Hungarian court declines challenge to primacy of EU law

BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — Hungary’s Constitutional Court on Friday declined to rule on a motion challenging the primacy of European Union law in a case involving the country’s treatment of refugees and asylum-seekers.

The decision came after Justice Minister Judit Varga challenged a ruling last December from the EU’s top court which found Hungary had failed to respect EU law by conducting pushbacks of people entering the country without authorization, denying them the right to apply for asylum and detaining them in “transit zones” along the southern border with Serbia.

Hungary’s government, led by right-wing Prime Minister Viktor Orban, has engaged in frequent conflicts with the EU over immigration. In 2015, Hungary refused to participate in an EU scheme to settle hundreds of thousands of refugees across the bloc’s 27 member nations, and erected a razor wire fence across its southern border to keep migrants out.

In her motion, Varga asked the court to rule that the Court of Justice of the European Union’s (CJEU) decision requiring that migrants be granted the opportunity to apply for asylum was incompatible with Hungary’s constitution.

It was a challenge to the primacy of EU law that echoed an October ruling from a court in Poland. That caused a crisis in the EU when the court declared that the Polish constitution took precedence over some of the bloc’s treaties.

In its Friday ruling, the Hungarian court stressed that the interpretation of Hungary’s constitution “cannot be aimed at reviewing the judgment of the CJEU, nor does the Constitutional Court’s procedure in the present case, by its very nature, extend to the review of the primacy of EU law.”

Reacting in a video on her Facebook page Friday, Varga portrayed the decision as a victory for her government, noting that the court held that in matters of the joint exercise of competences between the EU and a member state, Hungary would be entitled to reserve its sovereignty.

“The Constitutional Court has made it clear in today’s judgment that as long as EU rules on immigration are not fully enforced, Hungary has the right to exercise these powers. It has the right to adapt its national rules to reality through additional specific solutions to ensure the effective protection of its borders,” Varga said.

But in a statement released on its website, human rights organization Hungarian Helsinki Committee wrote that the ruling meant that the government had no green light to continue ignoring the EU court’s decision.

“Continuing the sabre rattling miscarriage of justice will have serious human rights and financial consequences,” it said.

In a briefing to journalists on Friday, Christian Wigand, spokesman of the EU’s executive arm, said the European Commission would “analyze the ruling in detail” but noted that Hungarian authorities were obligated to implement the judgement of the EU court.

“We understand that the ruling does not as such challenge the principle of the primacy of EU law,” Wigand said.

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