Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer has threatened to block the final declaration of the upcoming European Union leaders’ meeting if no concrete agreements are reached on tackling irregular migration. In an interview with German daily Die Welt, Nehammer doubled down on demands made by Austria and seven other member states for the overhaul of the EU asylum system. The Austrian leader stressed that “empty words will not be enough” and called for a clear commitment to strengthen external border protection.
The effectiveness of border fences in reducing irregular migration and whether to fund their construction with EU money has been a controversial issue. In October 2021, 12 EU countries, including Austria, Poland, and Hungary, demanded that the European Commission finance the construction of physical barriers from the EU budget. However, the Commission and some other EU countries, including Germany, rejected the idea.
Ahead of the summit, which starts on Thursday, Austria and seven other countries sent a letter to the European Commission and the European Council to exert pressure for higher hurdles in immigration. The letter from Nehammer and the heads of government of Denmark, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Malta, Greece, and Slovakia stated that the current asylum system is broken and primarily benefits smugglers.
The opposition in Austria has criticized Nehammer for being too vocal ahead of the summit, with Reinhold Einwallner of the social democratic SPÖ saying that “Austria should put all its energy into finding real solutions.” Hannes Amesbauer of the right-wing populist FPÖ called the announcement “another smear from the ÖVP asylum PR department.”
Despite opposition, Austria has been one of the main drivers of this week’s European Council summit, having recently vetoed Bulgaria and Romania’s accession to the visa-free Schengen area and calling for a harder line on migration during a meeting of EU interior ministers in Stockholm. The number of asylum requests in Austria tripled last year to 108,490, making it the EU nation with the sharpest increase overall. In 2022, almost 924,000 asylum applications were submitted in the EU, a 46.5% increase compared to 2021.
As the European Union leaders prepare to meet, all eyes will be on Austria’s stance on migration, with Chancellor Nehammer’s threat to block the final declaration putting pressure on the EU to adopt a harder line. The outcome of the summit will determine the future direction of the EU’s approach to migration and its asylum system.