The European Commission has given the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland one month to reverse policy on participating in the EU’s migrant relocation scheme.
Since several Eastern and Central European nations did not vote for the plan, they have challenged the EU in court. They now face sanctions if they do not comply. Brussels started legal proceedings earlier this month against the countries and have threatened to take away Poland’s voting rights if they don’t accede to EU demands.
EU migration commissioner, Dimitris Avramopoulos, said: “There is still time to change everything and come back to normality.”
The announcement comes as a consequence of the three central and eastern EU countries' unwillingness to take any migrants from Italy or Greece through a mandatory quota plan.
This so-called infringement procedure began last month, when the commission sent letters of formal notice.
“In their reply, none of these member states indicated that they would relocate a number of applicants swiftly to their territory,” said Avramopoulos.
The second stage of the procedure is also a letter, called a reasoned opinion. The Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland have one month to reply – normally, the period is two months.
The decision comes on the same day that an advocate general for the Court of Justice of the European Union said that the relocation plan, decided in September 2015, was legal, reports EU Observer.
Hungary and Slovakia had filed a case against the decision, which they thought went beyond what member states can decide in the Council of the EU.
The Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia were outvoted when the decision was taken.
Hungary and Poland have since not taken any migrants, while Slovakia has taken 16, from Greece, according to figures released by the commission on Wednesday.
Romania has relocated 45 migrants from Italy and 665 from Greece. The Czech Republic has taken twelve from Greece.
The commission's monthly relocation and resettlement report contained “some very good news”, Avramopoulos said.
In June, some 2,000 migrants were relocated from Greece, and almost 1,000 from Italy.
“Here we are finally starting to see proper solidarity,” the Greek EU commissioner noted.
He commended Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, and “in particular” Sweden, for their relatively high numbers of relocations.
“The majority of European countries are making enormous efforts in a real European spirit,” said Avramopoulos.
“At same time, I regret that other member states continue to show no solidarity and to ignore our repeated calls to participate in this common effort.”
Avramopoulos did not mention Austria, a country which, like Poland and Hungary, has not taken up any people through the scheme, but steered clear of being targeted by the commission's infringement procedure.
When asked by EUobserver why the commission has not started a legal procedure against Austria, a commission source later said that the country “has made pledges recently and we expect them to finalize their first transfers soon”.
The commission said in the report that Austria “has recently made three pledges in May, June and July for 50 persons to be relocated from Italy”.
“It is urgently expected that the first pledge will translate into effective relocations soon,” the report said.
The infringement procedure against the three EU member states can end in the Court of Justice, which could hand out fines. However, it is unlikely that the procedure will be finished before the relocation scheme ends – two months from now.
Avramopoulos refused to comment on whether the commission is aiming for a court decision on the infringement procedure before or after the court's decision on the legality of the scheme, on which the advocate general adopted its opinion on Wednesday.
The commissioner did note that, even after the official end of the program end-September, there will still be migrants to relocate.
“Member states will still need to relocate eligible candidates that arrived before the end of September,” he said.
However, it is possible that, by the time the two court cases are over, there are no more eligible candidates to relocate.
The Commission is not pursuing a case against Austria, who have also refused to take in any migrants, perhaps having something to do with Austria being a net contributor to EU coffers, while Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland all receive more money than they pay in, reported Westmonster.
The case may end up in the European Court of Justice after the relocation scheme ends. Avramopoulos seems adamant that migrants will still need to be relocated even after the scheme ends.
The decision comes on the same day that an advocate general for the Court of Justice of the European Union said that the forced relocation plan was legal under EU law, reports Breitbart.
The policy did not need to be agreed on unanimously thanks to a mechanism called ‘qualified majority voting’, which weighs decisions in favor of larger nations such as Germany and France.
Last month, Hungary's Prime Minister, Viktor Orbán, said if Brussels tries “to force the relocation program on us at our next upcoming summit… I’ll exercise my veto.”
In October last year, 95 per cent of Hungarian voters rejected the migrant redistribution plan in a referendum called by Mr. Orbán.
Poland has vowed to follow and also hold a referendum on the issue, and the nation’s interior minister, Mariusz Błaszczak, said in May that taking in 6,000 asylum seekers would “certainly be much worse” for Poland than the threat of EU punishment.
The original intention of the plan was to alleviate the pressure on Italy and Greece by sending 120,000 migrants to various countries in the EU. Less than 20,000 have moved so far.