Austria criticises Germany on migrants, piles 'pressure' on EU
By Eszter Zalan
Austria has said Germany should stop sending mixed messages on migration at a meeting with Western Balkan states in Vienna on Wednesday (24 February).
"Germany has to decide what signals Germany wants to send," Austrian interior minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner told press after talks with her counterparts from Western Balkan countries, where most migrants cross on their way from Greece to Germany.
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"Currently they [Germany] are sending the following signals: that they are allowing Greece to agree to the open-door policy, and on the other hand they are demanding that Austria stop all those who want to travel to Germany," she said, according to the Reuters news agency.
"One must choose one of those strategies," she said.
“We have to reduce the influx now. This is a question of survival for the EU,” she added.
"There is still no European solution in sight. For that reason it is necessary for us to take national measures," Austrian foreign minister Sebastian Kurz said earlier in the day.
Neither Germany, which accepted over 1 million migrants last year, nor Greece, their main entry point into Europe, were invited to the meeting.
The Vienna talks were criticised by both countries.
But leaders in the states on the Balkan migration route called for the need to step up border restrictions in the absence of a common European solution.
Mikl-Leitner noted that part of the reason for the Vienna event was also to generate “pressure” for a joint European approach.
“A partnership with Balkan countries is not only in the interest of these countries but also of the EU. We want to generate pressure and urgency," she was quoted as saying by the AFP news agency.
Foreign and interior ministers from Albania, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Kosovo, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, and Slovenia were present in Vienna.
In their joint statement, the countries said that migration on the Western Balkan route needed to be reduced substantially because they were overwhelmed.
In a nod to international law, they highlighted the need to protect those who are in genuine need of asylum.
But they said that refugees should be settled closest to their home countries and should not be allowed to chose their destination within Europe.
They also said that accommodating migrants should be a shared European burden.
They mentioned as an example that Slovakia is helping Austria by accommodating 500 asylum seekers.
The initiative comes despite the fact Slovakia has filed a court challenge against a mandatory EU plan to relocate 120,000 people across Europe.
In a dig at Greece, the Vienna statement also stressed the need to "get back to a situation where all members of the Schengen area apply fully the Schengen Borders Code and refuse entry at external borders to third country nationals who do not satisfy the entry conditions or who have not made an asylum application despite having had the opportunity".
The Schengen area is the EU’s passport-free travel zone.
Vienna signatories also urged for more communication efforts in the home countries of economic migrants to dissuade them from leaving.
The Vienna event came shortly before EU justice and home affairs ministers meet in Brussels on Thursday.
The meeting will also be preceded by a ministerial breakfast between Germany, Austria, Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Macedonia and Greece.
Their discussion will feed into the meeting of the 28 ministers later in the day.
Austria has been criticised for breaking ranks with common EU policies by imposing a unilateral cap on asylum applications.
But some EU diplomats are quietly sympathetic to its plight.
"What Austria is doing is common sense, the so far agreed European solutions don't work. Patience and capacity has run out," an EU source said.