Warsaw, Poland – Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic all breached EU law by refusing to take in refugees at the height of the 2015 migrant crisis under proposed EU quotas, the European Court of Justice’s (ECJ) Advocate General said last week.
Citing security concerns and the need to preserve cultural cohesion, the three Visegrad countries had refused to accept the European Commission’s plan to introduce quotas to distribute asylum-seekers across the bloc. The plan was designed to ease the burden of southern European countries, especially Italy and Greece, that found themselves on the front-line of an unprecedented wave of migrants in 2015.
The matter has, since then, deeply divided the bloc and been at the center of an ongoing dispute between Visegrad hardliners on immigration, including Poland and Hungary, and other states calling for greater solidarity and burden-sharing.
The EU Commission sued the three Central European countries in December 2017 and referred the matter to the European Court of Justice, the bloc’s highest judicial body.
Advocate General Sharpston’ opinion highlights that the bloc’s values must be safeguarded and followed, and that solidarity “necessarily sometimes implies accepting burden-sharing”. The final ECJ ruling, which isn’t legally bound to follow the Advocate General’s opinions but often does, is expected early next year.
“Disregarding those obligations because, in a particular instance, they are unwelcome or unpopular is a dangerous first step towards the breakdown of the orderly and structured society governed by the rule of law”, Sharpston said in her opinion.
“Our actions were dictated by the interests of Polish citizens and the need for protection against uncontrolled migration”, a Polish government spokesman reacted shortly after.
Since 2015, Central European leaders, including Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s self-declared pledge to defend traditional European Christianity against what his government has often described as a wave of Muslim “invaders”, have turned their opposition to EU quotas as one of the bedrocks of their policy and rhetoric.
The European Commission was forced to drop the quotas in September 2017 after barely 30,000 asylum-seekers had been distributed. Under the scheme, a total of 16,000 out of the 160,000 migrants proposed for EU relocation had – theoretically – been allocated to Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic.
Although migrants’ arrivals have fallen sharply since 2015, EU countries are still scrambling to agree on a way to face and tackle a potential new wave of migrants.
You can read a detailed summary of the advocate general’s legal opinion on the website of the Court of Justice of the European Union.