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'Danish model': What are Austria's strict plans to cut social benefits for foreigners?

Amanda Previdelli
Amanda Previdelli - [email protected]
'Danish model': What are Austria's strict plans to cut social benefits for foreigners?
Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer is leader of the centre-right ÖVP. (Photo by ATTILA KISBENEDEK / AFP)

The federal government's centre-right ÖVP party is slowly unveiling more details about the 'Austria Plan' it intends to present this week. What are the main points that can affect life for immigrants in the country?


Austria's centre-right People's Party (ÖVP) is preparing for a tough election year: the ruling party has plummeted in voting intention polls and now sees the far-right as its main opponent, as the Freedom Party (FPÖ) rises to first position in polls, gathering about a third of electorate support in the country.

On Friday, Chancellor Karl Nehammer is expected to officially launch his candidacy as ÖVP's name for the Chancellery in what will be a major test for popularity - Nehammer has never run for office, eventually climbing to the position via an internal party choice after former chancellor and 'wunderkind' Sebastian Kurz resigned amid corruption allegations. 

READ ALSO: UPDATE: Why is support for Austria's far-right FPÖ rising?

The former military man has his eyes on the voters who are leaving the ÖVP because of the far-right's FPÖ populist and anti-migration rhetoric. His "Austria Plan" speech proposes to drastically cut taxes and ban gendered language in public administration.

The centre-right party made another excerpt of the speech available to Austrian media this Wednesday. This time, the "rough draft" contains the speech's chapters on "Performance" and "Safety", and a lot of it concerns migrants, asylum seekers and other immigrants in Austria.

Denmark as a 'role model'

According to the newspaper Der Standard, which had access to the drafts, the paper repeatedly refers to Denmark as a "role model". The Scandinavian nation is considered particularly strict and rigid regarding immigration matters, including asylum, family reunification and work permits.

With its 2019 “paradigm shift” on immigration, Denmark took a substantial stance on asylum.

The policy shift, marked by a bill passed in parliament and still pursued by the current government, means that all laws passed on asylum are designed to send refugees home at some later time when their home country is deemed “safe”. In other words, all refugees are considered to have temporary status in Denmark.

The policy has led to a series of controversial rulings by immigration authorities to revoke the refugee status of people from the Damascus area of Syria. 

Denmark continues to take in one of Europe’s lowest numbers of refugees, meanwhile, and Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen has said the country’s target should be to accept no asylum seekers at all.

Despite the ÖVP wanting to use Denmark as a model, a crucial legal difference would make it harder for Austria to adopt many stricter policies. Denmark has only signed the Geneva Refugee Convention with reservations and, therefore, does not have to adhere to all relevant security, defence or asylum regulations - unlike Austria.

READ ALSO: Growing number of Austrians see immigration negatively


Social benefits reform and stopping 'illegal' migration

The ÖVP leader is expected to defend a long-standing demand of its party: that only those who have legally resided in Austria for five years should receive full social benefits. "Our claim is a social system for those who can't and not for those who don't want to", the speech goes.

A similar rule exists in Denmark, but Austria has to adhere to the Geneva Convention on Refugees, which states that persons entitled to asylum must be treated equally to citizens in most aspects. This is why the ÖVP plan aims to make this a requirement for all people in Austria, regardless of whether they are Austrians or foreigners. 

READ ALSO: Unemployment benefits in Austria: Who is eligible and how much can you get?

Additionally, the government would hand out "benefits in kind" instead of cash benefits wherever possible - and welfare recipients - regardless of nationality - would be asked to do community service. 

Also according to Der Standard, several proposals aim to be more strict with asylum seekers in particular, including a provision allowing authorities to confiscate valuables they brought into the country to "cover costs". Denmark, of course, already has a similar law.

The ÖVP also wants to cut government aid sent to countries that "do nothing to prevent mass emigration", according to the report. 


READ ALSO: What's the reason behind the drop in Austrian asylum seeker claims?

In the area of citizenship, the head of the centre-right is expected to defend once again that there must be "no softening" in awarding citizenship.


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