‘They want to turn Hungary into an immigration country by force’ – EU nations required to accept migrants or face hefty fines after majority vote passed on new EU rules

FILE - Migrants disembark from a ship in the Sicilian port of Catania, Wednesday, April 12, 2023. (AP Photo/Salvatore Cavalli, File)
By Thomas Brooke
3 Min Read

Hungary and Poland were the last men standing in Luxembourg on Thursday evening after last-minute concessions to Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni saw a coalition of EU nations against the bloc’s asylum reforms crumble.

EU interior ministers had been at loggerheads over plans proposed by the European Commission that would see the introduction of a mandatory migrant relocation scheme, with nations who refuse to cooperate fined a penalty of up to €22,000 per migrant.

“This is unacceptable! They want to turn Hungary into an immigration country by force!” Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán wrote in a social media post on Friday.

The plans would also reform the returns process member states must follow regarding rejected asylum seekers.

A cohort of European nations including Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, Czechia, Croatia, Malta, Bulgaria, Lithuania and Italy had vowed to vote it down. Many argued the plan to force the acceptance of migrant quotas set by Brussels was an infringement on their national sovereignty.

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The Italian government, however, took particular objection to the proposed returns process. Rome had sought to widen the criteria for which a country of origin was deemed “safe” to initiate a return for rejected asylum seekers. This had been met with considerable German opposition.

“We can only deal with migration together as the EU, not as nation-states. I’m fighting for an EU of open borders,” German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser said ahead of the vote.

A breakthrough late on Thursday, however, saw Italy offered a major concession, with Brussels handing the power back to member states to decide themselves whether a migrant can legally be deported back to their country of origin.

The Italian-led coalition crumbled, leaving just Hungary and Poland opposing the new measures, while Bulgaria, Malta, Lithuania, and Slovakia all abstained.

The vote was subject to the European Union’s qualified majority voting on migratory issues, which meant the plans only needed 14 member states representing at least 65 percent of the EU population to vote in favor.

Poland has said it will refuse to pay any fine imposed by Brussels for refusing to cooperate with the agreement, while Hungary’s Parliamentary State Secretary of the Ministry of Interior Bence Rétvári said member states will no longer have a say in who lives in their territories.

Swedish Immigration Minister Maria Malmer Stenergard, who chaired the talks due to Sweden’s EU Council presidency, said following the vote: “To be honest, I didn’t really believe I would be sitting here saying this, but we have adopted general approaches on the asylum and migration management regulation and asylum procedure regulation.”

She described the vote as a “historic step” in how the bloc will tackle migration crises in the years ahead.

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