Refugee crisis ‘decisive’ for Brexit, will break EU apart – Austrian FM

© Muhammad Hamed
The ongoing refugee crisis played a crucial role in the outcome of the British referendum on the EU membership and could further lead to the collapse of the bloc, Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz said.

“Europe can collapse because of the refugee crisis and uncontrolled immigration,” the Austrian minister said in an interview with German and Austrian journalists, warning that other EU members could follow the UK’s lead.

Kurz also denounced the current EU refugee policy as a “dramatic failure” and blamed for the outcome of the UK’s referendum on whether to stay within the Union. The refugee crisis has become an emotional issue for people in Europe and has eventually had a decisive impact on the outcome of the British referendum, he said.

“The unlimited acceptance [of refugees] and incompetence of the EU are in the meantime shaking the foundations of the European Union,” he said in interview Wednesday, as quoted by Germany’s Die Welt newspaper.

On the day of the UK referendum, Kurz warned that the refugee crisis threatened the stability of the entire Union. This issue has become not only the key topic in the Brexit debate but has also emerged as a central issue jeopardizing the whole EU, he told Austria’s Die Krone newspaper.

Speaking about the potential domino-effect of the Brexit vote, Kurz said that not only the British but also Austrian citizens expect “more from Europe,” adding that the issue of managing the unending refugee influx “is high on people’s agenda” and that Austrians want answers on how Europe’s problems can be solved.

At the same time, the minister also defended Austria’s refugee policy. “I’d like to see more understanding from Germany for our position, especially as Germany has no problems with controls on the Austrian-German border,” he said in the interview.

Austria introduced border controls, deployed troops to the border with Italy and even wanted to close the Brenner Pass in the Alps by erecting a fence up to four meters high, causing concerns among Italian politicians.

In May, Austria also passed a law allowing the government to turn away refugees from its borders if the number of migrants looking to enter the country threatened national security. Vienna can now declare a state of emergency for three separate six-month terms if too many refugees try to enter the Alpine country.

In February, Austria introduced a refugee cap, stipulating that only 80 asylum applications a day could be processed in the country.

Meanwhile, the region of Upper Austria cut the financial benefits for refugees by almost half from what is paid to locals. Local politician Wolfgang Hattmannsdorfer said that the measure was necessary to prevent the collapse of the regional welfare system, adding that the mass influx of asylum seekers had forced the decision upon local authorities.

In his Wednesday interview, Kurz also reiterated his earlier proposal to send all refugees coming illegally to Europe back to their countries of origin or to special camps in the transit countries.

“If someone comes to Europe illegally, [this person] should be stopped on the EU external border and… sent back in the transit country or the country of origin. As long as we are not doing this, we are indirectly supporting the people smugglers, as more and more people set out [for Europe] then and more of them will also drown,” he told journalists.

Kurz first presented his plan to disrupt the people smugglers’ business model by stopping the policy of simply accepting all migrants and refugees coming to Europe illegally via people smuggling routes at the monthly meeting of the EU foreign ministers on June 21.

At that time, he said that his proposal was met with understanding. Earlier, he also suggested following the Australian model in migration policy and resettling illegal migrants and refugees on islands in the Mediterranean.

In his interview, the Austrian minister also called for reforms within the EU aimed at separation of powers between Brussels and national governments.

He stressed that the EU should more actively deal with “common and general issues,” while some specific local and regional problems should be left to the national authorities. “The EU should be reshaped. Everyone, who stands for Europe, should also actively support the necessary changes,” Kurz said, as quoted by Die Welt.