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IMMIGRATION

Austria’s new interior minister to stay tough on migrants

Austria's new Interior Minister Wolfgang Sobotka said on Sunday he would stick to the hardline stance on migrants pushed by his predecessor, Johanna Mikl-Leitner.

Austria's new interior minister to stay tough on migrants
CHRISTIAN BRUNA/EPA

“This course will be continued, there's no doubt about that,” Sobotka told a press conference in Vienna. The 60-year-old, who is a newcomer to national politics, said he did not want “any experiments”.

The pair will swap jobs later this month as part of a reshuffle within the conservative ÖVP party announced on Sunday evening.

Mikl-Leitner is set to take over Sobotka's current position as acting regional governor in her home state of Lower Austria.

“In a few days I will leave the republic's toughest job behind me and start the most beautiful role in Austria,” Mikl-Leitner said.

The 52-year-old, who took office in 2011, has been one of the key architects behind the country's tough asylum-seeker policies, as Europe grapples with its worst migration crisis since World War II.

She has overseen the introduction of border fences, tougher frontier controls  and hardline asylum rules – including an annual cap on migrant numbers – as part of her push to build “fortress Europe” and shut the main Balkan migrant trail for good.

With that route now closed, Mikl-Leitner recently turned her attention to the Italian border, threatening to clamp down on the strategically important Brenner pass checkpoint if Rome failed to stop illegal migrants.

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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