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IMMIGRATION

Austrian border control under discussion

Austrian People's Party chairman, Reinhold Mitterlehner, sees the proposal by several governors to stem the current influx of refugees through the introduction of temporary border controls as a "cry for help".

Austrian border control under discussion
Photo: APA/GEORG HOCHMUTH

Such a measure would "actually be very problematic," Mitterlehner said at a news conference on Friday following a party meeting on the issue.

"It really is the last resort," said the chairman during the discussion, adding that he hoped those governors considering such a proposal would also see this.

"Ultimately border controls would damage Austria's international reputation," he said, describing the statements as a "cry for help to draw attention to the need for a quota system."

Austrian authorities have stopped 4,700 asylum seekers from entering Austria, most of whom had had their requests for asylum rejected in Italy.

Interior Minister, Johanna Mikl-Leitner views the current discussion similarly.

No one wants to "throw up borders", she said during the party meeting. What is important now is to find a European solution to the issue of quotas.

Meanwhile, the EU is discussing the possibility of setting up registration posts in North Africa, to try to stem some of the flood of refugees making the perilous crossing to Italy.

In Germany, the Bavarian CSU party is proposing the reintroduction of border controls between Germany and Austria, again due to the refugee issue.

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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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