ECJ fines Hungary with €200 million over 'extremely serious' breach of EU asylum law

ECJ fines Hungary with €200 million over 'extremely serious' breach of EU asylum law

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) has ordered Hungary to pay a lump sum of €200 million over the country's long-standing restrictions on the right to asylum.

Additionally, Hungary will have to pay €1 million per day of delay. The money will be automatically subtracted from Hungary's allocated share of the EU budget, parts of which remain frozen over similar legal problems.

The failure to "fulfill obligations constitutes an unprecedented and exceptionally serious breach of EU law," the ECJ said on Thursday.

The dispute dates back to December 2020, when the court first ruled that Hungary, under Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, had limited access to asylum procedures for those seeking international protection in the country, making it "virtually impossible" to file applications. The Hungarian authorities were also censured for unlawfully keeping asylum seekers in so-called "transit zones" under conditions that amounted to detention and violating their right to appeal.

This "systematic" practice, the court said back then, also involved police officers forcibly escorting third-country nationals that had arrived illegally in Hungary to the other side of a fence erected a few metres from the border with Serbia, "to a strip of land devoid of any infrastructure."

Budapest had pushed back, saying migratory pressure justified derogations, but the tribunal dismissed this point.

As Hungary ignored the December 2020 ruling, the European Commission launched new legal action, which resulted in Thursday's judgment.

The judges conclude that Hungary is "disregarding the principle of sincere cooperation" and "deliberately evading" the application of the bloc's asylum legislation, which has ripple effects on the borderless bloc.

"That conduct constitutes a serious threat to the unity of EU law, which has an extraordinarily serious impact both on private interests, particularly the interests of asylum seekers, and on the public interest," the judges say.

Since Hungary's wrongdoing puts more pressure on nearby member states, who have to take care of the migrants unlawfully expelled by Budapest, the legal breach "seriously undermines the principle of solidarity and fair sharing of responsibility."

Reacting to the news, Orbán described the court's decision as "outrageous and unacceptable."

"It seems that illegal migrants are more important to the Brussels bureaucrats than their own European citizens," he said. (The ECJ is based in Luxembourg)

The European Commission, with which Orbán has been engaged in a years-long showdown, said it would reach out to Hungary to "enquire" about how the country intends to comply with the ruling.

Then, according to the response, the Commission will send payment requests to Hungary "in intervals" to collect the €1 million daily fine. If the country refuses to pay, the executive will trigger the "offsetting procedure" to deduct the money from Hungary's allocated EU funds. This was used with Poland in the past.

"The fine applies as of today," a Commission spokesperson said on Thursday.

Separately, the Commission will send another request for the €200 million lump sum, which needs to be disbursed regardless of what Hungary offers to do.

Since coming into power, Orbán has embraced a hard-line stance on migration, worsening tensions with Brussels. Last month, the country voted against every file contained under the New Pact on Migration and Asylum, an all-encompassing reform that aims to ensure all member states contribute to managing irregular migration.

This piece has been updated with more information.