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Austria caps refugee numbers

Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann on Wednesday announced that his country will place a cap on the number of refugees it was willing to accept in the upcoming year, calling the upper limit of 37,500 new refugees this year an “emergency solution” and a “wake-up call” for the European Union. Under Wednesday’s decision, Austria will take a maximum of 127,500 refugees by 2019, or 1.5% of the country’s population, European, US and Chinese media report.

EC President Jean-Claude Juncker said – as quoted by the Wall Street Journal Europe – that while the Austrian move was allowed under EU rules, “it is dangerous to go into a direction where we suddenly have complete border closures. I want to warn against this development and its possible consequences.” The move comes amid growing frustration in Austria, Germany and other countries that have been relatively open to refugees, about the EU’s failure to redistribute the migrants more equally across the region and to better police the bloc’s external borders. Moreover, this move is likely to increase pressure on German Chancellor Angela Merkel to follow suit, the Wall Street Journal Europe comments.

For Handelsblatt’s Thomas Sigmund, Austria’s decision to introduce an upper limit on immigration into the country is a heavy blow to Angela Merkel, and a common European solution is becoming more and more unlikely. Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, whose country is holding the rotating EU Presidency, said Wednesday in the European Parliament that Europe had six to eight weeks to reduce the number of migrants crossing its borders from the Middle East and North Africa. “Let me be clear: The current numbers aren’t sustainable, we are running out of time,” said Mr Rutte.

Without a sharp reduction in the migrant flow, he added, the bloc risked seeing a “proliferation of initiatives like Austria made” on Wednesday. Expectations are high from the Netherlands’ EU Presidency, especially since Slovakia, who refuses to let in refugees, will be the next EU President, NRC Next says in a commentary noting that, by not having a strong euro-ideology, Mr Rutte can play the role of an “honest broker”. Both Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte and European Council President Donald Tusk recently gave EU member states a time limit of two months to tackle the refugee problem, De Volkskrant highlights, without actually saying what measures need to be taken. It seems that the solution will be forced.

The role of Turkey is crucial and it is to get €3 billion from the EU to stem the refugee flow, but it is delaying the execution of the agreement and EU member states are not ready to raise the money. In addition, the establishment of the so called hotspots has been delayed as well. The EC’s proposal for the review of the Dublin Treaty for asylum is expected to be submitted at the European Council of 17-18 March. An EC spokesperson said yesterday that there are “systemic deficiencies in the way that the current Dublin system is working,” confirming the EC’s intentions to review the Dublin Treaty, Kathimerini reports.

While the EC is working on revising the bloc’s asylum and migration policy, EC President Juncker insisted in the EP – because of the EU governments’ cavalier attitude to the Schengen area – on the economic aspect, saying that adding border checks to the Schengen area would cost Europe €3 billion a year in lost business, the Cyprus Mail comments – a story garnering media attention in Italy, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Finland and Lithuania as well.

An IMF study presented at the World Economic Forum in Davos, finding some coverage in US, UK, Dutch, Italian, Greek, Finnish and Latvia media, states that, in the short term, the flow of migrants into Europe is likely to boost economic growth, but is cautious about the longer term impact, which is likely to be dependent on the ability of migrants to find employment.




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