‘Force may be used’ if Germany seals border

Austrian Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner has warned that force may be necessary to ease a backlog of refugees if Germany decides to no longer let them enter via its border with Austria.

'Force may be used' if Germany seals border
Refugees at the Hungarian border. Photo: APA

However, the government has said it will continue to work closely with Germany to speed up the flow of refugees.

Germany has re-imposed border controls and stopped some train services from Austria in an effort to slow the influx of refugees. Austria has been letting refugees enter the country via its border with Hungary – and allowing them to travel on towards Germany.

Asked at a press conference on Tuesday what would happen if Germany “seals the border”, Mikl-Leitner replied: “Then there will be a massive backlog here in Austria and therefore we quickly need a European answer.

“Otherwise there will be only two possibilities: either we carry on as until now, or there will be strict controls at the borders,” she told reporters. “But then we must presume that images of force will emerge, that the use of force will be necessary.”

Hundreds of refugees are gathering at a crossing near the Austrian city of Salzburg each day, planning to cross into Germany.

Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann warned against the use of expressions such as “sealing the border”. He said German controls were in place, and Austria would have to find ways to deal with the build-up of refugees waiting to reach Germany – by taking in any that request asylum in Austria.

“The impression must not arise in Germany that the Austrians are doing the same thing as the Hungarians, simply moving people on,” Faymann told reporters, referring to the Budapest government's policy of shunting tens of thousands of refugees to its frontier with Austria.

Of the more than 167,000 refugees who have reached Austria since early September, more than 90 percent travelled on to Germany, Faymann said.


‘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.