Faymann: 'Austria isn't a waiting room for Germany'
By Eszter Zalan
Austrian chancellor Werner Faymann on Tuesday (1 March) defended his controversial decision to tighten border controls, telling EU Council president Donald Tusk that “Austria is not a waiting room for Germany.”
Tusk was in Vienna on the first leg of a tour along the Western Balkan migratory route, in an effort to persuade leaders to take a common European approach to the crisis.
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He spoke to Faymann after Austria, two weeks ago, said it would accept just 80 requests a day for asylum from people on its southern border with Slovenia, while waving some others through to Germany if they want.
The Austrian decision prompted knock-on restrictions further south on the migration trail.
According to media reports, Macedonia, citing a similar policy by Serbia, has not allowed in anybody for the past 24 hours.
Macedonia’s restrictions mean that about 30,000 people are stuck in Greece.
The situation prompted violent clashes on Monday. Amid concern of a potential humanitarian crisis, the European Commission is preparing to unveil an aid package of up to €700 million for Greece on Wednesday.
With EU migration policies bearing few fruit so far, more and more leaders are taking unilateral steps on borders.
But Austria’s decision caused anger in Brussels and Berlin. It also infuriated Greece, which said it won’t become the EU’s “warehouse of souls.”
Faymann stood by the policy on Tuesday, however.
He described the current situation as “unorganised chaos” that “must be stopped.” He also said Austria, which took in 90,000 people last year, took care of more refugees per capita than Germany.
"I will not lie to people and say we can continue and give asylum to two, three or four hundred thousand people this year. We cannot make it," he said, in a direct reference to German chancellor Angela Merkel’s pro-refugee motto: "We can make it".
For his part, Tusk urged Faymann and others to adopt a “Back to Schengen” policy, in order to preserve the EU’s passport-free travel area, a central pillar of integration.
“A return to the application of the Schengen rules is the only way to preserve Schengen. The question therefore should not be whether we want to do it, but how we are going to do it,” Tusk said in Vienna.
“It is precisely in moments like these that we need to keep our cool,” he added.
The EU’s top envoy also said Greece must take more responsibility for asylum seekers, however.
"We must face together the consequences of our decisions. The country that we must support in particular is Greece,” he said.
German chancellor Angela Merkel on Tuesday also said migrants must be properly registered in Greece before being redistributed to other EU countries.
After meeting with Croatia’s prime minister Tihomir Oreskovic, she echoed Tusk, calling on EU countries to take more care of their neighbours and to restore Schengen as soon as possible.
Tusk is also due in Turkey later this week, ahead of an EU-Turkey summit on 7 March, where leaders will discuss progress on their joint migration plan.
Meanwhile, the UN’s refugee agency the UNHCR criticised the EU on Tuesday, saying in a statement that inconsistent EU policies “are causing unnecessary suffering and risk” by “being at variance with EU and international law standards”.
It warned that Europe “is on the cusp of a largely self-induced humanitarian crisis.”