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04/12/2016

Prague abandons plans to sue EU over refugee quotas

Justice & Home Affairs

Prague abandons plans to sue EU over refugee quotas

Bohulav Sobotka [R] consults with other Central European leaders during the refugee summit. [European Council]

Having considered taking the EU to court over the decision to distribute 120,000 refugees across the bloc, the Czech Republic finally decided to de-escalate tensions with Brussels. EurActiv.cz reports.

We are not in favour of and disagree with imposition of mandatory quotas of asylum seekers, but the migration crisis must not open a rift within the EU. This is what the Czech Prime Minister, Bohuslav Sobotka, told his counterparts at the EU summit on the night of 23 September.

“We do not believe the quotas will work anyway, but we will comply with the rules,” EU State Secretary Tomáš Prouza told EurActiv.cz.

On 22 September, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania were outvoted at the ministerial meeting when member states decided by qualified majority to relocate 66,000 refugees who would be moved from Greece and Italy to other EU countries, including another 54,000 who had previously been selected for relocation from Hungary, before it refused to back the plan.

>>Read: EU backs refugee plan in teeth of east European opposition

As leaders headed to Brussels for the summit, the Czechs joined Slovakia in warning that these countries might challenge the ministerial decision in the European Court of Justice. But as soon as leaders gathered in Brussels to discuss the refugee crisis, Prime Minister Sobotka backtracked.

“I do not want to file lawsuits, which would further escalate the tensions. Pressure can be increased only up to a certain limit before a breakdown occurs. There are further struggles ahead of us as regards assuming a realistic attitude to the migration crisis, and we need to make sure that our partners in Europe will listen to our arguments,” he said.

“The EU Council did not break any rule and procedure. It is true the voting in the EU Council is not an everyday practice, but approximately 9 % of negotiations leads towards voting where some opposition appears. If everyone who lost refuses to comply, there is no rule of law at all,” explained Petr Kaniok, an EU law specialist at the Masaryk University in Brno.

Is there an alternative?

The plan to relocate migrants from Italy and Greece specifies that the Czech Republic, which is a country with only a small immigrant community, should welcome 1591 asylum seekers (376 from Italy and 1215 from Greece) over the next two years.

In the event that Denmark, Ireland, Norway and Switzerland will join the program, this number would likely be reduced.

The Czech government believes that the system of quotas is wrong, because it places refugees in countries they don’t want to move to. “You can put a refugee who entered the EU in Italy on a train and send him to the Czech Republic or Estonia. But the first time after he arrives, he will flee to Germany. The only dream of these people is to get to Germany,” Prouza said in a recent interview.

“The government will not challenge the migration quotas in court, which I assume is a wise decision. But we insist on detailed explanation of the whole system. We want to know how the distribution of migrants will work,” Ond?ej Benešík, chairman of the Committee on European Affairs of the Chamber of Deputies in the Czech Parliament, told EurActiv.cz.

This was the reason why the lawyers of the Czech interior ministory prepared a legal study, where they presented an alternative to mandatory quotas, contending that temporary protection was a better solution for dealing with the refugee influx from Syria and other countries.

‘Temporary protection’ is a mechanism outlined in the Temporary Protection Directive 2001/55/EC, in the event of a mass influx of displaced persons, and on measures promoting a balance of efforts between member states in receiving such persons, and bearing the consequences thereof.

“The instrument is characterized by clear temporality of the duration of the protection, as it does not anticipate permanent resettlement, flexibility, voluntariness as well as procedural simplicity for the member states,” MEP Petr Ježek (ALDE) explains.

It could be activated by a decision of the European Council’s qualified majority, that a mass influx of displaced persons is taking place, based on a proposal by the European Commission, which shall also examine any request by a member state that it submit a proposal to the Council.

The European Commission considered this instrument as one of the proposed measures in its migration agenda in May, but finally, it decided on mandatory relocation quotas.