Hungary's top court avoids ruling on primacy of EU law

BUDAPEST, Dec 10 (Reuters) - Hungary's Constitutional Court avoided ruling on the primacy of European Union law in deciding on a disputed government move against immigration on Friday, staving off a deeper crisis after a similar Polish challenge sent shock waves through Europe.

The court has been considering a challenge by Prime Minister Viktor Orban's nationalist government to an EU court finding that Budapest broke EU laws designed to protect refugees by deporting them over the border into Serbia. read more

Justice Minister Judit Varga has argued that implementing the ruling by the European Court of Justice (CJEU) would result in many migrants staying in Hungary permanently.

Neighbouring Poland's Constitutional Tribunal sparked a crisis in the 27-member EU earlier this year by ruling that parts of the bloc's treaties were incompatible with the Polish constitution. read more

On Friday, Hungary's top court 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.

However, it sidestepped the key issue of whether EU law had primacy over Hungarian law with respect to the government's immigration stance, saying the interpretation of Hungary's basic law could not be aimed at overruling a European court decision.

"The abstract interpretation of the Fundamental Law (constitution) cannot be the subject of a review of the ECJ judgment, nor does the procedure in the present case extend to the examination of the primacy of EU law," its ruling said.

Hungarian constitutional experts said this meant effectively that the government would have to heed the ECJ ruling, but Orban's chief of staff said the government felt vindicated by the decision and immigration policy would not change.

Gergely Gulyas said Budapest would continue its practice of receiving asylum applications only at its embassy in Serbia and turning back all illegal migrants at its border with Serbia.

"Nothing will change (with respect to our migration policy) as this constitutional court ruling supports Hungarian policy," he told a news conference in response to a question.

Orban, one of Europe's most strident opponents of immigration from the Middle East and Asia, said earlier the government would abide by the constitutional court ruling.

Additional reporting by Anita Komuves; Editing by David Goodman and Kevin Liffey

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Gergely reports on central European economics, central banking and government policy, with content usually appearing on the Macro Matters, Markets, Business and World sections of the website. He has nearly two decades' worth of experience in financial journalism at Reuters and holds advanced degrees in English and Communication. Contact: 36703775834