Viktor Orbán announced during the government information briefing on Tuesday that Hungary would not be complying with a ruling by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) on the treatment of migrants attempting to enter the country as asylum seekers.
The Prime Minister referred to a verdict handed down by the Constitutional Court earlier this month as justification for his intransigence, saying:
The Hungarian Constitutional Court has also recently ruled on this matter, making it absolutely clear that no matter what the European Court decides, Hungary must continue to protect its borders. And so, following the ruling of the Constitutional Court, the government has examined our options and we have decided that we won’t make any changes to our border protection efforts. In other words, we’ll keep operating the same system as before, even if the European Court of Justice has called on us to change it. We will not change, and we will not let anyone in.
According to Telex, the Prime Minister interpreted the Consitutional Court’s December 10 ruling quite liberally, according to his own political narrative, whereas many civic associations drew opposite conclusions from the judgment.
The ECJ case concerned “transit zones” set up along the fence at Hungary’s border with Serbia in response to the migration crisis that erupted in 2015, and the Hungarian government’s deliberate opposition to current European asylum law.
After Hungary set up its border fence, asylum applications could only be submitted in these transit zones, but authorities only permitted a small number of applications to be submitted per day. Circumstances in the transit zones were considered similar to detention, even the “expedited” procedure was extremely lengthy, and denials for asylum could not be appealed.
For this reason, the European Commission initially initiated infringement proceedings against Hungary, referring the case to the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg. ECJ judges ruled in favor of the Commission, finding that the Hungarian government had breached EU obligations by failing to provide effective access to a fair asylum procedure, illegally detaining applicants in transit zones, and violating procedural guarantees for deportation.
In response, the Hungarian government removed the transit zones but made the procedure for granting asylum virtually impossible. Under the new system, those seeking asylum in Hungary now have to submit a letter of intent at a Hungarian embassy abroad, which in practice means only in Belgrade or Kiev. As a result of this new practice, in a single year only three families, or eight people in total, have been granted the opportunity to enter Hungary legally.
Although Hungary later closed its transit zones, it continues to challenge the ECJ’s ruling. Justice Minister Judit Varga appealed to Hungary’s Constitutional Court to ask whether the verdict by the Luxembourg-based court on Hungary’s asylum obligations violated the country’s sovereignty.
In its December 10 ruling, the Constitutional Court did not take a position on any particular issue, but stated that Hungarian law could prevail if there was a lack of clarity over whether an issue fell under the competence of national or EU law. But the court did not find that as a general rule national law could take precendence over the laws of the European Union.