Top EU court rules eastern states must take refugees
LUXEMBOURG - ReutersThe European Union's highest court ruled on Sept. 6 that the European Union states must take in a share of refugees who reach Europe, dismissing complaints by Slovakia and Hungary and reigniting an angry row between east and west.
The government of Hungary's nationalist Prime Minister Victor Orban was characteristically blunt about the European Court of Justice, calling its decision to uphold an EU policy drafted in the heat of the 2015 migrant crisis as "appalling" and denouncing a political "rape of European law and values.”
However, Germany, which took in the bulk of over a million people who landed in Greece two years ago, said it expected the formerly communist states, including Poland, which supported the complaint, to now fall in line and accept the ruling that the Union is entitled to impose quotas of asylum-seekers on states.
The Luxembourg-based ECJ rejected the Hungarian and Slovak claims that it was illegal for Brussels to order them to take in hundreds of mainly Muslim refugees from Syria, which they said threatened the security and stability of their societies.
"The mechanism actually contributes to enabling Greece and Italy to deal with the impact of the 2015 migration crisis and is proportionate," the court said in statement.
Italy, now the main destination for migrants risking the Mediterranean crossing, is prominent among wealthier, Western states in threatening their eastern neighbours with cutting their EU subsidies if they do show solidarity by taking people in. Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico said he would still not take a quota but was ready to help in other ways.
A sharp decline in numbers arriving, partly a result of the effective closure of routes from Turkey to Greece and from Greece into Macedonia and toward northern Europe, has taken some of the heat out of the arguments and diplomats expect the EU executive, the European Commission, to propose new ideas.
"We can expect all European partners to stick to the ruling and implement the agreements without delay," German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said in a statement.
The eurosceptic AfD party, which expects to win seats in the Berlin parliament at a national election on Sept. 24, crticised the court ruling as proof that unelected "Brussels bureaucrats" were imposing on states -- though in fact the Commission's quota policy was backed by a majority of the member state governments.
EU Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos tweeted: "Time to work in unity and implement solidarity in full."
Calling the court ruling "appalling and irresponsible", Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said: "This decision jeopardises the security and future of all of Europe.
"Politics has raped European law and values."
EU asylum law states that people arriving in the bloc should claim asylum in the first member state they enter but that rule was exposed as unworkable when hundreds of thousands arrived in economically struggling Greece and Italy. Arguments over what to do struck at the heart of the Union's cooperation and chaotic movements of people saw member states try to seal borders with each other, dealing a heavy blow to a key EU achievement.
The migration crisis came at a time of deep soul-searching about the Union's future and some questioned its survival.