25th Oct 2016

EU upset by Austria's asylum 'provocation'

  • Faymann: "Austria cannot be accused of not showing solidarity" (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

Austria's chancellor, Werner Faymann, could be in the hot seat Thursday evening (18 February) when EU leaders discuss migration issues over dinner at their summit in Brussels.

On Wednesday, Faymann's government announced it would cap the daily number of asylum applications to 80 and would let in a maximum of 3,200 migrants each day, under the condition that they go to seek asylum in another country.

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“I don’t like that decision,” European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker said on Thursday.

"Patience with Austria is running out," a top official said.

EU migration commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said the decision was unlawful and urged Vienna "to reconsider the unilateral measures which you are proposing".

In a letter to Austrian interior minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner, seen by EUobserver, Avramopulos said that Austria's decision was "incompatible with Austria's obligations under European and international law", including article 18 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.

“Austria has a legal obligation to accept any asylum application that is made on its territory or at its border,” the commissioner wrote.

In the letter, Avramopoulos also notes that Faymann's decision to wave migrants on to other countries, mainly Germany, is contrary to the migration policies the commission, with the support of Germany, has been trying to pursue in recent months. 

In October, at a meeting in the commission's headquarters, leaders from countries on the so-called Western Balkan route commited to stop pushing migrants on to neighbours.

The commission has also been repeating that migrants should apply for asylum in the country of first arrival and should not be allowed to choose their destination.

"These measures are a provocation," a second senior EU official told EUobserver.

"Austria announced them on the eve of the summit and they will enter into force on the second day of the summit," the official noted, adding, however, that they did not come as a surprise.

'Closest ally, until now'

Austria's move is also bad news for German chancellor Angela Merkel, who is still calling for a European solution to the migrant crisis and has warned against further border closures in the Balkans.

"We are not happy," a German source told EUobserver. "We are against nationalist solutions".

"Austria has been Germany's closest ally, until now," the second EU official said, suggesting that this could change if Austrian went on in this direction.

Merkel was spotted having a long talk with Faymann before the EU summit's traditional 'family' photograph of all member state leaders.

Arriving at the summit, Faymann said that the EU was "very far" from a common solution and that it would be "unthinkable" to expect that Austria find a solution for the whole EU.

"Austria cannot be accused of not showing solidarity after it took 90,000 refugees in the previous year," he told reporters, adding he would not budge on the new measures.

"Legal opinions will be answered by lawyers. Politically I say: we'll stick to it," he said.

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