Police to deploy 300 officers at Austrian border protest

Italian police are planning to deploy 300 officers at pro-refugee protest taking place this weekend at the Brenner border with Austria.

Police to deploy 300 officers at Austrian border protest

The number of officers being deployed is three times as many who were there at the previous Brenner border protest that took place earlier in April.

On that occasion the initially peaceful protest by several hundred pro-refugee demonstrators from Italy, Austria and Germany ended in violence after 50 participants attacked police, resulting in five Austrian officers being injured.

The demonstrators were protesting against Austria’s preparations to tighten border controls at Brenner and the construction of a barrier across the road and motorway to prevent migrants and refugees from entering Austria unchecked.

The move is part of a greater effort from Austria to reduce the number of migrants and refugees claiming asylum in the country by increasing border checks and tightening control. Following the closure of the west Balkan route in recent months, Austrian authorities say they expect large numbers of people to make their way via Italy to seek protection and a better life in central Europe.

Following talks with the organisers in recent days, police from the South Tyrol city of Bolzano said in a press release on Wednesday that they do not expect Sunday’s protest to turn violent as it did before.

Meanwhile Austria’s Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner, who has led the country’s hardline approach to migration, defended the right of the demonstrators to protest against the measures at Brenner.

Mikl-Leitner made the remarks on Tuesday after politicians from Austria’s Tyrol and Italy’s South Tyrol region questioned whether Sunday’s protest should be banned because the previous one had turned violent.

“As we know, there is a right to demonstrate and that should be retained. And therefore we must intensively work together with the Italian executive,” she said.


‘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.