Austria plans to put immigration and borders at heart of EU presidency

Kurz announces the priorities of the Austrian Presidency [Twitter account of Sebastian Kurz]

Austria plans to use its upcoming presidency of the European Union this year to shift the bloc’s focus from resettling refugees within the EU towards keeping further waves of migrants outside the bloc’s external borders, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said on Friday (9 March).

Kurz is governing in coalition with the anti-immigration Freedom Party, making Austria the only Western European country to have a far-right party in government. This follows an election last year in which Europe’s migration crisis dominated the agenda.

Austria will take over the rotating six-month presidency of the EU from Bulgaria in July. Bulgaria’s coalition government consists of the centre-right GERB party of PM Boyko Borissov and the United Patriots, three rightist forces of which at least one, Ataka, can be described as far-right.

Borissov has recently said he wanted Bulgaria and Austria to have a “joint presidency”.

The EU has been bitterly divided over immigration, with eastern member states like Poland and Hungary refusing to take in their share of refugees under a resettlement system. Kurz, an immigration hard-liner, has pledged to use his good relations, particularly with Hungary, to bring the two sides closer.

Orban’s Vienna visit highlights Austria-Hungary comradeship

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said yesterday (30 January) that he aimed to ease east-west strains within the European Union, as his new right-wing government welcomed Hungary’s incendiary Prime Minister Viktor Orbán in Vienna.

“Our aim is very clear – that in Europe there should not only be a dispute over redistribution (of refugees) but also, at last, a shift of focus towards securing external borders,” Kurz told a news conference outlining Austria’s priorities for the presidency.

Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic have repeatedly rebuffed requests from Brussels and western EU states to host some of the hundreds of thousands of mostly Muslim refugees that have streamed into the EU since 2015.

Visegrád Four slam 'blackmail' by Brussels on migrants

Leaders from the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia and Poland (the Visegrád Four) rejected yesterday (28 March) what they called Brussels’ use of “blackmail and diktat” over planned resettlements of migrants across the EU.

The bitter row has undermined trust between the bloc’s members and weakened their unity.

Under Kurz, Austria has moved from calling on the eastern Europeans to carry their share of the burden to criticising the debate on quotas and calling for a new system altogether.

Austria opts for dialogue with the Visegrád four

Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán is an irritation to many EU politicians. However, it is becoming clear that the new Austrian government relies on dialogue and wants to fulfil a “bridging function”. EURACTIV Germany reports from Vienna.

Kurz has said there is no point arguing over the current system of quotas because eastern states refuse to accept them. He has argued in favour of a system in which migrants rescued in the Mediterranean are returned to Africa rather than brought to Europe, and has pledged to stop illegal immigration altogether.

Under its previous government, Austria teamed up with the Visegrad countries and Serbia and Macedonia to stop refugee flows via the so-called Western Balkans route, an initiative outside the EU framework.

Austria buries hope for EU response to refugee crisis

Tensions reached a boiling point between the European states worst affected by the refugee crisis ahead of a meeting of Balkan states in Vienna today (24 February), as new figures showed no let-up in the influx of asylum seekers.

Migration summit

“Protection (of borders) alone will not solve the migration question but the decisive question is what happens to people after their rescue – are they brought to central Europe or are they taken back to the countries of origin or other safe regions where they can be provided for?” Kurz said.

Asked what solutions he had in mind, he said expanding the mandate of Frontex, the EU border agency, was one option but there were others and it would depend on talks with leaders at various events, including a summit on migration and security on 20 September.

Other priorities Austria has set itself include promoting Europe’s competitiveness and working towards EU accession for Western Balkan countries, particularly Serbia and Montenegro, he said.

Kurz added that he also hoped the bloc would make progress on ensuring internet companies like Facebook and Google pay more tax on profits in the countries where those profits are made.

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