LUXEMBOURG • The European Union's highest court yesterday dismissed complaints by Slovakia and Hungary about the bloc's migration policy, upholding Brussels' right to force member states to take in asylum seekers.
In the latest twist to a dispute that broke out two years ago when more than one million migrants poured across the Mediterranean, the European Court of Justice found that the EU was entitled to order national governments to take in quotas of mainly Syrian refugees relocated from Italy and Greece.
"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 mechanism actually contributes to enabling Greece and Italy to deal with the impact of the 2015 migration crisis and is proportionate," the court said.
The programme set up by the executive European Commission was approved by a majority vote of member states in the face of opposition from formerly communist countries in the east who said their societies could not absorb mainly Muslim immigrants.
It provided for the relocation of up to 120,000 people, but only about 25,000 have been moved. A further programme for resettling people directly from outside the EU has also struggled to hit targets for taking in asylum-seekers.
It is unclear how far Brussels might try to force eastern states to take in refugees, many of whom themselves are reluctant to settle in the poorer, former Soviet bloc. However, countries like Germany and Italy which are housing large numbers have said the easterners are jeopardising Western-funded EU subsidies if they go on refusing.
Number of asylum seekers taken in by Hungary. It was asked to take 1,294 people.
Approximate number taken in by Slovakia. It was asked to take 802.
Approximate number relocated under the scheme which was supposed to relocate 120,000.
"The quota system does not work, so the court decision is, perhaps, irrelevant at the moment," Slovakia's Economy Minister Peter Ziga said.
He said a new mechanism was needed though the problem was not as grave, as the number of arrivals had declined.
The EU has taken in more than 1.7 million people from the Middle East and Africa since 2014. But numbers have gone down steadily following actions last year that all but closed the route from Turkey to Greece and from Greece to the Balkans and northern Europe.
Hungary and Poland refuse to host a single person under the 2015 sharing scheme, while Slovakia and the Czech Republic have taken in only a dozen or so each.