Balkan route may close with Austrian limit

Macedonian President Gjorge Ivanov said in an interview Monday that, when Austria reaches its limit of 37,500 migrant entries this year, the Balkan refugee route will have to close.

Balkan route may close with Austrian limit
(L-R) President of FYR of Macedonia, Gjorge Ivanov; EC President Donald Tusk, EC President Jean-Claude Juncker, Croatia's Tihomir Oresko. Photo: EPA/VIRGINIA MAYO / POOL

He defended his government's border restrictions to refugees seeking to transit from Greece, saying that “in times of crisis, every country must find its own solutions”.

German news site Spiegel Online published the interview with Ivanov on a day when hundreds of refugees tried to break through a border fence into Macedonia from Greece in violent scenes.

Macedonia's and other border closures were sparked by Austria's announcement it would accept no more than 80 asylum claims per day and cap the number of people seeking to cross its territory at 37,500 this year.

Ivanov, asked whether the Balkans route will be closed, said: “When Austria reaches its limit, it will happen.”

Asked when that might occur, he replied “perhaps right at this moment”.

He added: “We need a political decision now. Soon it will be too late. The Austrian ceiling of 37,000 will be reached.”

The Austrian interior ministry in a statement said the number of asylum seekers registered this year was in fact “around 12,000” — less than a third of the limit set by Vienna.

The number of new arrivals has been rising slowly in recent days, the ministry added, since Austria introduced its limit earlier this month.

President Ivanov meanwhile said that at the moment Macedonian border guards were allowing in Syrians and Iraqis but sending back Afghans.

“Such decisions are made between police authorities along the Balkans route,” he said, according to the German-language article. “Whenever a country to the north closes its borders, we follow suit.”

“You must understand that the situation changes not just by the day, but by the hour.”

Criticising EU inaction, he said: “We can't wait until Brussels makes a decision. We have made our own decisions. In times of crisis, every country must find its own solutions.

“If we had waited for EU guidelines, Macedonia would have been flooded with refugees.”

However, he also warned that criminal networks will help refugees find new ways, via Albania and Bulgaria.

“No-one wants to stay in Greece, Macedonia and Serbia,” he said. “The goal of the refugees is Germany. They will find a path there. A dangerous path.”


‘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.