Austrian Elections: Where do the parties stand on asylum, immigration and integration?

By Klaudia Wegschaider

In a few days, on October 15, Austria will elect its new parliament. And unlike in the recent German election, it is uncertain who will be the next Chancellor and which parties will form the future governing coalition. Currently, Austria is headed by a coalition between the Social Democratic Party and the People’s Party. In the run-up to the election, however, disputes between these two parties have risen due to an imbroglio involving a well-known negative campaign manager and several leaked documents. The likelihood of another coalition between the two parties thus appears to be decreasing. Instead, the populist Freedom Party may gain further relevance after this election.

In the meantime, it is worth taking a look at what the party manifestos say on migration, integration and asylum. Similar to many other countries, migration has been one of the key topics in the public debates in the run-up to the election.

Social Democrats (Sozialdemokratische Partei Österreich, SPÖ)

Integration requires a limit on migration

Here’s the link to the SPÖ manifesto.

With a page count of more than 200, this is the second longest manifesto. Relevant for this post are two chapters — on integration and on migration.

The chapter on integration starts off by stating that the number of refugee arrivals has to be “reduced to a level that makes integration possible.” To specify this level, the chapter references the annual limit on refugee arrivals that the Austrian government passed since 2015 (37.500 per year). Integration – as envisioned by this manifesto – is a combination of rights and duties. Among those duties is the mandatory integration year for asylum seekers and refugees (Integrationsjahr). During this year, participants receive integration counselling, qualification checks, language and skills training, job application support, and more.

The manifesto then turns to several targeted approaches to foster integration. For example, the party stresses the importance of special programmes for asylum seekers and refugees who are no longer of regular school-age. Apart from proposing new programmes, the manifesto also draws attention to existing initiatives in need of more support – such as programmes aimed at preventing radicalisation as well as all forms of extremism.

The chapter on migration carries the title “migration with a sense of proportion” and the sub-heading reads “humanitarian, solidary, consequent.” After outlining the current challenges, the manifesto briefly delves into seven steps: (1) A clear plan for a cooperation with West African countries is needed. (2) The EU should invest in a Marshall-Plan for North Africa to strengthen local development. (3) The EU needs to protect its external borders. (4)  A joint European asylum system ought to be developed. (5) Information campaigns need to reach out to migrants in countries of origin and transit. (6) Refugees whose claims are granted should then be relocated within the EU. (7) Those whose claims are rejected need to return to their countries of origin. To this end, further return agreements at the EU level are needed. The manifesto calls for a new position at the EU level to speed up this negotiation process.

Summary of main positions:

  • Asylum arrivals have to be reduced to a level that makes integration possible
  • Faster asylum procedures
  • Special programmes for asylum seekers and refugees who are older than regular school-age
  • General reform of the EU asylum system needed
  • Marshall-Plan for North Africa
  • Need for more return agreements between the EU and countries of origin

People’s Party (Liste Sebastian Kurz, die neue Volkspartei, ÖVP)

Promising to halt illegal migration

The ÖVP manifesto was released in three parts. Here’s are the links to part one, part two, and part three.

This three-part manifesto is by far the longest. The first mention of the word migration is on page 46 and talks of rising social costs due to illegal migration. The manifesto then states that a change in migration policy could in the long-term save Austria up to 1.5 billion euros (a time frame is not mentioned).

One chapter elaborates on the importance of development aid to ease the migration pressure. The manifesto promises to almost double the budget of the Austrian Development Agency to 155 million euros by 2021. However, if a country of origin is not cooperative in facilitating return, then development aid would be cut.

The second part of the manifesto takes a closer look at integration. Children whose German skills are deemed insufficient ought to have access to and take special German classes. In addition, more teachers with a so-called “migration background” are needed to offer further support for those children.

The final part promises a “return to the top” by halting “illegal migration.” Those who are rescued at sea, for example, are to be brought to “rescue centers” outside of Europe. Those who reach Europe and are in need of protection are to be brought to “protection centers” outside the territory of the European Union.

