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8 Feb, 2023 19:22

Austria demands stronger EU border protection

Karl Nehammer has threatened to oppose a bloc-wide statement on migration if Brussels doesn’t fund prevention
Austria demands stronger EU border protection

Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer has warned EU leaders that he is willing to block a European Council summit declaration on migration this week if the bloc does not pay to fortify its external borders against illegal entry. Nehammer's demand for concrete action on border protection came in an interview with Die Welt on Wednesday. 

“Empty phrases will not suffice,” he said. “A clear and unequivocal commitment to strengthening external border protection and the use of appropriate financial resources from the EU budget is needed.” If no “concrete measures” are agreed to, the chancellor said, Austria cannot back the summit declaration. 

Nehammer and the leaders of seven other countries called for stronger protections against illegal migration in a letter to the presidents of the European Commission and European Council on Tuesday ahead of Thursday’s migration summit. The heads of Denmark, Estonia, Greece, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, and Slovakia also signed the message, denouncing existing European policies and the low rate of return they engender as a “pull factor” encouraging violators. 

“The current asylum system is broken and primarily benefits the cynical human smugglers who take advantage of the misfortune of women, men and children,” the letter reads, calling for an increase in deportation and sending asylum seekers to “safe third countries” in addition to increasing physical border fortifications.

Last month, Nehammer called for the European Commission to pay €2 billion ($2.17 billion) to build a border fence between Bulgaria and Türkiye. Austria blocked Bulgaria from joining the visa-free Schengen Area in December, citing concern that the country would not be able to adequately police its borders. 

Last month, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen suggested a “pilot project” that would allow for “immediate returns” of failed asylum seekers to their home countries. EU migration ministers have recommended restricting visas for countries that refuse to accept returned nationals, though Gambia is the only country to be punished this way since the policy was first proposed.

EU countries recorded over 330,000 illegal entry attempts last year, border control agency Frontex reported – the most since 2016 and a figure that does not include legal asylum applicants or Ukrainian refugees. More than 80% of these were adult men.