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05 Jul 2018

Austria takes over EU Presidency – pledges to protect Schengen as Germany plans reintroducing internal borders

Sebastian KurzAfter taking over the Presidency of the Council of the European Union for the third time since the establishment of this institution, Austria led by its Prime Minister Sebastian Kurz has pledged that its main priority in the next six months will be the protection of the external borders of the Schengen Area. Fighting irregular migration and enhancing the cooperation with neighboring countries will also be in the focus of the Austrian EU Presidency.

“Over the last year we have come to realize that we as politicians cannot take Europe for granted, rather we have to work hard to preserve this project for peace and stability in Europe,” said the 31-year-old Austrian PM Kurz.

Referring to the Schengen border-free area, Kurz claimed that another priority of the Austrian EU Presidency would be tackling illegal immigration, and focusing more on the safeguarding of Schengen external borders as a prerequisite for a common border-free Europe.

Kurz also commented on the deal between the German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s CDU and her coalition partner CSU, according to which Germany may re-establish its borders with the other Schengen countries, as well as to send back the asylum seekers who were registered in other countries. And in case Germany has no agreements signed with the member states where these asylums seekers were registered, to send them back at the border with Austria.

PM Kurz, who said that “if Germany introduces internal borders…, Austria would have to react” refused to give further details on the issue, claiming his government would release a response on Tuesday and show the stances of Austria regarding the case.

Throughout his 25-minute-long speech, Kurz insisted that migration is for now a top concern for Europeans, though many of the EU Council Members disagreed with him.

Guy Verhofstadt, leader of the ALDE objected Kurz, claiming that Europe is not facing a migration crisis, but rather a political crisis on the back of migrants.

“Look to the figures before spreading fear into the population and the public opinion,” he told to Kurz.

On the other hand, Phillip Lamberts of the Greens of the European Free Alliance, alongside with other legislators, did not agree that there was a real link between migration and security, “as if every asylum seeker was a potential criminal or terrorist.”

The migration issue has been widely discussed lately among the EU leaders after the newly elected Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte warned the leaders of the European Union that the Schengen agreement of border-free travel zone was in danger because of the migration issue.

On the last days of June, the EU leaders came up with a deal on illegal migration, which foresees the establishment of reception centers for migrants and asylum seekers in the territory of their home countries, where will be carried the screening of migrants for their eligibility for asylum or refugee status.

UNHCR urges Kurz to unite EU members in delivering of European Asylum policies

The UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, has released its recommendations to the Austrian Presidency of the Council of the European Union, urging it to lead and unite the EU Member States to deliver European asylum policies that are coherent and uphold the right to asylum.

UNHCR’s Director of the Bureau for Europe, Pascale Moreau, highlighted the need of a strong EU Presidency amid the recent developments in the Central Mediterranean and beyond, in order to break the deadlock and ensure a well-managed asylum system.

“We need a strong Presidency that can break the deadlock and ensure a well-managed asylum system. One with solidarity at its center, to support both fellow countries and people seeking asylum,” he said, claiming that it was an achievable goal, taking into account that the EU hosts only around 15% of world’s forcibly displaced people, while the rest were hosted by world’s poorest countries.

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