Austria bemoans lack of EU solidarity over migrants

Austria's government defended its toughened line on migrants on Thursday, saying ahead of an EU summit that its unilateral measures were necessary because of a lack of EU "solidarity", in particular from France.

Austria bemoans lack of EU solidarity over migrants
Refugees at the Austrian border. File photo: APA

“It would be different if we had a 'coalition of the willing', or however you want to call it, that really took in all those (migrants) who are coming,” said Vice Chancellor Reinhold Mitterlehner.

“The French are involved in this 'coalition of the willing' but said a few days ago that they are only taking 30,000 (migrants over the next two years),” he told public radio. “The solidarity is not there.”

An EU plan from last year to resettle 160,000 refugees among the 28-nation bloc has so far seen only several hundred asylum seekers moved between EU countries, as the continent struggles with its worst migration crisis since World War II.

Vienna this week announced that as of Friday, it would only admit 80 asylum seekers per day, and that it planned unspecified “structural measures” at 12 checkpoints on its southern borders.

This year the government says it will only admit 37,500 asylum seekers, down sharply from the 90,000 who applied in 2015, a number which made Austria one of Europe's biggest recipients on a per-capita basis.

It says that the measures are necessary because a German-backed EU plan for Turkey to stem the flow of migrants setting off from its coast is not yet working, and has urged other countries on the Balkans route into Europe to follow suit.

European Parliament chief Martin Schulz sharply criticised Austria on Thursday, sarcastically dubbing Vienna's actions on German TV as an “intellectually brilliant solution”.

A planned meeting of 11 countries including Austria and Germany — nicknamed the “coalition of the willing” — with Turkey was cancelled late on Wednesday after Turkey's premier pulled out following a bomb attack in Ankara.


‘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.