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REFUGEE CRISIS

IMMIGRATION

Faymann to meet Orban over migrant crisis

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban will meet with his Austrian counterpart Werner Faymann in Vienna on Friday, his office said, amid tensions between the two over how to respond to Europe's migrant crisis.

Faymann to meet Orban over migrant crisis
Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban. Photo: Photo: Barna Burger/Hungarian Govt

Aside from Faymann, Orban will also meet Heinz-Christian Strache, head of far-right party FPO, for talks that will focus on “the European crisis situation caused by illegal immigration,” it said on its website on Thursday.

The visit comes after Orban and Faymann engaged in heated exchanges on the sidelines of a Brussels summit Wednesday, during which EU leaders agreed to boost aid for Syria's neighbours, as well as strengthen their borders to deal with the wave of migrants.

Hungary, which migrants and refugees use as a thoroughfare from the Balkans to northern Europe — with a record 10,046 migrants arriving Wednesday from Croatia — has taken the most hardline stance in Europe on the crisis.

It refuses to grant anyone asylum, and has sealed its border with Serbia with razor wire, prompting tens of thousands to divert their route through Croatia, from where they are bussed to the Hungarian frontier.

Budapest announced Thursday it was now considering closing its frontier with Croatia.

The move has triggered repeated criticism from Austria, which has been on the receiving end of the vast majority of migrants transiting through Hungary.

Austrian authorities said Thursday that 8,100 had entered from Hungary in the previous 36 hours.

Meanwhile, Reuters has reported that after Serbia banned Croatian cargo traffic from crossing its border, Croatia has in a tit-for-tat move blocked Serbian citizens and vehicles.

“Serbian passport holders and cars registered in Serbia cannot enter Croatia until further notice,” a police officer said by telephone from Bajakovo, the main crossing point between the two ex-Yugoslav republics, according to Reuters.

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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