Concluding a months-long saga in which central and eastern European nations revolted against Brussels’ refugee policies, on Wednesday the European Union’s highest court ruled that EU 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 Court upheld the EU’s right to order national governments to take in their “fair share” of asylum seekers, arguing that “the mechanism actually contributes to enabling Greece and Italy to deal with the impact of the 2015 migration crisis and is proportionate.”
The ECJ ruling is a victory for western European states like Germany, France and Italy, who have pushed for EU “solidarity” over the migration issue. Italy, now the main destination for migrants risking the Mediterranean crossing, is prominent among wealthier, Western states in threatening their eastern neighbors 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.
The affirmative ruling means that Hungary and Slovakia will face fines if they refuse to abide by the quota system. Europe’s mandatory refugee quota system was approved in September 2015 by a majority of EU member states, but was rejected by Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Romania and Hungary. Poland supported the plan, but later strongly opposed it when the right-wing PiS government came to power. As a result, the legal challenge was also backed by Poland, which alongside Hungary has not taken in any asylum seekers. Slovakia and the Czech Republic have only taken in a handful.
All four countries also say migrants will disrupt their societies and the EU’s focus should be on protecting its external borders.
To enforce the decision, the EU executive also said on Wednesday it was ready to institute court proceedings within weeks that could lead to fines for Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic if they refuse to take in refugees.