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IMMIGRATION

Hungary’s anti-migrant decision ‘unacceptable’

Austria has slammed Hungary’s decision to suspend a key EU rule that says it must take back asylum seekers who first enter Hungary but travel onto other countries - and warned of "negative" consequences.

Hungary's anti-migrant decision 'unacceptable'
Photo: UNHCR

“Austria cannot tolerate that,” Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz told his Hungarian counterpart Peter Szijjarto, a day after Budapest announced it was opting out of the Dublin Regulation. 

Hungary has said that it is overburdened by illegal immigration – more than 60,000 people have entered the country illegally this year, according to government officials.

Many try to continue on to other European states but under the EU's Dublin Regulation those countries can return asylum seekers to Hungary to have their application processed there.

Just days ago Hungary announced it would erect a border fence against migrants.

Kurz said it was “unacceptable” that a neighbouring country should suspend the core principle for handling asylum claims in the EU.

Speaking to Szijjarto on Tuesday evening, he said that he warned him that Hungary’s decision will have “negative consequences”.

The EU has called on the Hungarian government to immediately clarify its position.

“We all wish for a European solution, but we need to protect Hungarian interests and our population,” a spokesman for the Hungarian government told Austrian media.

Austria is the country most affected by Budapest's move, with most of the migrants on its territory arriving either from Hungary or Italy.

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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