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IMMIGRATION

EU: Austria’s Schengen closure doesn’t violate rules

The imposition of stricter border controls by Austria are not in violation of Schengen Agreement rules, according to the EU's chief Spokesperson Margaritis Schinas.

EU: Austria's Schengen closure doesn't violate rules
Margaritis Schinas. Photo: European Commission

The comments came in the wake of Austria's decision to deploy soldiers to assist with border control at the Italian border.

The move was announced by Austria’s Defence Minister Hans Peter Doskozil (SPÖ) in an interview carried out with German newspaper Die Welt over the weekend.

“As the EU’s external borders are not yet effectively protected, Austria will soon ramp up strict border controls. That means massive border controls on at the Brenner (Pass), and with soldiers,” he said.

Schinas said that Austria will not violate any Schengen rules if it imposes stricter border controls along the Italian border. However, the introduction of the controls raises new questions over the final closure of the Balkan route, according to a report in EU affairs newspaper New Europe.

“There are conditions under which border controls can be introduced between two Schengen member states. As long as those conditions are respected, the measures on the border control can be implemented,” said Schinas while commenting on the Austrian decision.

He also added that such measures should not come as a surprise as the Austrian government notified the Commission about its intentions in September last year.

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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