Austria to begin controls on Italian border in May

Austria’s new Interior Minister confirmed over the weekend that continuous border controls will be introduced on the border with Italy at the end of May.

Austria to begin controls on Italian border in May
Arnulf Zu Lindern/Wikimedia

Austrian authorities have been reinforcing the Brenner border point with Italy in recent weeks in preparation for what the government expects will be a new wave of refugees and migrants making their way to central Europe via Italy.

Arrivals in Italy are believed to be on the verge of spiking upwards because of the closing down of the migrant route to central Europe via Greece and the Balkans.

The measures taken at Brenner follow the earlier introduction of checks near the southern border town of Spielfeld and comes amid the erecting of fences along Austria’s eastern border with Hungary.

Speaking following a meeting with politicians in Tyrol and Italy’s South Tyrol region, Austrian Interior Minister Wolfgang Sobotka confirmed that border checks at Brenner are necessary “to continue to guarantee the security of Austria.”

He confirmed they will be introduced at the end of May, adding that a fence may also be erected along the border “if Italy does not introduce measures” to control the numbers at the border.

This was reiterated by the head of the police in Tyrol Helmut Tomac, who said they expect between 400 and 500 refugees a day at Brenner rather than the tens of thousands who arrived at Spielfeld last year.

Tomac added that this depended on whether Italian authorities took measures to organise the refugees, for example by “sending them back again”.

“Then there is no need for a fence,” he said, quoted in the ORF.

Border protest against Austrian policy

The meeting comes amid protests at the border against Austria’s hardline approach to migrants.

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.

One of the demonstration's organisers was briefly detained by Austrian police, but unlike previous protests the event did not degenerate into serious violence.


‘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.