Kurz says EU should drop plan to share out refugees

Austria's foreign minister says the EU should drop its "unrealistic" proposal to share out refugees across the bloc, as voters in neighbouring Hungary rejected the plan in a closely-watched referendum.

Kurz says EU should drop plan to share out refugees
Sebastian Kurz. File photo: BMEIA

Speaking to German daily Welt am Sonntag, Sebastian Kurz said the European Union should stop clinging to its troubled plan to distribute 160,000 refugees throughout member states, only a fraction of whom have been resettled so far.

Hungary has not accepted a single refugee of the 1,300 allocated under the scheme and instead joined Slovakia in filing a legal challenge against it.

“The target is totally unrealistic,” Kurz said, warning that countries' disagreements over the plan could threaten “the cohesion of the entire European Union”. Another problem, he added, was that “many refugees refuse to go to certain EU countries such as Romania, Hungary and Poland – they want to go to Austria, Germany or Sweden.”

In another interview with German television network ARD on Sunday evening, he strongly criticized German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s open-door asylum policy: “Germany is forcing other countries to follow a policy that they do not want.”

Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban has vehemently campaigned against any mandatory quotas to take in refugees. Orban's 'No' camp comfortably won Sunday's referendum on the EU plan – with 98 percent of those who took part voting against quotas. However, voter turnout was only 43 percent which means the result is not binding.

Kurz cautioned against criticising the Hungarian government for its stance, which contrasts strongly with Merkel's policy. “It becomes dangerous when some European Union states create the impression they have the moral high ground over other member countries,” he told the Welt am Sonntag.

Kurz said that rather than granting asylum to refugees who have made their way illegally to Europe, the EU should take refugees directly from crisis areas – which would discourage people smuggling.



‘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.