Nick Gutteridge, Express, July 26, 2017
Europe’s top court looks set to throw out Eastern European objections to enforced migrant quotas after its top official published a highly politically charged opinion slamming member states for failing to show “solidarity”.
The ECJ advocate general today sensationally advised judges to reject a legal claim by Hungary and Slovakia that they should not be forced to take in refugees from Greece and Italy.
Yves Bot said the migrant quota scheme was a “proportionate means” of alleviating pressure on frontline member states and said it had only failed because Eastern Europe had refused to take part.
Hungary’s firebrand prime minister Viktor Orban has made challenging the EU’s migration scheme a frontline political issue, characterising it as a fight for the future of Europe’s Christian values.
But many other member states have been alarmed by his hardline approach and most have thrown their weight firmly behind Brussels in urging euro judges to force Budapest to comply.
A legal opinion by the advocate general is not binding and can be ignored by ECJ judges when they make their ruling, but more often than not they do accept his recommendations.
In his assessment of the case published today, which will raise some eyebrows due to its highly political nature, Mr Bot describes the migrant quota scheme as “proportionate” and justified.
Hungarian and Slovakian objections – that there were legal irregularities in its adoption, that it should have required a unanimous EU Council decision and that borders are a national competence – should be dismissed.
The opinion is likely to provoke a furious response from those nations opposed to the quota scheme who have argued, amongst other things, that letting in refugees presents a security threat.
The programme was adopted in 2015 following a majority vote of the EU Council, with member states agreeing to regime 120,000 migrants from Greece and Italy amid fierce Eastern European objections.
But it has been dogged by inefficiency ever since with many member states effectively refusing to take part and just one – tiny Malta – fulfilling its set quota.
Hungary and Slovakia launched a legal case against the entire thing earlier this year and were supported by Poland, whilst Belgium, Germany, Greece, France, Italy, Luxembourg and Sweden lined up on the other side.
In his opinion published today, French official Mr Bot unequivocally state that judges at the ECJ “should dismiss the actions brought by Slovakia and Hungary” when they come before them later this year.
He rejected claims by Hungary and Slovakia that the quota scheme should have been put to national parliaments, and not just decided by EU leaders, and that MEPs should have been handed a greater role in shaping it.
And the magistrate said the fact that the fact the decision was not adopted unanimously did not invalidate it, because the Commission did not object to amendments leaders had made to the initial proposal.
Mr Bot wrote: “The contested decision automatically helps to relieve the considerable pressure on the asylum systems of Italy and Greece following the migration crisis in the summer of 2015 and that it is thus appropriate for attaining the objective which it pursues.
“The limited efficacy can be explained by a series of factors including the partial or total failure of certain Member States (including Slovakia and Hungary) to implement the contested decision, which is contrary to the obligation concerning solidarity and the fair sharing of burdens, to which the Member States are subject in the area of asylum policy.”
He said that the EU Council had permission to “adopt a provisional measure for the mandatory distribution between Member States of persons in need of international protection” that could not be blocked by individual states.
And Mr Bot added: “Such a measure therefore cannot be regarded as manifestly exceeding what is necessary to provide an effective response to the migration crisis.”
If ECJ judges agree with his assessment, it will further bloody the battleground over migration which is already the scene of a brutal political dogfight between Eastern Europe and the West.
The EU Commission has recently launched infringement proceedings against Hungary, the Czech Republic and Poland for refusing to take in a single refugee under the scheme, drawing a furious response from their leaders.