Governments in Poland and Hungary refused to budge on Wednesday following a ruling by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) that upheld the European Union’s refugee relocation scheme.
Hungary and Slovakia, supported by Poland, had brought a lawsuit to the ECJ, looking for dismissal of a binding quota that seeks to redistribute up to 120,000 refugees from Italy and Greece.
The measure was introduced in September 2015, to relieve the burden on Greece and Italy, where migrants — many of them fleeing the war in Syria — arrived in huge numbers that year.
Polish Prime Minster Beata Szydlo said she had expected the judgement, and that her government would continue to refuse to take refugees for “security reasons.”
The ruling drew an angry reaction and a promise of more legal challenges from Budapest, while Bratislava bowed to the verdict and said that it wants to remain a part of the EU core.
The court however could not find any evidence that the measure was “manifestly inappropriate,” according to a press statement.
“That 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 European Commission welcomed the ruling.
“Solidarity cannot be a la carte,” European Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said, adding that member states were legally, politically and morally obliged to do their part.
“We should not forget that solidarity is a two-way street.”
But Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto rejected the ruling as “outrageous and irresponsible” and “a political ruling which rapes European law and European values.”
“This ruling places the European Commission above nations. That is unacceptable,” Szijjarto told a press conference, promising that “the real battle is just beginning.”
Addressing the same conference, Justice Minister Laszlo Troczanyi said that “Hungary faces new legal battles.”
“The court’s argumentation is unconvincing; it serves to affirm the European mainstream,” he added.
In the Slovakian capital Bratislava, the Social Democratic Prime Minister Robert Fico acknowledged the verdict, though still insisting that the relocation scheme is “unjust.”
Slovakia belongs to the core of the EU, Fico said, but stressed that the scheme forces people to settle where they do not want to go. “Refugees do not want to come to Slovakia,” he said. “Should we build a wall to keep them with us?”
The Slovakian foreign ministry issued a statement saying it stands by the opinion “that the so-called relocation compulsory quotas failed to work in real life,” as “only approximately 16 per cent of the original number of migrants have been relocated so far.”
Under the relocation scheme, Hungary is obliged to take 1,294 refugees, but has taken none, while Slovakia is expected to take 902, and has accepted 16.
The judgement is unlikely to bridge a widening divide among EU member states over how to respond to migration within the bloc.
In the court proceedings, Poland intervened in support of Slovakia and Hungary, while Belgium, Germany, Greece, France, Italy, Luxembourg, Sweden and the Commission intervened in support of the relocation scheme.
The European Commission is currently pursuing legal action against the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland for failing to meet their legal obligations on relocation.
According to the most recent figures published by the commission, a total of 27,695 people have been relocated from Greece and Italy under the relocation scheme.
This means that almost two years after the scheme was introduced only 28.2 per cent of people eligible under EU law have been accepted by EU member states.