Austrians block the building of border fences

Plans to build fences between Slovenia and Austria have come up against fierce opposition from locals who are refusing to allow the government to build on their land.

Austrians block the building of border fences
Angela Giuffrida/The Local Italy

Only around 40 percent of those affected have given police permission to build a fence on their land, many arguing it would damage the relationship with their Slovenian neighbours.

“Not once during the time of the Cold War or when the border between Carinthia and Yugoslavia burnt 25 years ago due to the struggle of freedom of the Slovenian defence against the People’s Army, has a fence been necessary,” Franz Sadjak from Bleiburg told the Kurier.

“Why should we now disturb the acquired friendly relationship with the building of a fence?

The government hopes to build fences along parts of the border with the intention of channelling refugees if high numbers of people begin to arrive in the coming months as they did last summer.

The move is part of country-wide measures, including the strengthening of border controls and building of new reception centres, in preparation for a potential repeat of last summer when millions of asylum seekers crossed Europe.

So far, the continent is not seeing the same influx it did last year, although the number of asylum seekers reaching Europe’s shores is still in the hundreds of thousands.

Austria has received 20,003 asylum applications so far this year, plus a further 6,300 applications from people who the government wants to return to the first EU country they entered under the Dublin Regulation.

As part of the Austrian government’s asylum measures, police in Carinthia have been negotiating for weeks with land owners around the border areas of Grablach, Lavamünd, Raunjak und Leifling over the building of a fence.

“We are not talking about a complete fence but a couple of kilometres at certain transition points – depending on the topography,” said police spokesperson Rainer Dionisio.

Some locals have argued, however, that it is “nonsense” that you can channel people in the mountains.

Ivica Tomic, 69, who lives on the Slovenian side of the border added: “Other than that, as children we were not allowed to speak at all with the Carinthians, although we were always neighbours. Now we are friends and suddenly we should be separated again by a fence?”

Local Austrian politician Christoph Haselmayer (NEOS) has also said his family have refused to allow the government to build a fence on their land, pointing to the history of war in the region.

“My father Wilfried experienced the time in the Cold War when the Yugoslavians built border watchtowers, my grandfather was killed in the Second World War. We need a European-wide solution and not border fences that refugees can circumvent or go round,” he 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.