SHARE
COPY LINK

IMMIGRATION

Demonstrators face pepper spray over Brenner pass

Hundreds of Italian demonstrators on Sunday faced off with similar numbers of Austrian police at the border between the two countries in the latest sign of tensions arising from Europe's migrant crisis.

Demonstrators face pepper spray over Brenner pass
Austrian riot police clash with mostly Italian protestors at the Brenner Pass on Sunday. Photo: EPA/JAN HETFLEISCH

The demonstration had been called to protest over Austria's preparations for a possible restoration of border controls at the Brenner pass in the Alps because of fears of a potential surge of migrant arrivals in Italy.

Wielding inflatable dinghies and brandishing a “People Over Borders” banner and “Refugees Welcome” placards, the protestors marched across the border and pushed up against a police line designed to prevent them blocking the road on the Austrian side.

Some shoving ensued and police dressed in full riot gear used pepper spray to deter some of the protestors. One of the demonstration's organisers was briefly detained by Austrian police, but the protest did not degenerate into serious violence.


Italian demonstrators protesting at Austria's plans to re-introduce border controls.  Photo: EPA/ROBERTO TOMASI

Austria has warned it will reintroduce controls at the border if Italy does not take steps to reduce the number of migrants arriving on its soil and immediately heading north, primarily via France and Austria.

The problem is a longstanding one but has been exacerbated by concerns that arrivals in Italy are on the verge of spiking upwards because of moves to restrict the number of asylum seekers and other migrants entering the EU via Greece and the Balkans.

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.

SHOW COMMENTS