BRUSSELS — The European Commission on Wednesday launched legal action against the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland for failing to respect their commitment to take in refugees.
The Commission, which polices EU agreements, sent formal letters of notice to the three states giving them one month to respond to its concerns. They could be taken to Europe’s top court, the European Court of Justice, if the matter is not resolved.
EU countries agreed in September 2015 to relocate 160,000 refugees from Greece and Italy as the two countries struggled to cope with more than a million migrants who entered Europe mostly through their borders that year.
The Commission said in a statement that despite “repeated calls for action, these three countries remain in breach of their legal obligations and have shown disregard for their commitments to Greece, Italy and other member states.”
The two-year relocation scheme is a major plank of the EU’s migration policy, and was lauded as a European show of solidarity in 2015.
But just three months before it expires this September, fewer than 21,000 people have been relocated.
The plan was endorsed by a “qualified majority vote” — roughly a two-thirds majority — with the Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia voting against. Finland abstained. Hungary and Slovakia later launched their own legal action over the scheme, refusing to have migrant quotas imposed on them by what they saw as bureaucrats in Brussels.
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said Wednesday that “it’s a question here of observing European law, it’s not a question of sanctions.”
He told EU lawmakers in Strasbourg, France, that “European solidarity cannot be a one way street.”
As of June 9, the Czech Republic had accepted 12 refugees from Greece. Hungary and Poland had taken in none.
On Tuesday, the EU’s top migration official, Dimitris Avramopoulos, praised Austria and Slovakia for recently pledging to do more. But as of June 9, Austria had still not relocated a single refugee. Slovakia had taken in 16.
Germany, France, the Netherlands, Finland, Portugal and non-EU country Norway have so far been taking in the largest number of refugees — Germany received more than 5,600, France around 3,500.
Countries usually have two months to reply to formal EU letters of notice, but officials say the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland have already been repeatedly warned so they will only get one. The three could avoid going to court if they start relocating refugees over the next month, but their governments have already vowed to resist legal pressure.