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IMMIGRATION

Austrian minister calls for ‘fortress Europe’

Austria’s Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner has called for “a fortress Europe” to protect the EU’s external borders as thousands of refugees continue to enter Austria from Slovenia.

Austrian minister calls for 'fortress Europe'
Johanna Mikl-Leitner (centre). Photo: Christian Schulter

She made the comments after a visit to Spielfeld in Styria, where the situation has become chaotic after the arrival of thousands of refugees and migrants. On Thursday police were forced to remove barricades at a refugee camp in Spielfeld in an effort to relieve pressure, allowing hundreds of people to spill into the surrounding area.

Slovenia says over 12,600 migrants and refugees have entered its territory over the past 24 hours. They want to travel onwards to Austria and Germany.

Locals in Spielfeld, a community of just 1,000 people, have complained that they will not be able to cope with the expected 60,000 refugees who will arrive over the course of the next few days.

On Thursday evening, around 2,000 refugees were waiting in a transit area at the border crossing. Police chief Josef Klamminger said that shuttle buses will be in continual use, to take the refugees to a registration centre and provide them with emergency supplies and first aid.

He told ORF television that the situation in Spielfeld is more extreme than on the Hungarian border crossing a few weeks ago, as “Germany’s restrictions are now affecting Austria and the entire Balkan route, and we are left in a kind of sandwich position.”

Around 900 police officers and soldiers are on duty to try and keep the situation under control.

 

Meanwhile, Austria's minister for foreign affairs and integration, Sebastian Kurz, told Ö1 radio that the EU must cooperate with Turkey “to stem the flow of refugees, because it is becoming too much”. “Europe is responsible for protecting the EU's external borders,” he added.

He also said he was not against building border fences, which Hungary has done, saying that secure borders are needed and that the secure border between Turkey and Bulgaria has succeeded in easing the flow of refugees.

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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