UNITED NATIONS – Ahead of a major European meeting on the refugee crisis convened by Austria, the country's chancellor and foreign minister on Tuesday urged joint EU action on tightening up Europe's external borders and a "Marshall Plan" for countries responsible for most of the migrant influx to the continent to reduce incentives to leave.
Austria is governed by a coalition of Social Democrats and the center-right People's Party. At a time of increased tension between the two parties, comments by Chancellor Christian Kern and Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz reflected attempts to stake out political positions that will appeal to their voter base. Kern, a Social Democrat, focused on the need to reduce the migrant influx by improving the lives of those most likely to leave their home countries. Kurz, of the People's Party, hit hard on the need to secure border controls.
But both strove to reduce fears of a rightward lurch by Austria, through increasingly restrictive border policies and amid projections that Norbert Hofer of Austria's xenophobic Freedom Party has the edge in delayed presidential elections now scheduled for December.
Speaking to reporters on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly, Kern avoided directly responding when asked if that perceived rightward shift had been raised by other leaders attending the session. "Even in case Mr. Hofer would win the election, life would go on," he said. "We have a stable government, and we are part of the European Union representing the values of its foundation."
Kurz's party has moved further right on refugees than Kern's, opening it up to criticism that its policies are not much different from those of the Freedom Party. But Kurz said Austria is not alone in its switch this year from open to tight borders.
"There is now an understanding in the European Union that we have to stop the flow of illegal migrants, and that we need border controls to our external borders," he said. "I don't think this is a far-right position. It's a necessary position."
The two spoke ahead of a regional refugee summit in Vienna on Saturday, convened by Kern to try and harmonize policies — a difficult proposition considering that those attending will include German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who lead opposing camps on the issue.
Kern saw no problem, saying the two often meet at summits. Still, their encounters have been bumpy.
At a summit of EU leaders on Friday in Slovakia, Orban again criticized Germany for refusing to set limits on migrant arrivals. Unless Berlin caps arrivals, he said, the flood will continue "because everyone sees ... that there is a place in Europe where the good life can be achieved, where they are welcomed and where their needs are taken care of."
He said Hungary's razor-wire barrier is meant 'to stop at the Hungarian border the negative consequences of the suction effect of German domestic politics."