Kurz: EU migration policy a “dramatic failure”

Austria’s Foreign Minister, Sebastian Kurz, has warned that the refugee crisis could break the European Union apart, and described EU migration policy as a “dramatic failure”.

Kurz: EU migration policy a “dramatic failure”
Sebastian Kurz. File photo: BMEIA

In an interview with German media, including Die Welt, he said that the refugee crisis had become an emotional issue and had been decisive in influencing the outcome of the UK’s referendum on whether to leave the EU. He warned that other countries may decide to follow Britain’s example.

He said that Austria also “expects more of Europe” and that the issue of how to manage the continuing influx of refugees and migrants “is high on people’s agenda” and that they want answers on how Europe’s problems can be solved.

At the same time he defended Austria’s refugee policy, saying “I’d like to see more understanding from Germany for our position, especially as Germany has no problems with controls on the Austrian-German border.”

And he repeated his demand for migrants to be intercepted before they arrive by boat. “If someone tries to come illegally to Europe, they must be stopped at the EU's external border and returned to their transit country or country of origin – otherwise we are indirectly supporting people smugglers and even more people will drown.”

Earlier this month Kurz was heavily criticised for suggesting that the European Union should follow Australia’s example and hold asylum seekers on islands rather than allowing them direct access to the continent, a move which he said would discourage migrants from setting out on the often perilous journey to Europe.



‘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.