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IMMIGRATION

‘Germany should reinforce Austria-Italy border’

Germany should send border police to back up Austrian police as they control their border with Italy in a bid to prevent migrants and refugees moving north through Europe, the German Transport Minister said on Tuesday.

'Germany should reinforce Austria-Italy border'
Police at demonstration on the Austrian-Italian border on Saturday. JAN HETFLEISCH /EPA

“Germany could make a contribution and support Austria's efforts at the Brenner Pass [which connects Italy with Austria] with personnel,”  Transport Minister Alexander Dobrindt told the Münchener Merkur.

Austria has long complained that Germany is reaping the benefit of its agreement with western Balkan nations to close borders all along what became the main refugee route in 2015 from Greece to Germany and points further north.

Numbers of refugees arriving in Germany have slowed to a trickle in recent weeks without Chancellor Angela Merkel having to renege on her promise not to close the Federal Republic's borders.

Now authorities expect more people to begin arriving in Italy as weather improves in the Mediterranean, making boat crossings from north Africa safer.

That will put pressure on Austria as people seek to move north – and “Germany can't just rely on our neighbouring countries keeping that under control,” Dobrindt said.

Dobrindt is a member of the Christian Social Union (CSU), Merkel's conservative Bavarian allies who have long criticized her willingness to accept large numbers of refugees in Germany.

“Germany must send a signal to the world that there is no unconditional culture of welcome even here,” he said.

“It would be wrong to give refugees the false hope that they can still head towards us. People looking for a better life can't simply cherry-pick Germany.”

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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