ECJ upholds EU’s right to force member states to take in refugees

Decision underpins principle of burden sharing after Greek and Italian crises

Hungarian hostility: migrants face police at Budapest’s main railway station in 2015. Photograph: Laszlo Balogh/Reuters

Hungarian hostility: migrants face police at Budapest’s main railway station in 2015. Photograph: Laszlo Balogh/Reuters


Complaints by Hungary and Slovakia about EU migration policy have been dismissed by the European Court of Justice.

In affirming that the two member states must accept EU-agreed quotas for the resettling of refugees, the European Union’s court has saved, and provided an important new underpinning to, the difficult principle of mutual burden sharing in the EU.

The reluctance of both countries to accept their share of 40,000 refugees who were to be resettled from camps in Greece and Italy in 2015 had been justified by their governments on the grounds of security, and in Hungary’s case because they would dilute its Christian essence. The Hungarian prime minister, Viktor Orbán, has described immigration as a “poison” that increases the risk of terrorism.

Actions dismissed

“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, adding that it rejected the complaints in their entirety.

The quota programme was “necessary to respond effectively and swiftly to an emergency situation characterised by a sudden inflow of displaced persons”, the court said. “The mechanism actually contributes to enabling Greece and Italy to deal with the impact of the 2015 migration crisis and is proportionate.”

The court decision means that the mandatory aspect of the relocation programme is legal. Hungary, Slovakia and Poland had all advocated for a completely voluntary system.

Welcoming the decision, the EU’s migration commissioner, Dimitris Avramopoulos, said that he hoped the ruling could be implemented through dialogue and that it would only be necessary to take Hungary, and another recalcitrant member state, the Czech Republic, which had also refused to take more than a dozen refugees, back through the courts if they did not now amend their position. Hungary may face fines if it continues to refuse. Slovakia has said it will comply with the court ruling.

Alleviating pressure

The controversial relocation-quota decision was introduced, by majority vote of the member states, as a way to alleviate pressure on Italy and Greece, and the programme will not be renewed when it formally ends, on September 26th.

About 27,000 “eligible” refugees have been relocated to member states under the scheme, more than two-thirds of them from Greece. The EU budget provides member states with €10,000 per resettled refugee.

Mr Avramopoulos said that the relocation scheme had worked well and that the flow had declined sharply – down 97 per cent on the year into Greece, largely thanks to the agreement with Turkey; and down 81 per cent into Italy. Those arriving in Italy are mainly coming from Libya. In March 2016 the European Union reached a deal with Turkey to send back asylum seekers who take clandestine routes to Greece from Turkey.

That measure, including payments of up to €6 billion to help Turkey manage its refugee population and a pledge to reinvigorate talks about the possibility of Turkey joining the EU, slowed the flow across the Aegean route to a trickle.

According to the International Organisation for Migration, 125,860 migrants and refugees have arrived in Europe by sea so far this year. Nearly 80 per cent arrived in Italy, with the rest divided among Greece, Cyprus and Spain. More than 2,500 people have died on the Mediterranean journey, the group said.