© AFP/File | Under international and European law, countries are required to grant asylum to people fleeing war or persecution but not those classed as economic migrants
LUXEMBOURG - 6 Sep 2017: The EU's top court on Wednesday threw out a challenge from Hungary and Slovakia against a quota scheme by Brussels to force member states to admit thousands of asylum seekers.
The European Union approved the controversial scheme two years ago as it grappled with Europe's worst migrant crisis since World War II, but Hungary and Slovakia went to court to block the plan, backed by other eastern member states.
In its ruling, the European Court of Justice said: "The court dismisses the actions brought by Slovakia and Hungary against the provisional mechanism for the mandatory relocation of asylum seekers."
The verdict by the court in Luxembourg was welcomed by the European Commission, the executive of the 28-nation bloc.
"ECJ confirms relocation scheme valid. Time to work in unity and implement solidarity in full," said EU Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos.
The top court upheld the right of EU institutions to "respond effectively and swiftly to an emergency situation characterised by a sudden inflow of displaced persons".
It also held that the European Council, the body gathering the member states, "was not required to act unanimously when it adopted the contested decision".
It was referring to the decision by a majority of EU member states in Brussels in September 2015 to relocate 120,000 Syrian and other asylum seekers from overstretched Greece and Italy to most of the other 28 EU member states.
It is part of a scheme to relocate a total of 160,000 asylum seekers.
- 'Not equipped' -
Officials in Brussels have argued that the scheme is legally binding on member states, including those that voted against the quotas like Hungary, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Romania.
Poland initially supported the plan but has come out strongly opposed since a right-wing government came to power.
The court statement said Poland intervened in support of Hungary during the proceedings, while the executive European Commission, along with Greece, Italy, Germany, Sweden and several other member states, backed the relocation plan.
Eastern European member states opposed the plan, saying they were not equipped to integrate people from mainly Muslim countries.
Brussels launched the relocation scheme in September 2015, the year more than one million migrants arrived in Europe by sea.
It was introduced as an exception to the so-called Dublin rules under which migrants must apply for asylum in the member state where they first land.
Under international and European law, countries are required to grant asylum to people fleeing war or persecution but not those classed as economic migrants.
Political pressures have eased with a decline in migrant flows.
This is mainly a result of a controversial deal the EU signed with Turkey in March last year to send back migrants in return for billions of euros in aid and for admitting asylum seekers directly from refugee camps in Turkey.
However, the scheme has faced trouble from the start.
EU figures show that just under 28,000 people have been relocated since the two-year scheme was launched in September 2015.
In addition to outright opposition from eastern member states, other EU member states have dragged their feet despite having voted for the plan.
Under the plan, Hungary must admit more than 2,300 asylum seekers, while Slovakia must in the long term take in 1,400.
The court verdict appears set to boost legal action the European Commission launched in June against Poland and Hungary for having failed to admit any asylum seekers.
It also took legal action against the Czech Republic for having stopped taking them but spared Slovakia which agreed to take a handful of them.
The EU action known as infringement proceedings could see the three countries referred to the Court of Justice and given stiff financial penalties.