Austria takes control of the EU, focusing on immigration

President of the European Council Donald Tusk (L) Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz (C) walking on the EU-Trail during the inaugural event due to the Austrian presidency of the European Union in Schladming, Austria, 30 June 2018. Austria takes over the presidency of the European Union for the next six month. [EPA-EFE/MICHAEL GRUBER]

The Austrian government (a mix of Christian-democrats and far-right Eurosceptics) has taken over the rotating presidency of the Council with a programme focused on tackling immigration. EURACTIV’s partner Euroefe reports.

Led by the young conservative chancellor, Sebastian Kurz, aged only 31, the Austrian presidency of the EU, the third following 1998 and 2006, has for its slogan “A Europe that protects”.

Even if its European (and even national) policy agenda is dominated by migration and security, the Chancellor also expressed his support for the digitalisation of the European economy, and the integration of the Western Balkans in the EU as two key priorities, in a video message published on Twitter.

Austria’s roadmap for its upcoming EU presidency

Brexit, the EU budget and security will be the three major priorities when Austria takes over the EU presidency in the second half of 2018, in what will be the final full presidency before all-important elections in May 2019. EURACTIV Germany reports from Vienna.

Other than the country’s geographical proximity and historical ties with the Balkans, Austria is also one of the main foreign investors in the region.

In addition to these three priorities, the Austrian presidency will also deal with two major challenges: the negotiations on the multiannual financial framework for the 2021-2027 period, as well as the UK’s final stretch for its leave from the EU, scheduled for March 2019.

Moreover, a day before the start of the country’s presidency, EU leaders agreed on the establishment of centres for migrants outside and inside EU territory.

New trend in Europe

Given the lack of a European agreement on migration, Kurz has pushed for national measures to curb the phenomenon. He described the recent agreement as a “new trend” in EU migration policy.

The chancellor, who was elected last year, is opposed to a greater European integration and one of the most vocal and active leaders for reducing the influx of migrants.

This hard line against migrants will overlook the European presidency held by Kurz and his far-right ministers, who present themselves as “mediators” between Eurosceptic countries in Eastern Europe and the rest of the EU.

EU silently accepts far-right in Austrian cabinet

Unlike in 2000, when the EU imposed sanctions on Austria in response to the entrance of the FPÖ into government, this time EU leaders and institutions silently accepted the coalition deal between the far-right force with the conservative ÖVP agreed on Friday (15 December).

The chancellor will present his programme during a speech at the European Parliament in Strasbourg on 3 July. The President of the Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, and officials of the EC will be in Vienna on 5-6 July.

An informal summit between heads of state on “security and the fight against illegal immigration” will be organised in Salzburg on 20 September.

The Austrian government also promotes greater subsidiarity at European level. This would mean that the EU would focus more on key areas such as security, foreign affairs and trade and restore the rest of the powers to states and regions.

Vienna will implement a controversial indexation (in most cases a reduction) of benefits for families whose children live abroad, in January 2019. This will mainly affect Eastern Europeans working in Austria.

With this, Vienna aims to save €100 million each year, but faces opposition from Eastern European countries and the Commission, which condemns the measure as “discriminatory” and “incompatible” with European law.

 

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