Hungary Fights EU Refugee Relocation Plans at Top EU Court

Updated on
  • EU 2015 decision was ‘cynical’ and inefficient, Hungary says
  • Contested plans set quota for EU nations to take in refugees

A young migrant waits near the Tompa border station transit zone on April 6.

Photographer: Attila Kisbenedek/AFP via Getty Images

Hungary’s fight against European Union rules favoring a quota system to relocate refugees is being reviewed by the bloc’s top court in what could end up in a political blow to Prime Minister Viktor Orban and a boost to stalled efforts for a European asylum system.

“Hungary can’t identify with a view purporting that the only or necessary way to have inter-EU solidarity would be a system imposing the obligatory relocation of” asylum seekers between member nations, Miklos Feher, a lawyer for the Hungarian government, told judges at the EU Court of Justice in Luxembourg Wednesday. “The decision which was adopted in 13 days, didn’t even solve the crisis caused by the sudden influx.”

The contested 2015 EU decision sought to deal with a migration crisis that left nations such as Italy and Greece, key entry points to the EU, overwhelmed by an estimated 3,000 new arrivals every day during the summer of that year. Hungary and Slovakia, which is also fighting the plans in the EU court, said the decision was “unacceptable.”

Orban has been the staunchest opponent of an open-door policy in the EU, building a fence around his country’s southern border, rounding up asylum seekers in container camps and openly rejecting a decision by the bloc to allocate a set number of refugees by national quotas. His anti-immigrant views -- he told entrepreneurs in February that Hungary must “preserve its ethnic homogeneity” -- have been echoed around parts of eastern Europe.

Hungary on Wednesday was supported by Poland, which argued that the EU decision lacks measures to protect against possible terror threats.

“How can Polish authorities know that a foreigner who is to be relocated to Poland may pose a threat to public security?” said Boguslaw Majczyna, the Polish government lawyer. “They can’t, because they don’t have sufficient knowledge about the candidates.”

The European Council, the EU body representing the bloc’s 28 member nations, rejected the complaints, stressing that the “2015 crisis was the most serious migration crisis ever faced by the EU.”

In July and August of that year, Italy and Greece faced an unprecedented surge in immigrants. During those two months , some 180,000 people arrived in the two countries, which was 211 percent more people than the two preceding months, according to the Council.

“If this is not a sudden inflow of refugees then the council doesn’t quite understand what the word sudden means,” Zuzana Kupcova, a lawyer representing the European Council, told the court. “No country, no matter how well prepared would be able to cope with a surge of this magnitude.”

The EU court’s ruling in a few months will affect proposals by the European Commission last year to revamp the asylum system. Similar to the ad-hoc initiative from 2015, the plans, which are stalled, would establish a permanent system for relocating refugees across the EU when a gateway country is overwhelmed by arrivals.

In a separate decision on Wednesday, the top ruled that parents from outside the bloc, whose children are EU citizens, can benefit from a right to reside there. Even if one parent is already an EU national, authorities still have to weigh granting the other parent the right to live in the EU, especially if the relationship between child and parent is such that it could otherwise “compel the child to leave the region,” the Court of Justice ruled.

The cases are: C-647/15 Hungary v. Council, C-643/15 Slovakia v. Council.

— With assistance by Zoltan Simon, and Jonathan Stearns

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