EU rejects Austria’s ‘asylum islands’ suggestion

The EU has rejected a controversial suggestion from Austria’s foreign minister that asylum seekers should be kept on islands rather than be allowed direct access to the continent.

EU rejects Austria's 'asylum islands' suggestion
Dragan Tatic/

Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz had suggested that Europe follows the “Australian example” of turning back asylum seekers and migrants who arrive there by boat, to discourage migrants from setting out on the often perilous journey to Europe.

The idea was widely criticised by other Austrian politicians and now the European Commission has also rejected the idea.

The Australian approach to refugees is “not a model for us”, a spokesperson for the EU Commission said on Monday, according to DerStandard newspaper.

Kurz, from the conservative ÖVP party also came under fire from politicians in Austria, including the governor of Burgenland Hans Niessl, from the Social Democrats (SPÖ), who said the Foreign Minister was trying to distract people from “his own inaction”.

Sonja Wehsely (SPÖ) who leads Health and Social Affairs in Vienna, has also said: “I don’t know what is worse: whether Kurz knows of what he is speaking about here, or not.”

NGO’s who work with refugees are also severely critical of the suggestion with the spokesperson for SOS Mitmensch describing the suggestion as an “un-costed, inhumane and deeply cynical plan” on Facebook.

Kurz has since defended his comments in an interview with the ORF, saying that the suggestion is not 'inhumane'.

‘Consequences’ for uncooperative EU countries

In a statement released on Tuesday the EU Commission said that migration is now the top of their foreign policy agenda.

The paper unveiled by the Commission proposed financial incentives for other countries to encourage them to stop migrants and asylum seekers from travelling into Europe.

They also suggested creating an €8 billion fund for countries in northern Africa as well as relaxing visa requirements and trade policies between the EU and countries in that region to provide mgirants with a legal avenue to Europe.

The Commission has also said that any EU country that doesn’t cooperate when it comes to EU policy on asylum and migration will face “consequences”.



‘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.