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IMMIGRATION

Border crossing chaos harks back to 80s

Honking cars with stressed drivers banked up for kilometres at an Austrian-German road crossing on Monday, hours after Berlin reimposed border checks to control a massive refugee influx.

Border crossing chaos harks back to 80s
Police check vehicles at the border crossing between Salzburg and Freilassing. Photo: EPA

Two German police officers checked the identity papers of the steady stream of drivers and passengers on a bridge where the morning traffic bottle-necked into a single lane.

“It's like being back in the 1980s,” complained one of the drivers caught up in the traffic jam, 71-year-old German pensioner Helmut Zimmermann. “I would never have imagined such poor organisation.”

Decades after most of Europe abolished internal border controls, Germany on Sunday installed impromptu checkpoints again, in a desperate bid to manage Europe's biggest wave of asylum-seekers since World War II.

Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman said on Monday that Germany is not slamming its doors shut to refugees but that the drastic measure was needed to bring some order to the asylum process.

The two police officers were checking papers and radioing to their colleagues further down the road which motorists to pull aside for closer questioning.

No refugees could be seen, either in vehicles or on foot, at the Freilassing border point early on Monday.

Zimmermann said he had crossed the border from his small German hometown of Piding in the morning, only to be caught up in the wait on the way back. “I always drive across to Austria to buy cigarettes and fill up on petrol,” because of the lower prices, he told AFP.

He welcomed the new controls, but not the way they were being carried out, grumbling that “it couldn't possibly work smoothly with just two police officers on that bridge”.

“I can't understand why they're doing it this way,” he said, having already waited for 45 minutes.

He also doubted the effort would work, pointing to what he called the “green border” of open fields and forests all around.

“For that, the 'green border' is far too porous,” he said. “In the past few days people have crossed here again and again. Just a few days ago my wife saw a few dark-skinned people come out of the forest.”

Also caught up in the traffic pileup was Rudolf Windhofer, a 56-year-old taxi driver from the Austrian city of Salzburg, who was taking school students across the border to Bavaria. “I've never waited this long, I've never seen anything like it,” he complained.

Having regularly driven the route for 12 years, he said, he was now losing money.

“During the extra time I need here I can't take any other fares, and the students are all going to be late,” he said.

The police, meanwhile, said the effort hadn't yet netted any people traffickers, after several were arrested the previous day. “We haven't seen any smugglers for hours,” said one of the officers, declining to give his name.

“They would be pretty stupid to still be arriving now. They would get a free one-way trip to prison”.

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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