argument that the scheme should have been adopted unanimously.

What’s been the reaction to the ruling?

Hungary’s Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto was furious, calling it “appalling and irresponsible”. He vowed to use all legal means against the judgement, which he said was “the result of a political decision not the result of a legal or expert decision”.

“Politics has raped European law and European values. This decision practically and openly legitimates the power of the EU above the member states,” he said.

“The real fight starts now.”

In a milder statement, Slovakian Prime Minister Robert Fico said his country’s position on quotas also “does not change”.

EU Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos tweeted: “Time to work in unity and implement solidarity in full.”

In other comments, he lamented that some member states “continue to show no solidarity”.

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel urged “all European partners to… implement the agreements without delay.”

What happens now?

The court’s ruling is final and cannot be appealed, but this doesn’t mean that resistant countries will be forced to accept asylum seekers.

Countries like Italy are pushing for them to be fined, and to lose some of the generous EU subsidies they receive.

But migrant arrivals have fallen due to initiatives such as the EU-Turkey deal and EU measures to curb migration from Libya. That has taken some of the pressure off, say correspondents – and officials will hesitate to ratchet up the tensions again.

Meanwhile, however, Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic are facing legal action by the EU executive, the European Commission, for their inaction over the relocation of asylum seekers.

The three states could be referred to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) and eventually face heavy fines.

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