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REFUGEE CRISIS

IMMIGRATION

Faymann holds refugee talks in Croatia and Slovenia

Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann will hold separate talks on Thursday with his Croatian and Slovenian counterparts to discuss the possible passage of thousands of migrants through their countries into Austria, his office said.

Faymann holds refugee talks in Croatia and Slovenia
Abdullah, 42, fled Damascus with his wife and their seven children. The Syrian family was thrilled to have been invited to spend several days with locals in Vienna. Photo: Kim Traill

Faymann will meet Croatian Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic in Zagreb at 8am after which he will travel to Ljubljana to meet Slovenian premier Miro Cerar at 11am, his  spokeswoman said.

Hungary this week sealed its southern border with Serbia, cutting off one of the biggest entry points for migrants into the European Union , prompting several hundred migrants to enter Croatia on Wednesday.

Milanovic has said the migrants will be given free passage to wherever they wish to go, meaning they will likely pass through to Slovenia, which borders Austria, Italy and Hungary.

Preparing for the possible arrival of thousands of people through its border with Slovenia, Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner said on Tuesday that Austria would introduce border controls along its southern frontier.

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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