EU wins legal battle on refugee quotas

Brussels: The EU on Wednesday won a high-level legal battle against eastern European countries that have refused to admit thousands of asylum seekers based on mandatory quotas for the bloc’s member states.
The European Court of Justice, the 28-nation bloc’s top court, threw out the challenge from Hungary and Slovakia against a scheme Brussels launched two years ago to ease the burden on Greece and Italy.
The European Union has been grappling with the worst migrant crisis since World War II, with more than one million people fleeing war, persecution and poverty in the Middle East and Africa.
“The court dismisses the actions brought by Slovakia and Hungary against the provisional mechanism for the mandatory relocation of asylum seekers,” the Luxembourg-based court said.
“That mechanism actually contributes to enabling Greece and Italy to deal with the impact of the 2015 migration crisis and is proportionate.”
The continuing crisis peaked in 2015. More than 1.6 million people have landed on Greek and Italian shores since 2014. The verdict was welcomed by the European Commission, the executive of the 28-nation bloc.
“It is very good news,” EU Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos told a press conference in Brussels, it was “an opportunity” to call on all member states to show solidarity.
However, Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto slammed the verdict as “irresponsible,” saying it “threatens the security of all of Europe”.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has called migration the “Trojan Horse of terrorism.”
The top court’s press office said there is “no onward appeal for Hungary and Slovakia” when asked about Szijjarto’s vow that Budapest will use “all legal means” to fight the scheme.
In Bratislava, Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico said his government “fully respects the court’s decision” as it wants to remain at the “EU’s core” but nevertheless called quotas “politically wrong.”
A majority of EU member states decided in September 2015 to relocate 120,000 Syrian and other asylum seekers from Greece and Italy to most of other member states. Under EU treaties, Britain, Ireland and Denmark do not have to participate.
It is part of a scheme to relocate a total of 160,000 asylum seekers by September this year.
Officials in Brussels have argued that the scheme is legally binding on member states, including those that voted against the quotas like Hungary, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Romania.
Poland initially supported the plan but has come out strongly opposed since a right-wing government came to power.
The court said Poland intervened in support of Hungary during the legal deliberations, while the commission, along with Greece, Italy, Germany, Sweden and several other member states, argued for the relocation plan.
Former communist eastern member states opposed the plan, saying they were not equipped to integrate people from mainly Muslim countries.
Other EU member states have dragged their feet despite having voted for the plan, with diplomats saying several cited the need to boost security checks following terror attacks.
 — AFP