An EU highest court on Wednesday ruled that EU states must take in a share of refugees, 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 2015 migrant crisis as “appalling”.
He said that it denounces 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, to impose quotas of asylum-seekers on states.
This includes 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.
They said that the Muslim refugees 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 not 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 towards northern Europe, has taken some of the heat out of the arguments.
The 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 September 24, criticised 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.
However, 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 blows 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.
In the Slovakian capital Bratislava, the Social Democratic Prime Minister Robert Fico acknowledged the verdict, though still insisting that the relocation scheme is “unjust.”
Slovakia belongs to the core of the EU, Fico said, but stressed that the scheme forces people to settle where they do not want to go.
“Refugees do not want to come to Slovakia.
“Should we build a wall to keep them with us,” he said.
The Slovakian foreign ministry issued a statement, saying it stands by the opinion “that the so-called relocation compulsory quotas failed to work in real life.
It said that “only approximately 16 per cent of the original number of migrants has been relocated so far.”
Under the relocation scheme, Hungary is obliged to take 1,294 refugees, but has taken none, while Slovakia is expected to take 902, and has accepted 16.
The judgement is unlikely to bridge a widening divide among EU member states over how to respond to migration within the bloc.
In the court proceedings, Poland intervened in support of Slovakia and Hungary, while Belgium, Germany, Greece, France, Italy, Luxembourg, Sweden and the Commission intervened in support of the relocation scheme.
The European Commission is currently pursuing legal action against the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland for failing to meet their legal obligations on relocation.
According to the most recent figures published by the commission, a total of 27,695 people have been relocated from Greece and Italy under the relocation scheme.
This means that almost two years after the scheme was introduced only 28.2 per cent of people eligible under EU law have been accepted by EU member states.