Judges at the European Court of Justice Wednesday rejected an attempt by Hungary and Slovakia to block mandatory quotas of refugees, which the bloc wants to resettle from Greece and Italy.
European Union officials welcomed the ruling and called on member states to speed up the resettlement process — seen as a key part of the bloc’s response to a crisis, in which millions of asylum seekers have arrived on the continent over the past three years.
EU member states voted in 2015 to relocate 160,000 refugees from Italy and Greece across the bloc. Many eastern European states objected, but were outvoted.
Hungary and Slovakia mounted a legal challenge in the European Court of Justice, arguing the quota system was an inappropriate response.
At a news conference following the ECJ ruling, Hungary’s foreign minister, Peter Szijjarto, labeled the judges’ decision "outrageous."
“We believe that this decision puts at risk the security of all of Europe and the future of all of Europe as well and this decision is surely contrary to the interests of the European nations, including Hungary,” he told reporters.
Human rights group Amnesty International welcomed the decision.
“The fact of the matter is,... there is a clear obligation to help people fleeing war and persecution. They have an obligation to their neighbors, through European solidarity, but there is also a global element because this is, after all, a global refugee crisis that we are facing,” said Amnesty’s Iverna McGowan.
Hungary and Poland have consistently refused to take in any refugees, while Slovakia has accepted a small number of Syrians.
The EU has threatened penalties and legal action, including a $300,000 fine for each refugee whom member states refuse to take in. The bloc’s commissioner for migration, home affairs and citizenship, Dimitris Avramopoulos, called on member states to show more solidarity — or face legal action.
“If the member states that have not relocated at all, or not for a long time, do not change their approach in the coming weeks, we should then consider to take the last step in the infringement procedure, to refer Poland, Hungary and Czech Republic to the European Court of Justice,” he said Wednesday.
Hungary’s conservative government has clashed repeatedly with the EU in recent years over other issues, including the rule of law and media freedom.
Forcing eastern member states to accept refugee quotas will do more harm than good, argues Daniel Tilles of the Pedagogical University of Krakow, Poland.
“This just creates an additional and unnecessary further front in the conflict between the European Union and countries like Hungary and Poland. Even amongst the refugees who have relocated, most of them don’t stay for very long. They’ve come to Europe not to be in Lithuania or Estonia or Poland or Hungary. They’re much more interested in being in EU states that offer more employment opportunities and better wages,” Tilles told VOA in an interview.
Following Wednesday’s ruling from the Luxembourg-based court, Hungary vowed to protect its security and people, but did not specify exactly how it will respond.