The European Union’s highest court ruled on Wednesday 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 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 towards 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.