Vineyard owners ‘sabotage’ border fence

The fence which is currently being constructed at a crossing point used by refugees on Austria’s border with Slovenia could end up having an 800 metre gap after vineyard owners refused to let the government build on their land.

Vineyard owners 'sabotage' border fence
Soldiers are helping constuct the fence. Photo: ORF

The 3.7 kilometre wire fence, which is a first in Europe's Schengen zone, should be completed before the end of the year.

“We don’t want to interfere with the daily work of local winemakers,” Colonel Joseph Reich from the national police force told the ORF broadcaster, explaining why there will be a gap in the fence. He said that it is “theoretically possible” that the gap in the fence could be as long as 800 meters.

Reich’s deputy Manfred Komericky said that the gap was “totally okay” and that if necessary it could be patrolled by police or security forces.

Landowner Helmut Strobl has said he is refusing to allow the fence to be built on his land out of principle. “It’s a chance for me to show that I don’t agree with the fence being put up, the whole thing is nonsense,” he said. He is of the opinion that police can patrol the border crossing, without the need for a fence.

“There are many roads that are also used as border crossings by both countries. Are we going to have to put fences across those as well?”, he asked.

Many of the winemakers on the Styrian border with Slovenia own land that is technically in Slovenia. The government had suggested building doors into the fence and giving vineyard owners a key, but Strobl said this was impractical as the land there is very steep.

The government has allocated a €10 million budget for the fence, but police say it is unlikely to cost that much.

Chancellor Werner Faymann's government says that the two-metre-high fence is to help it better manage the flow of migrants and refugees seen in recent months.


‘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.