Earlier this year, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s justice minister asked the Hungarian Constitutional Court to review a ruling from the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU). The CJEU claimed that Budapest broke EU law by allowing police to physically “push back” asylum-seekers across the Serbian border.
On December 10th, that bid was struck down by the constitutional court, Reuters reports. It said the government had the right to apply its own measures in areas where the EU has “yet to take adequate steps for common implementation of EU rules.”
The primary question—whether EU law had primacy over Hungarian law with respect to the government’s immigration stance—was avoided by redirecting the issue away from conflicting legal claims. Hungary argued that its basic law should not be misinterpreted as overruling a European court decision.
“The abstract interpretation of the Fundamental Law (Constitution) cannot be the subject of a review of the ECJ (European Court of Justice) judgment, nor does the procedure in the present case extend to the examination of the primacy of EU law,” the ruling stated.
While constitutional experts were of the opinion this effectively meant that the government would have to heed the ECJ ruling, Orbán’s chief of staff said the government felt vindicated by the decision and that immigration policy would not change.
The original challenge was drawn up by Orbán’s Minister of Justice Judit Varga, who reasoned that following the EU rulebook would result in many migrants staying in Hungary on a permanent basis.
In late November this year, neighboring Poland drew opprobrium from the EU as well, who claimed that Poland lacked the authority to question its appointment of judges.
Immigration has been one of the pillars of Orbán’s policy and indeed, continued popularity. In 2016, he held a referendum on an EU proposal to settle migrants in member states, which Hungarians, alongside Orbán, overwhelmingly rejected.
Before the decision, Orbán had said that “the interpretation of the Hungarian Constitution, for example, with regard to a row with Brussels, should fall to the (Hungarian) Constitutional Court in the last instance.”
“The reality of immigration is not in Brussels, but on the Hungarian border, the Polish border, and in the ports of Italy,” he explained. “We need to tackle the problems that have emerged, and change the rules.”
With next year’s election on the horizon, Orbán’s contest with Brussels over immigration could lend him some much-needed political capital.