EU court rejects Hungary, Slovakia appeal in refugee case

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The European Union's top court on Wednesday rejected legal action by Hungary and Slovakia to avoid accepting refugees under an EU scheme, a decision seen as a victory for countries bearing the greatest burden of Europe's migrant wave.

In a long-awaited ruling, the European Court of Justice said that it had "dismissed in its entirety the actions brought by Slovakia and Hungary."

EU countries agreed in September 2015 to relocate 160,000 refugees from Greece and Italy over two years, but only around 27,700 people have been moved so far. Hungary and Slovakia were seeking to have the legally binding move annulled.

Hungary and Poland have refused to take part in the scheme, while so far Slovakia has accepted only a handful of refugees from Greece.

The refugee scheme was adopted by the EU's "qualified majority" vote — around two thirds — and the ECJ held that this was appropriate, saying the EU "was not required to act unanimously" on this decision.

The court also noted that the small number of relocations so far is due to a series of factors that the EU could not really have foreseen, including "the lack of cooperation on the part of certain member states."

Slovakian Prime Minister Robert Fico said he respected the court decision, but that his government still does not like the relocation scheme, which some see as a system of quotas imposed on countries by unelected EU bureaucrats in Brussels.

"We fully respect the verdict of the European Court of Justice," Fico told reporters, adding that his country's negative stance on the relocation plan "has not changed at all."

Fico said the scheme was a temporary solution. He says he believes his country doesn't face any sanctions from the EU over its stance. EU officials say the relocation of eligible asylum-seekers in Greece and Italy will continue even after the scheme ends.