Freedom Party demands special asylum session

Austria's right-wing Freedom Party (FPÖ) is calling for a special parliamentary session on the current chaos associated with floods of asylum seekers entering the country, as well as concerns over Islamization.

Freedom Party demands special asylum session
FPÖ leader Heinz-Christian Strache. Photo: APA (Hochmuth)

The party introduced the topic at a parliamentary plenary last week, and now seeks to broaden the debate, making an "urgent request" for participation by Austria's Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner (ÖVP). 

Under parliamentary rules, the Freedom Party is entitled to convene two special sessions per year. The session is to be held under the rubric "Safety instead of Islamization and Asylum Chaos."

The meeting will likely take place within the next eight working days, according to a report in the news daily Heute.

FPÖ Party leader Heinz-Christian Strache warned in a plenary meeting last Wednesday that "the threat from Islamism was more evident than ever."

He added that the danger came not just from the terrorist militia Isis in the Middle East, but also from "Isis terrorists disguised as refugees travelling to Austria", and said that "asylum seekers from Austria travel to the crisis region and fight there." 

He called for strict limits on the acceptance of refugees, attracting sharp criticism from other parties.
The Federal Government counter-terrorism measures are, according to Strache, not sufficient.
The fact that "a handful of putative Isis-fighters sit in custody, will not deter others," he said.
"Calming slogans" were out of place. "It is therefore not enough to stop suspected terrorist fighters from leaving, but we must do everything possible to prevent them from entering the country." 
Strache also stressed that Austria had done "great" work in the past with regard to helping refugees. But he said that it wasn't right that Austria and Europe receive "all refugees".  "We are able to solve the problems only in the problem's region." 
For Austria, Strache wants to "set a reasonable limit on how many asylum seekers Austria can accommodate" 
Interior Minister Mikl-Leitner agreed that the situation in Syria was dramatic – and also that the threats "to our borders do not stop". The fight against terrorism must therefore "be completely a priority for us," she said.
She pointed out that the government had already taken steps – among others allocating more staff to domestic protection – and even more will be done.  A focus on prevention, to stop young people becoming radicalized and joining the jihad, was a "very important answer". 
Mikl-Leitner also stressed that Austria has a responsibility towards refugees, "namely to allow those who are fleeing from jihadism to come here."
It was a "very big challenge" that currently the number of refugees from the Syrian crisis region continues to rise, "not only for Austria, but also for Europe", she said.
Therefore, she urged that there should be a mandatory quota for all EU member states to ensure that all states "accept their fair share of war refugees". 

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‘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.