The governments of Slovakia and Hungary went to court to challenge an EU decision to distribute 120,000 asylum seekers to other EU countries from Greece and Italy, which are the frontline recipients of asylum seekers coming to the EU. So far only 28,000 have been relocated. At a September 2015 Council meeting of EU ministers, Slovakia and Hungary (along with the Czech Republic and Romania) voted against the relocation plan, amid fear-mongering over Muslim migrants. Based on calculations that took into account member states' size and wealth, Hungary is obliged to take 1,294 people while Slovakia 902. Hungary and Poland have refused to host a single person through the relocation scheme, while Slovakia and the Czech Republic have taken in only a dozen each.
“The Court dismisses the actions brought by Slovakia and Hungary against the provisional mechanism for the mandatory relocation of asylum seekers,” read a press release of the Luxembourg-based court, adding that the Court rejected the complaints “in their entirety”.
Politicians in a number of member states have tried to use the issue of asylum seekers for political gain by playing on public fears. This has been particularly pronounced in some central and eastern EU countries where migration is routinely linked to terrorism and presented as a threat to national culture.
Predictably, the reaction of Hungarian foreign minister Péter Szíjjártó to the ruling was to label it "outrageous" and "irresponsible, endangering the security and the future of Europe as a whole and... opposing the interests of European nations". He added that “politics has raped the law and the interest of Europeans” and that the judgment “openly legitimises the power and jurisdiction of the European Commission over member states that is unacceptable since it cannot have any power over nations."
The foreign minister did not mention that the EU treaties, which were created by the member states, make the Commission responsible for enforcing EU law.
Slovakia’s economy minister Peter Ziga in his reaction played down the importance of the ruling, stating that the “quota system does not work, so the court decision is, perhaps, irrelevant at the moment”. He added “a new mechanism was needed though the problem was not as grave as arrivals had declined."
EC Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos tweeted:
“Time to work in unity and implement solidarity in full.”
EU politicians have characterised the relocation scheme as a question of solidarity with member states on the EU's borders. Some national governments, such as Germany and Italy, have made clear that central and eastern EU member states are putting their largely western-member state funded EU subsidies at risk by refusing to act on jointly made decisions.
Andrea Menapace, executive-director of CILD, Liberties partner organisation in Italy added that: The verdict is most welcome as it reminds not only Slovakia and Hungary but all EU countries that they urgently need to live up to their obligations towards refugees and contribute their fair share to address the current crisis. They should all bear in mind that whenever they refuse the obligations that come from the fundamental principle of solidarity - that lais at the foundations of the EU – they are undermining the same principle that has brought them advantages and prosperity over the past decades.
They are often forgetful of the fact that that principle requires sharing not only opportunities but also responsibilities equally and fairly among members. The verdict of the EU court today should be seen as a much-needed wake-up call.