BRUSSELS/BUDAPEST (Reuters) - The European Commission launched an “infringement case” against Hungary over its asylum legislation on Thursday, a move Budapest dismissed as an act of revenge for its rejection of mandatory migrant quotas.
Hungary, which has built a steel fence along its southern borders to keep out migrants, has resisted a German-backed plan to set mandatory quotas for EU members for the relocation of thousands of migrants.
The EU executive said it was not satisfied with the response from Hungarian authorities regarding its concerns over the country’s asylum legislation, which it said breached EU rules.
“As a consequence of these concerns, the Commission has today initiated an infringement procedure and sent a letter of formal notice to Hungary. The Hungarian authorities have two months to respond to the Commission,” the EU executive said.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has vowed to fend off the flow of hundreds of thousands of migrants pouring into Europe fleeing war and poverty from the Middle East and Asia, saying Hungary’s Christian values were under threat.
Other Central European EU members have backed Orban’s anti-immigration policy. Hungary and Slovakia submitted an appeal against the migrant quota plan to the European court last week.
Orban’s chief of staff Janos Lazar said Hungary would fight the new infringement procedure.
“This is an unjust and to us unfair procedure, clearly the revenge of political groups who condemn Hungary’s determined stance about defending European borders,” he told a news conference.
If a government loses in an infringement procedure, it has to change the legislation in question, or can appeal.
Lazar said Germany was more deserving of an infringement procedure because of huge delays in processing asylum requests of hundreds of thousands of migrants there.
“The European Commission should launch a procedure against them (Germany), rather than against the one (Hungary) who tries to clarify within a short time, one month, whether someone has a right for refugee status or not,” he added.
Human rights group Amnesty International said the new EU procedure against Hungary was an important step towards restoring the rights of asylum seekers to fair proceedings.
Orban’s anti-migrant policies have been popular at home.
A poll by Median showed that Orban’s Fidesz, which has been in power since 2010, had 51 percent support among decided voters, over 21 percent for the second strongest party, the far-right Jobbik. This is the first time that any Hungarian ruling party is supported by more than half of decided voters in the middle of its parliamentary term, Median said.
Reporting by Foo Yun Chee/Sandor Peto in Budapest; editing by Ralph Boulton