EU to probe migration refusal in three eastern members


The European Union's executive decided to open legal cases against Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic on Tuesday.

The European Union's executive will open legal cases against three eastern members on Tuesday for failing to take in asylum-seekers to relieve states on the front lines of the bloc's migration crisis, sources said.

The European Commission would agree at a regular meeting on Tuesday to send so-called letters of formal notice to Poland and Hungary, three diplomats and EU officials told Reuters. Two others said the Czech Republic was also on the list.

This would mark a sharp escalation of a dispute between Brussels and these states. Such letters are the first step in the so-called infringement procedures the Commission can open against EU states for failing to meet their legal obligations.

A Commission spokeswoman did not confirm or deny the executive would go ahead with the legal cases, but referred to an interview that Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker gave to the German weekly Der Spiegel last week.

"Those that do not take part have to assume that they will be faced with infringement procedures," he was quoted as saying.

Poland and Hungary have refused to take in a single person under a plan agreed in 2015 to relocate 160,000 asylum-seekers from Italy and Greece, which had been overwhelmed by mass influx of people from the Middle East and Africa.

The bloc has fought two years of these bitter migration battles but the two southern states, backed by rich countries like Germany and Sweden that are the final destinations for many migrants arriving in the EU, have failed to force Warsaw and Budapest to change their policies.

The scheme has been a failure and fewer than 21,000 people have been moved so far. But only Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic have not pledged to accept migrants.

That allows the Commission to single them out on that formal basis, rather than open legal cases against just about every EU state for failing to take in the whole of their assigned quota.

In his interview, Juncker said: "The decision hasn't been made yet, but I will say this: I am for it - not to make a threat, but to make clear that decisions that have been made are applicable law ... At issue here is European solidarity, which cannot be a one-way street."

The bloc's divisive migration disputes have come at a time its unity and resolve are already being tested by Brexit, weak economies and higher support for populist, eurosceptic and nationalist-minded parties on the continent.

It pits the formerly communist easterners against the wealthy westerners and countries on the Mediterranean coast, with Italy leading calls to punish Poland and Hungary by taking away some of the generous EU funds they benefit from.

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