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IMMIGRATION

Call to bring back Austrian border controls

Austria’s Vice Chancellor Reinhold Mitterlehner (ÖVP) has acknowledged that the number of refugees travelling through Austria into Germany presents “a substantial problem” and that the reintroduction of border controls might be something to consider.

This comes after the CSU, the Bavarian allies of German Chancellor Angela Merkel's party, announced it is preparing a “seven-point emergency programme” including reinstating border controls with Austria to limit the number of refugees entering Germany from the south.

Bavaria's state premier Horst Seehofer wants to “suspend” the Schengen agreement, which guarantees freedom of movement and abolished border controls between European countries which have signed up to it, at the state's border with Austria.

However, Austria's Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner (ÖVP) has said that she is against the idea as it would have a negative impact on tourism. She is in favour of EU member states agreeing on a quota of refugees that they pledge to take in.

Bavaria has become a target for refugees entering Europe through Italy and then heading towards Austria. In July, police in Munich reported a "huge increase" in the number of people arriving illegally at Munich's main train station with 600 arrivals in June and July.

Bavarian government figures show almost 17,000 people applied for asylum last year.

“Italy has clearly violated the Schengen agreement,” Seehofer told Bild on Monday. “If that isn't fixed, Germany must really consider putting a stop to it with border controls.”

But the party's suggestions met with immediate resistance from their allies, Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU).

“To tighten borders would be a sign of powerlessness and a confession that the authorities in Germany don't work fast enough,” said Peter Hauk, leader of the CDU group in the Baden-Württemberg state parliament.

Germany was recently praised by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees who called Germany's refugee policy "an example for other European countries to follow".

A CSU spokesman contacted by The Local said that renewed border controls were not yet part of party policy, as they first have to be agreed at a party board meeting on Monday.

Many towns in Bavaria are complaining that they are now overburdened with asylum seekers and refugees.

Under the Schengen agreement and EU border regulations, refugees are supposed to remain in the country in which they first arrive so that the burden can be shared among member states.

But Italy has been accused of turning a blind eye to the refugees passing through the country so that they don't become a burden on its social security system.

Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière recently promised more support to Italy so that the country can deal with the large numbers of refugees arriving on its shores as EU rules require.

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IMMIGRATION

‘Discrimination’: Austria’s benefit cuts for immigrants ‘go against free movement’

Benefit cuts imposed by Austria on immigrants whose children live in their country of origin contradict EU law becasue they constitute "discrimination on the ground of nationality", a legal adviser at the bloc's top court said on Thursday.

A picture of the sign and logo of the Court of Justice of the European Union in Luxembourg
A picture of the sign and logo of the Court of Justice of the European Union in Luxembourg on January 13, 2020. (Photo by JOHN THYS / AFP)

The opinion is the latest legal hitch to befall a series of measures — imposed by a previous government that included the far-right — which sought to restrict benefit payments to foreigners.

Richard de la Tour, advocate general of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU), said the cuts to child benefits constituted “an infringement of the right of free movement conferred on EU citizens”.

The specific case relates to reforms that came into effect in 2019 which indexed child benefits according to where the recipient’s children live.

This meant reduced payments for tens of thousands of eastern Europeans who work in Austria — notably in the care sector — but whose children remain in their countries of origin.

The advocate general’s advice is not binding on the court but it is seen as influential.

De la Tour found that the cuts were “indirect discrimination on the ground of nationality which is permissible only if it is objectively justified”, and that Austria had failed to do so.

They contravened the principle that “if a migrant worker pays social contributions and taxes in a member state, he or she must be able to benefit from the same allowances as nationals of that state”, he added.

In 2020 the European Commission, supported by six eastern member states, brought an action before the CJEU claiming Austria was “failing to fulfil its obligations”.

Former Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz had said he hoped the cuts would save 114 million euros ($130 million) a year but in 2019 they recouped 62 million euros.

The former coalition also introduced benefit cuts for immigrants who failed to reach a certain level of German, but those measures were subsequently overturned by the Austrian courts.

The government that introduced in the cuts was brought down in a corruption scandal in May 2019.

It included the centre-right Austrian People’s Party (OeVP), which is still the senior partner in the current government.

However their current coalition partners, the Greens, opposed the benefit cuts at the time.

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