One month after the EU's executive Commission launched legal cases against Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic for "defaulting on their legal obligations" by refusing to comply with the EU's refugee quotas (i.e., accept migrants), on Wednesday the three Central European nations suffered another blow after Brussels mounted a legal fightback to force them to comply with EU refugee quotas. The top European Union court's adviser dismissed a challenge brought by Slovakia and Hungary against the obligatory relocation of refugees across the bloc, as it prepared to sign-off legal suits against the holdout countries.
The two states, backed by Poland, wanted the court to annul a 2015 EU scheme to have each member state host a number of refugees to help ease pressure on Greece and Italy, struggling with mass arrivals across the Mediterranean. Supported by Germany, Italy and Brussels, the EU’s “relocation” law has become one of the bloc’s most divisive recent policy initiatives, forced through over the objections of states from eastern and central Europe.
The euroskeptic governments in Warsaw and Budapest have refused to take in a single asylum-seeker under the plan (which may explain the lack of terrorist events on their home soil). Slovakia and the Czech Republic have also stalled, citing security concerns after a raft of Islamist attacks in the EU in recent years. Quoted by the FT, the EU’s migration commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said he regretted the decision of the three member states “not to show solidarity and to ignore our repeated calls to participate in this common effort” adding that none of the responses from Budapest, Warsaw or Prague to the commission “justified that they do not implement the relocation decision”.
Avramopoulos welcomed the advocate general’s opinion but added the “door was still open” for the central-eastern countries to change their stance on the refugee quotas. “If these member states decide to change position we are ready to work with them to address their concerns”, he said. “We are at the last stage but there is still time. Let’s hope reason will prevail.”
Wednesday’s decisions marked a rebuff to Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban, who has made the rejection of EU refugee policies his central political message for more than two years. In a referendum in October last year 98.2 per cent of voters backed the government’s opposition to the EU’s refugee sharing programme, although the result was deemed invalid because of low turnout. Orban has since spent tens of millions of public funds on advertising campaigns, accusing the EU of endangering Hungarian security through its asylum policies.
And yet, despite the ruling, none of the affected nations were eager to change their mind: Slovakia's Prime Minister Robert Fico said in a statement his government was sticking to its decision to refuse mandatory quotas and called the Advocate General's opinion "non binding". Hungary similarly dismissed the ruling as politically motivated.
"The main elements of the statement are political, which are practically used to disguise the fact that there are no legal arguments in it," Pal Volner, state secretary of the Justice Ministry, was cited as saying by the state news agency MTI.
Should the ECJ eventually rule with the commission and uphold the law, it will confront Budapest and Warsaw with a political decision that could have far-reaching ramifications for the EU, according to the FT.
Outright refusal to comply once the legal challenges have run their course will have consequences in other areas, including Germany’s approach to the EU long-term budget, which must be negotiated by 2020. Some have speculated that it could result in the breakup of the Shengen customs zone which forms the backbone of the European Union.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said the era of a submissive Turkey bowing to every Western demand is over.
Erdogan's comments came on Tuesday as top European Union officials held talks with Turkey's foreign minister in Brussels.
"The West wants Turkey to do, without question, whatever they want ... I am sorry to say that Turkey no longer exists," Erdogan said.
Turkey has been mired in an escalating diplomatic row with Germany after the arrests last week of a group of human rights activists, including a German national, over terror-related charges.
Earlier, a German-Turkish journalist was arrested for allegedly spying and aiding Kurdish rebels.
Erdogan on Tuesday refused to back down in the feud with Germany, saying: "They don't want us to retaliate while their agents run around freely."
Turkey's long-standing bid for EU membership remains in the deep freeze and show no signs of thawing.
It applied to join the EU three decades ago, and it started negotiating in 2005. But of the 16 negotiating chapters on issues as varied as capital movement and food safety, only one - science and research - has been provisionally closed.
Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and EU Affairs Minister Omer Celik met with EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini in Brussels on Tuesday.
Their meeting agenda included Ankara's EU accession, immigration, Turkey's demands for visa-free travel for its citizens, the fight against terrorism and energy and trade ties.
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