Migration – Schallenberg: The system is not working

Brussels (APA) – In view of rising numbers of migrants, Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg (Austrian People’s Party/ÖVP) sees a system failure in the EU. “It is clear that the system is not working,” said the Foreign Minister on November 11, ahead of a meeting with his EU colleagues in Brussels. “Measured in terms of population, we receive the second highest number of asylum applications in Europe,” Schallenberg added.

Austria’s current migrant figures are higher than ever before and also exceed those of all neighboring countries. At the same time, Austria is surrounded by Schengen and EU states. “This shows that the system as such doesn’t work. Thus there must be no prohibitions on thinking. We have to discuss all ideas openly.”

Schallenberg regretted that discussion about migration in the EU was repeatedly politicized and emotionalized. With regard to the recent Italian-French dispute, there is the feeling of “Groundhog Day.” The discussions of 2015 and 2016 are being repeated.

There are actually good elements in the migration package proposed by the EU Commission to reform the European asylum system, he said. On the basis of a system of “solidarity and responsibility,” an agreement could be reached, said Schallenberg. “It is simply a question of political will, and some Member States see no need to make any compromises here.”

Schallenberg sees various interests as the cause of the EU migration crisis. According to him, there are countries that want to allow incoming migrants to move on as quickly as possible. Quotas and distribution are the wrong approach. If these measures were applied, one would have to come to the conclusion that [other countries] would then have to take on migrants who had initially come to Austria, Schallenberg said. “As long as we are in an eternal circle between quotas and non-quotas, we won’t get anywhere,” the Foreign Minister added. (November 14)

Ocean Viking: France “asks Europe to decide” with regard to Italy

Paris (AFP) – France has asked “Europe to decide very quickly on the action to be taken” for Italy’s refusal to welcome the ship Ocean Viking and the 230 migrants on board, government spokesman Olivier Véran said on November 13.

On November 11, the ambulance boat of the NGO SOS Méditerranée operating off the coast of Libya landed survivors in France for the first time. An exceptional welcome, out of a “duty to humanity”, according to French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin.

On November 13, on French television, government spokesman Olvier Véran once again criticized “the unilateral, unacceptable (…) ineffective and unfair decision on the part of the current Italian government, which calls for European responses.”

“The first response was humanitarian and it is done,” he continued.

“The second response is to remind Italy of its obligations, and if they refuse, to consider any useful measures,” added Olivier Véran, before criticizing Italy for dismissing its responsibility “towards its neighbors and French friends.” (November 13)

Brussels congratulates Slovenian President elect Pirc Musar

Brussels (STA) – On November 13, for the first time in the country’s history, the presidential elections in Slovenia were won by a woman. With around percent support, 54-year-old lawyer Nataša Pirc Musar defeated her rival candidate, center-right politician Anžet Logar, in the second round of voting. Among the first to congratulate Pirc Musar was the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen.

She wrote on Twitter that as the first woman in a presidential position in Slovenia, Pirc Musar was paving the way for future generations. Von der Leyen also pointed out that she was looking forward to their cooperation. “We share the goal of an even stronger, democratic and resilient union,” she wrote.

The new President of Slovenia, who will take office on 23 December, was also congratulated by the European Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management, Janez Lenarčič. He wished her “successful performance of this important function, especially in advocating fundamental European values, which are also Slovenian.”

On November 13 after her election, Pirc Musar stressed that with her victory Slovenia won a president who believes in the EU and the democratic values on which it was founded. She believes that all countries in the Western Balkans have to get a place in the EU. According to her, Slovenia will support the entry of these countries into the EU. “I see the EU as a building block, as a pillar of peace. The latest developments in the Western Balkans show us that not everything is quite peaceful there yet,” she explained. (November 13)

Belgium enters recession together with the eurozone

Brussels (Belga) – Like the eurozone as a whole, Belgium will also enter a recession, the European Commission predicted on November 11. On November 11, the Commission published its detailed economic growth outlook for the EU, the eurozone and the individual member states. Like most countries, Belgium is entering a recession, it said.

Over the whole of this year, according to the Commission, the Belgian economy will still grow by 2.8 percent. This is completely due to a strong first half of the year and the effect of the relaxed coronavirus measures. In 2021, growth had amounted to 6.1 percent.

In the second half of this year, however, high inflation and declining consumer confidence weighed heavily on growth. It fell to -0.1 percent in the third quarter. In the fourth quarter, growth will also be negative at -0.4 percent, which means that Belgium officially falls into a recession.

During the first quarter of next year, economic productivity is expected to stagnate (+0.0 percent), only to pick up slightly in the second quarter. Throughout 2023, the Commission expects a growth rate of 0.2 percent for Belgium, which is forecast to rise to 1.5 percent by 2024.

Inflation is “exceptionally high” in Belgium at 10.4 percent this year, the Commission said. By comparison, the annual 8.5 percent inflation rate for the eurozone as a whole is much lower. Only five countries are recording higher price increases than Belgium, with the three Baltic states as outliers (up to 19.3 percent in Estonia). The Netherlands are struggling with an inflation rate of 11.6 percent. In Germany, prices increased by 8.8 percent and in France by 5.8 percent.

“Inflation is exceptionally high in Belgium.”

European Commission

Government measures to mitigate the impact of high energy prices on families and businesses are creating a budget deficit of 5.2 percent this year (compared to 5.6 percent last year). “The higher spending in the context of the automatic indexation of civil service wages and social benefits is only partly offset by the impact of higher wages and purchasing power,” the Commission’s report reads. In 2023, the deficit is expected to increase to 5.8 percent, making Belgium and Slovakia the countries with the largest deficits in the whole of Europe. (November 11)

Hungary offers the prospect of judicial reform to access EU pandemic aid funds

Brussels (dpa) – After months of deadlock, negotiations between Hungary and the EU Commission on the plan over the disbursement of billions of euros in aid to counter the effects of the coronavirus pandemic are moving forward. The right-wing national government in Budapest has accepted the Commission’s conditions with regard to the independence of the judiciary, an EU official told the German Press Agency (dpa) in Brussels on November 11. According to the official, this had been a sticking point in the talks. Thus an important step had been taken, but the end of the negotiations had not been reached yet, the source said.

According to the information, the conditions include the provision that key positions in the judiciary may only be filled with the involvement of the independent National Judicial Council. In addition, the government’s right to challenge final court decisions before the politically elected constitutional court is to be abolished. Furthermore, the Supreme Court will no longer be able to intervene in the right of judges to appeal to the European Court of Justice. Should the EU Commission recommend to approve the Hungarian plan on the basis of the concessions, it would take several more months before Budapest receives money. The EU member states must first approve the plan. In addition, the promised reforms must be implemented satisfactorily before money flows, the EU official stressed. The aim is for this to happen by March 2023.

The EU Commission has been criticizing political influence on the judiciary in Hungary for years, in addition to a high level of corruption and other violations of the rule of law. These points also play a role in the negotiations. Recently, the EU Parliament even attested that Hungary was no longer a fully-fledged democracy. The billions from the aid funds are not the only money Budapest is waiting for. In mid-September, the EU Commission had proposed freezing payments of around 7.5 billion euros due to widespread corruption, among other things. With regard to this, Hungary also made comprehensive promises of reform. (November 11)

This is a compilation of the European coverage of enr news agencies. It is published Wednesdays and Fridays. The content is an editorial selection based on news by the respective agency.