In he first round of Austria’s presidential election last Sunday, Norbert Hofer, the candidate for the Austrian Freedom Party (Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs, FPÖ) scored a stunning victory with 27% of the vote. The result sent a political tremor through Austria, because Mr. Hofer’s closest competitor was the candidate for the Green Party, who got 21% of the vote. The country’s two major parties, the Socialists and the ÖVP, failed to make it to the runoff. So, no matter who wins the final round, it means a seismic shift in Austrian politics.
This electoral background may offer at least a partial explanation for the legislative action described in the article below. The Austrian government knows that it is facing a long, hot summer with the “refugee” crisis. Now that the Balkan Route has been closed, the flow of immigrants is in the process of shifting to the Libya -> Lampedusa/Sicily -> Italy -> Austria route. The Brenner Pass in the Tyrol will be the new major crossing point for the flow of migrants, and Austria has already announced that it intends to close this bottleneck.
And now the country is legally preparing for a state of emergency. The ÖVP evidently hopes to salvage at least a fragment of its political clout by introducing this measure in parliament.
Notice the list of opponents: the Greens, various human rights groups, the UNHCR, and — surprise! — the Catholic bishops.
Many thanks to Egri Nök for translating this article from Die Welt:
Austria: “State of Emergency” Act
Austria resolves tough asylum law
The Austrian parliament has tightened asylum rules drastically. On Wednesday, the parliament in Vienna adopted an amendment that allows emergency regulations. Austria may proclaim a “state of emergency” in the refugee crisis in the future. As a result, protection seekers might get little chance at all of seeking asylum.
This is the consequence of an amendment to the asylum law, which a large majority of the Austrian Parliament voted for on Wednesday.
The “state of emergency” is defined as a threat to public order and internal security. Such a decision by the government will have to be approved by Parliament. In this case, applications for asylum seekers will only be accepted from certain refugees. This includes people who have close relatives in Austria, unaccompanied minors, and women with small children. Everyone else would have to return to neighbouring countries.
An “emergency” will initially be limited to six months, but may be extended for up to two years.
With this amendment, Austria gave itself one of the toughest asylum laws in the EU. The possibility of denying the refugees’ applications for asylum at the border exists otherwise only in Hungary.
The Greens sharply criticized the amendment. “The right of asylum is completely undermined,” said Green Party leader Eva Glawischnig. The law would be eroded. Interior Minister Wolfgang Sobotka (ÖVP) justified the step. “The capacity limit is oriented towards Austrians,” said Sobotka. Many organizations, such as the UN refugee agency UNHCR, the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute of Human Rights, and the Catholic Bishops’ Conference, have spoken out against the legislative package. For the right-wing FPÖ on the other hand, the measures do not go far enough.