VIENNA, Feb. 27 (Xinhua) — More than a month ago Austria limited the immigration of refugees on its borders, announcing that the country this year will not accept more than 37,500 asylum seekers.
With this unilateral measure Austria is seen as a disturber in the European Community. Together with the Balkan States, Austria increases now the pressure on Greece as well as for a pan-European solution.
Last week, the European Commission criticized the Austrian upper limit as “incompatible with European and international law” and European Parliament President Martin Schulz called Austria’s unilateral decision an “intellectually brilliant performance.”
Despite all criticism the Austrian government sticks to the decision. “It is unthinkable that Austria receives all asylum seeker for all of Europe,” chancellor Werner Faymann said recently in Brussels.
Austria has received 100,000 refugees in the previous year – representing over one percent of its population. “We have said that we again take refugees in proportion to one and a half percent of our population. Everything else would be unrealistic and wrong,” Faymann defended Austria’s solo attempt.
Austria is currently looking for allies and invited eight Balkan countries to a refugee summit on Wednesday. Objective was a strategy “to reduce migration flow substantially.”
However, one important country on the Balkan route was not invited: Greece. “There were enough collective meetings, but there was no common will to reduce the flood of refugees,” Austrian foreign minister Sebastian Kurz explained the absence of Greece’s Invitation.
The move caused diplomatic tensions between Vienna and Athens. Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras called the meeting a “disgrace.” On Thursday, the Greek ambassador was removed from Vienna.
Even Austrian President Heinz Fischer was astonished. “I was surprised that Greece was not invited,” Fischer said on Austrian Television.
Austrian politicians have criticized the Greek refugee policy for a long time. Last summer Kurz demanded more pressure from the EU on Greece to protect the external borders. Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner said this week that the “through waving” of refugees “begins in Greece.”
The pressure on Greece has increased now. The result of the Balkan conference is to strengthen controls at the border between Macedonia and Greece radically. A tailback of refugee flows in Greece will be the consequence. About 3,000 refugees a day come from Turkey to the Greek coast.
Greece argues that it is not possible to protect the long sea border with Turkey. Consequently, Mikl-Leitner demanded the exclusion of Greece from the Schengen area. “If that is indeed the case, how can Greece be an external frontier of Schengen?” she asked rhetorically.
Moreover, with the Balkan Conference, Austria has increased pressure on the advocates of a European solution.
German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere still believes that the cooperation with Turkey is the road to success. “I believe it is possible to deliver successful results until March 7,” he said recently. But he was not too convinced: “I am an optimist but also a realist.”
According to some observers, the refugee policy is making Germany more and more isolated within the EU. Also the important partner France dissociated itself from the refugee policy of Angela Merkel. “France has committed to take 30,000 refugees. We are willing to do that, but not more,” French Premier Manuel Valls said two weeks ago in Munich.
In addition, pressure within Germany for a more stringent refugee policy increases. For months, the Bavarian Prime Minister Horst Seehofer has demanded an upper limit vehemently. In effect, Austria has already created a limit for Germany. Not more than 3,200 people a day are allowed to transit to the northern neighbor.
Whether with the Austrian solo attempt a European solution has become more unlikely, or the increased pressure favors a rapid solution to be seen in the next few weeks, according to some analysts. The fact is that Austria relies no longer on a pan-European solution.