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IMMIGRATION

Bring refugees from Greece yourself, Austria tells Merkel

With large numbers of refugees building up in Greece after Austria and western Balkan nations closed their borders, Vienna has put the ball in Germany's court.

Bring refugees from Greece yourself, Austria tells Merkel
Refugees waiting at the Greek border to cross into Macedonia. Photo: EPA/SIMELA PANTZARTZI

Germany “should set up a daily quota and then bring these refugees directly from Greece, Turkey or Jordan,” Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann told the Kurier newspaper on Wednesday.

“Austria cannot and must not become a distribution hub [for refugees]. There must be an end to that,” Faymann went on.

He could not accept “that several thousands of people are waved through every day, on the other hand Germany informs us that today it will only allow 1,000 or 2,000 into the country.”

Merkel fights back

“Anyone who closes national borders doesn't do anything against the causes for the refugee movement,” Chancellor Angela Merkel shot back.

The German Chancellor has long been fighting for a solution at the EU level to distribute refugees after they arrive in Greece and Italy.

But it's tough going, as many other national leaders accuse her of attracting more people to Europe with an open-door policy which Germany decided on alone.

“We have to find sustainable solutions that we will still be able to justify tomorrow,” Merkel said. “Above all, [we need] solutions that don't set up something on one side that other countries simply have to deal with.”

Refugees blocked in Greece

Thousands of people remain stuck at Greece's northern borders after Macedonia – not a member of the EU, but invited to Austria's western Balkans conference last week – closed its gates.

People crammed into the camps up against the border fences on Tuesday called on Merkel to resolve the situation and let them continue their journeys.

“I don't know what the EU states are waiting for – how much further must the situation escalate?” Selmin Caliskan, General Secretary of Amnesty Germany, told the Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung on Wednesday.

Germany is looking to an EU-Turkey summit in Anakara on March 7th to make progress in bringing refugee flows under control.

“No-one understands if the EU first keeps Greece in the Euro with billions [in aid] and now fobs the solution of the refugee crisis onto the country,” Justice Minister Heiko Maas told the Rheinische Post on Wednesday.

“The images from the border between Greece and Macedonia should be a spur to all of us to fight more decisively for a European solution.”

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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