EU court backs German stance

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If you're looking for help, don't ask Hungary or Slovakia. Picture source: Reuters

Germany appears to be winning on all fronts in the European Union disputes over how to handle the unprecedented flow of refugees into the bloc.

A top official at the European Court of Justice advised the judges to reject a lawsuit by several Eastern European member countries challenging the redistribution of refugees throughout the European Union in the clearest sign yet that the court is likely to back Germany’s insistence on the procedure.

At the same time, the EU’s highest court, based in Luxembourg, affirmed that the EU member states who first register migrants are responsible for processing their applications for asylum. They cannot simply wave them on to another country in the European Union.

“The European Union is not a cloud cuckoo land where each member state can pick out whatever happens to suit it.”

Burkhard Lischka, Immigration Expert, SPD

The two announcements vindicated the measures advocated by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker to cope with the wave of migrants from Africa and the Middle East. They come as the inflow continues, taxing the resources of those states like Italy and Greece that are the point of entry into the EU for many.

Also on Wednesday, Ms. Merkel promised Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni that Germany would provide assistance to Italy to cope with the wave of migrants. The aid will include administrative assistance, infrastructure and health care supplies, and possibly financial aid, a government spokesperson said.

In Luxembourg, the advocate-general’s office advised the European court to reject a lawsuit by Hungary and Slovakia challenging the redistribution of refugees because it is lawful under the EU treaties. The court is expected to rule on the issue in September and generally follows the advice of the advocate-generals.

A court ruling would affect not only the two countries suing, but also Poland and the Czech Republic, which are also refusing to comply with the redistribution of refugees from Italy and Greece. That process, which got off to a slow start after it was set in 2015, has been going more smoothly, relocating some 3,000 migrants into other EU states in June alone.

“When the political will is there, then it works,” said EU Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos, who is responsible for migration policy.

But the nearly 25,000 migrants who have been resettled is far short of the target of 160,000 asylum applicants to be relocated by September. This is partly due to the fact that those with a realistic claim to asylum – economic refugees are not eligible – are fewer than originally anticipated.

Italy in particular has come under a lot of pressure as refugees use boats to cross the narrow waters of the Mediterranean. Austria has announced it will close the Brenner Pass if too many African refugees use it to come north, further undermining the Schengen Agreement for free border crossings in Europe.

Italy has threatened to close its harbors to refugees, prompting Mr. Juncker to offer emergency relief to house migrants or deport them back to their home countries. Ms. Merkel’s pledge to Mr. Gentiloni is another response.

What remains up in the air is just how the four Eastern European countries will respond to an eventual court ruling in favor of the redistribution. If they continue to defy the program and keep their borders closed to migrants, it would further test EU solidarity because the other members could not simply ignore such a blatant violation of EU law.

The court’s ruling Wednesday on the so-called Dublin Regulation, which requires EU members to process asylum applicants where they are first registered, marked a defeat for Croatia, which gave in to the onslaught of refugees in 2015 and 2016 by opening its borders and letting them pass through to Austria and Slovenia.

The Luxembourg judges ruled that there are no exceptions to this rule, even in a crisis, once again vindicating the German government’s stance.

The ruling makes clear “that the European Union is not a cloud cuckoo land where each member state can pick out whatever happens to suit it,” Burkhard Lischka, immigration expert in the Social Democratic Party, told Handelsblatt.

With regard to Italy, Ms. Merkel’s promise of aid included efforts to reinforce the Libyan communities along the migration routes to counter the influence of smugglers transporting the refugees to Europe.

27 p08 Asylum Applications in the EU-01


Ruth Berschens in Brussels and Frank Specht in Berlin reported this story for Handelsblatt. Darrell Delamaide in Washington, DC adapted this story for Handelsblatt Global. To contact the authors:,

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