Viktor, pay up

I appeal to Malta’s MEPs to ask the European Commission to distribute the €200 million among the Member States that need assistance in coping with asylum applicants.

In a major judgment last week, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ordered Hungary to pay a €200m fine for its refusal to uphold the rights of asylum seekers in what was described as an “unprecedented” breach of EU law by the bloc’s highest court. It also ordered Budapest to pay €1 million a day until it complies with EU laws guaranteeing refugees the right to claim asylum inside Hungarian borders.

At last, we will not have to rely on the spineless European Commission to bring Hungary into line. It was already an affront to European values that Ursula von der Leyen was treating Viktor Orbán with kid gloves just to have a better chance of retaining the Commission presidency.

To remind readers, the judgment relates to a 2020 ruling that found Hungary had broken EU migration law by limiting the rights of refugees and migrants to claim asylum in numerous ways, including by holding asylum seekers in transit camps at Röszke and Tompa on its border with Serbia. Hungary had closed the container camps and argued it had complied with the ruling.

In 2020 it passed a law requiring asylum seekers to make a “declaration of intent” at a Hungarian embassy in a non-EU country before entering the country. As a result, almost no one can claim asylum in Hungary: in 2020, applications numbered 117. In comparison, Malta ̶ with a population 19 times smaller ̶ received 2,412 applications that year, according to the EU Agency for Asylum. Using Malta’s ratio, Hungary should have received 45,830 applications.
The ECJ said Hungary had shown “deliberate evasion” in applying EU policy, which it described as “an unprecedented and exceptionally serious infringement of EU law” and “a significant threat to the unity of EU law and to the principle of equality of the member states”. For this reasson, the fine imposed by ther Court was higher than sought by the European Commission.

Responding to the judgment, Orbán described the court’s ruling as “outrageous and unacceptable”, adding: “It seems that illegal migrants are more important to the Brussels bureaucrats than their own European citizens.” Viktor, forget the expletives; go pay the fine.

The legal ruling comes a couple of weeks before the Hungarian government takes charge of the rotating presidency of the EU Council of ministers. It highlights the profound challenge to the bloc posed by anti-EU, nationalist leaders at a time when far-right forces have made significant advances in the European Parliament elections.

Judges also criticised Hungary’s decision that it would not comply with the 2020 ruling until it had received a verdict from its national constitutional court, a profound challenge to the supremacy of EU law that Budapest agreed on entering the bloc. Hungary’s conduct had the effect, the court said, of transferring to other EU member states the responsibility and financial costs of managing asylum applications. As such, Hungary “seriously undermines the principle of solidarity and fair sharing of responsibility”.

I now appeal to Malta’s MEPs to ask the European Commission to distribute the €200 million among the Member States that need assistance in coping with asylum applicants.

Photo: Imago/Belga

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