Austria politics: Quick View - Austria introduces refugee cap

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Economist Intelligence Unit
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On January 20th the government announced measures to reduce the number of refugees arriving in Austria, including a cap on the number of asylum applications that the country will accept. The announcement represents a policy U-turn by the chancellor, Werner Faymann.


Austria's government has announced that it will accept a maximum of 127,500 asylum applications up to 2019, with a limit of 37,500 for 2016. To reduce Austria's "attractiveness" to refugees, the government also plans to re-assess asylum claims after three years, reduce welfare payments for refugees, restrict family reunion and strengthen border controls. In 2015 Austria received around 90,000 asylum applications-equivalent to more than 1% of the population and the third-highest in the EU measured in per capita terms. The influx led to a surge in support for the opposition far-right Freedom Party, which is now leading in the polls at around 30% (up from 20.5% in 2013).

Mr Faymann previously aligned himself with the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, resisting calls for more restrictive policies and campaigning for a European solution. As the prospect of a European solution faded and public concerns about integration intensified following reports of sexual assaults in Cologne, Germany, and other cities on December 31st, Mr Faymann came under pressure to change his position, in particular from his conservative coalition partner.

The new policy represents a significant change in course, which Mr Faymann has justified as an "emergency solution" in the absence of European solidarity. Although the measures have been strongly criticised by parts of Mr Faymann's social democrat party and human rights organisations, we expect that the new policy will ease the pressure on Mr Faymann's leadership and relations within the coalition (which have recently been fraught) in the short term. In the medium term the government must resolve questions regarding the cap's compatibility with international law and its enforcement-the government has yet to clarify if and how it will turn away refugees once the cap has been reached-if its policy is to prove credible.

The new policy will also have an impact internationally. It has already triggered more restrictive measures in the Balkan states, which are concerned about a build-up of refugees in their territory. It will also increase the pressure on Ms Merkel to introduce similar measures.

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