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Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic “failed to fulfill their obligations under European Union law” – the ECJ ruled

The European Court of Justice statedMarch 2nd, 2020 that three EU member states – the Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary -  have broke EU law by refusing to uphold their obligations regarding the relocation and resettlement scheme of forced migrants stuck in Italy and Greece. 

In response to the growing migration pressure EU countries faced in 2015, the European Council adopted by qualified majority the emergency scheme to relocate firstly 40,000, then 120,000 asylum seekers from Greece and Italy according to the set quotas. As the Council Decision (EU) 2015/1601 of 22 September stated, the distribution scheme was obligatory for each member state.  Poland required to relocate 7,082 migrants,  the Czech Republic and Hungary -  2,691  and 1,294 people from the Middle East and North Africa respectively. 

Hungary refused to have any part in the quota scheme. But Poland declared, initially, to accept 100 migrants and the Czech Republic agreed to relocate 50 asylum seekers. None of the countries fulfilled the commitments. The Czech Republic relocated 12 forcibly displaced, Slovakia had taken in just 16 people, Poland and Hungary refused to accept any person.  

Since the right-wing government (the Law and Justice Party, PiS) came to power,  Poland has strongly opposed the relocation scheme.  In the interview to the Euronews Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said that the country contributed much accepting thousands of refugees from Ukraine: “On the Eastern borders of the European Union we contribute a lot to lowering tensions since we have already received tens of thousands and maybe even hundreds of thousands of refugees from Ukraine”. 

In December 2017, the European Commission took the three EU member states to Europe's top court. To justify the refusal  Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic used arguments that relocation procedures would threaten theirs national security and public safety.  As the authorities stated   “the possible relocation enable them to fully guarantee the maintenance of law and order and the safeguarding of internal security”.  On its final judgement form  March 2nd, 2020  the ECJ  disputed those arguments. Although the relocation mechanism  acknowledges the right of Member States to refuse relocation in case of protecting their interests when the person poses a threat  to public order and internal security. Each such case should be assessed individually. Therefore such arguments can not justify the refusal of all relocation obligations.  

In the response to the ECJ judgement, the Polish Government stated on the website of the Chancellery of the Prime Minister, that Poland has acknowledged the Court decision, but it would not have any practical impact, as the relocation mechanism expired in September 2017 and has no binding nature for Member States. 

Similarly responded Andrej Babiš, the Czech Prime Minister, saying: “Even though we lost the case, it is not relay that important. What is important though, is that we do not have to pay anything even if the Commission is claiming some administrative costs (...) It is crucial to say that we will not be taking in any migrants and the quotas scheme has ended in the meantime. That is so mainly thanks to our efforts”. 

The Polish justice minister Zbigniew Ziobro, speaking to state broadcaster TVP, stated that “Poland was right not to accept refugees. We defended our sovereignty against the foreign culture of Islam that they wanted to impose on us.”
As the court did not issued fines, the European Commission can direct case to the ECJ again for financial sanctions.

Komunikat Centrum Informacyjnego Rządu w związku z wyrokiem TSUE w sprawie relokacji uchodźców, [02.04.2020].
Judgement of the Court (Third Chamber) In Joined Cases C‑715/17, C‑718/17 and C‑719/17, [02.04.2020].
Legislation on emergency relocation of asylum-seekers in the EU,
Hungary, Poland and Czech Republic broke EU law on refugees, says court adviser, [31.10.2019].
EU court rules three member states broke law over refugee quotas, [02.04.2020].