(reuters) -- In the latest twist to a dispute that broke out two years ago when more than one million migrants poured across the Mediterranean, the European Court of Justice found that the EU was entitled to order national governments to take in quotas of mainly Syrian refugees relocated from Italy and Greece.
“The court dismisses the actions brought by Slovakia and Hungary against the provisional mechanism for the mandatory relocation of asylum seekers,” the Luxembourg-based court said, adding it rejected the complaints “in their entirety”.
“The mechanism actually contributes to enabling Greece and Italy to deal with the impact of the 2015 migration crisis and is proportionate.”
The program set up by the executive European Commission was approved by majority vote of member states in the face of opposition from formerly communist countries in the east who said their societies could not absorb mainly Muslim immigrants.
It provided for the relocation of up to 120,000 people, but only about 25,000 have so far been moved. A further program for resettling people directly from outside the EU has also struggled to hit targets for taking in asylum-seekers.
Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos tweeted: “Time to work in unity and implement solidarity in full.” The Commission’s chief spokesman, however, denied a report that the executive would propose a new round of 40,000 relocations.
It is unclear how far Brussels many try to force eastern states to take refugees, many of whom themselves are reluctant to settle in the poorer, ex-Soviet bloc. However, countries like Germany and Italy which are housing large numbers have said the easterners are jeopardizing western-funded EU subsidies if they go on refusing, adding to deep strains in the bloc as it deals with Britain’s imminent exit and a still limping economy.
“The quota system does not work, so the court decision is, perhaps, irrelevant at the moment,” Slovakia’s Economy Minister Peter Ziga told reporters.
He said a new mechanism was needed though the problem was not as grave as arrivals had declined.
(FILE PHOTO: Migrants face Hungarian police in the main Eastern Railway station in Budapest, Hungary, September 1, 2015. REUTERS)