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ASYLUM CRISIS

IMMIGRATION

Kurz: Repatriation row ‘endangers aid’

Austria's foreign minister called on the European Union on Thursday to stop giving aid to countries that refuse to take back nationals whose asylum claims were rejected.

Kurz: Repatriation row 'endangers aid'
Sebastian Kurz with Tedros Adhanom, foreign minister of Ethiopia. Photo: Austrian FM

“We in Europe need to finally start stepping up pressure if we want the repatriation system to work properly,” Sebastian Kurz told national broadcaster Oe1.

The conservative politician specifically mentioned Morocco, Tunisia and Pakistan, which he said were allocated a large chunk of the bloc's annual €11 billion ($12-billion) aid budget.

“At the moment, the EU gives €480 million to Morocco and €414 million to Tunisia every year, and yet these countries refuse to take back asylum seekers,” Kurz said.

Germany's vice-chancellor Sigmar Gabriel last month said EU aid should be withdrawn if a migrant's country of origin fails to cooperate on repatriation.

Kurz said he wants the proposal to be discussed at the next EU summit on February 18 and 19.

The bloc is grappling with its worst migrant crisis since World War II, and the flow of people fleeing war and poverty shows no sign of abating despite wintry weather conditions along the so-called Balkan migrant route.

In 2015, over a million people reached Europe's shores — nearly half of them Syrians fleeing a brutal civil war that has killed more than a quarter of a million people.

Austria, a country of nearly nine million people, last year received 90,000 asylum claims, one of the highest rates per capita in the EU.

In response to the influx, Vienna announced last month it would drastically cap the number of asylum seekers and deport at least 12,500 people in 2016.

Austria's new Defence Minister Hans Peter Doskozil on Thursday slammed the EU border agency for lacking in action and being “way too bureaucratic”.

“We need to discuss how to put into a place a European civilian and military mission” to protect the bloc's external frontiers in Greece, Doskozil told Austrian newspaper Kurier on Thursday.

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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