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IMMIGRATION

Proposed cap could be reached ‘by Summer’

Austria's interior minister said Sunday that a new national cap on the number of asylum seekers it takes in this year could be reached by the summer, as Europe grapples with its worst migrant crisis since World War II.

Proposed cap could be reached 'by Summer'
A rubber boat full of refugees arriving on the Greek island of Lesbos from Turkey on December 24th. Photo: APA

The migrant hotspot said Wednesday it would seek to cap the number of asylum seekers at 37,500 in 2016, compared to the 90,000 claims it received last year, which Austria's foreign minister said should serve as a “wake-up call” to push Europe to find a common solution to resolve its migrant crisis.

“According to forecasts, this (the new cap) should be reached before the summer,” Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Meitner told German newspaper Die Welt. 

She said Austria was considering whether to continue accepting applications after the cap is met, or to stop people entering at its border.

“We must address the root of the problem,” she said. “What we are actually seeing has nothing to do with the search for safety but is to do with the search for the most economically attractive country. It cannot continue like this.”

Vienna has argued that as long as countries like Austria and Germany are willing to keep a door open to refugees, other EU nations will have no incentive to budget.

Austria is itself a key transit country for hundreds of thousands of migrants and refugees entering the EU, with many headed for Germany which took in 1.1 million asylum seekers in 2015.

The country's foreign minister told Bild newspaper in the wake of the announcement that it was “above all a wake-up call to Brussels”.

“I believe that in the long-term there is a European solution. But as long as that is not there, we have to protect ourselves,” Sebastian Kurz said.

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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