Parallel to that, the manifesto proposes two legal pathways: First, some of the most vulnerable are to be resettled to Austria from refugee camps abroad. This ought to happen in close cooperation with UNHCR, IOM and the European Asylum Support Office. Second, the existing points system ought to be improved so that skilled workers needed by the Austrian labour market have the chance to immigrate.

Summary of main positions:

  • Increase spending on development and cut aid transfers for countries that do not facilitate return of rejected asylum seekers
  • Faster asylum procedures
  • German language support for children
  • Halt to illegal migration
  • Demand-based immigration of skilled workers

Freedom Party (Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs, FPÖ)

Rejecting all forms of migration

Here’s the link to the FPÖ manifesto.

The Freedom Party places the principle of fairness at the center of its campaign. Throughout its manifesto, the party speaks of a “fairness crisis” and implies a division between “us” and “them.” For example, a brief look at the table of contents shows that each of the 25 sections in the manifesto starts with the pronoun “our.” The emphasis on the pronoun “our” is lost in translation, but the headings are nonetheless telling: “1. Protecting our borders — Austria is not a country of immigration.” “2. Protecting our sovereignty and self-determination.” “Guarding our culture, values and traditions” … etc.

The central FPÖ demand is unequivocal: “For the time being, the FPÖ rejects all forms of immigration due to the migration waves in the recent past.” In the following sentence, the party acknowledges the right to asylum of all people who are persecuted due to their race, religion, or political beliefs. However, this right to asylum in Austria is only granted if the claimant did not reach Austria by traveling through a safe third country (note: Austria is a landlocked country and surrounded by safe third countries). In addition, the FPÖ promises to eliminate all financial incentives for claiming asylum in Austria — by cutting social spending and by switching to non-cash benefits.

The manifesto has much less to say on integration. There appears to be no section that addresses the challenge of integration explicitly. Instead, the following calls are included in the manifesto: Chapter 1 clearly states the FPÖ does not see Islam as a part of Austria. Chapter 8 calls for a restrictive limit on the proportion of foreign students in school in order “not to jeopardise the success of the Austrian children.”

Summary of main positions:

  • Rejection of all forms of immigration
  • Asylum only for those who did not arrive through a safe third country
  • Rejection of Islam as a part of Austria
  • Replacing monetary support with benefits in kind (for asylum seekers)
  • Limits on the proportion of foreign students in schools

Greens (Die Grünen)

Solutions at the EU level

Here’s the link to the manifesto of the Green Party.

The manifesto of the Green Party counts 64 pages and is filled with bare text, no pictures. This makes the manifest of the Greens stand out at first sight because all other parties extensively rely on visual material in their manifestos.

Migration features several times in the manifesto and often in relation to the European Union. Indeed, one of the central positions is that “actions taken by single states are not real solutions.” Thus, the European Union “requires a joint and harmonised immigration system.”

Just what exactly would this look like? The Greens focus on creating safe and legal pathways. For those who seek to study or work in Austria, there should be a system in place that selects candidates based on qualifications, language skills, age as well as additional integration factors. For those in need of protection, the Greens advocate for the reintroduction of the Botschaftsasyl, i.e. the possibility to claim asylum at embassies of EU member states. For asylum seekers that have already reached Europe, the Greens propose that they first stay at a joint initial reception center (Erstaufnahmezentrum) before being relocated to one of the 28 member states.

Integration is seen as “a key for social cohesion.” The manifesto goes on to mention the importance of language courses, the recognition of qualifications, education as well as coordination between the different levels of government. Among the more detailed policy proposals are the introduction of “Austria-for-Newcomers”-courses as well as initiatives on the equality between men and women, both aimed for refugees.

In addition, the Greens seek to enhance participation options for non-citizens. For example, the Greens call for the right to vote at the local level not only for EU citizens (which already exists), but also for third country nationals (after an undefined length of stay). At the same time, the Greens stress the importance of anti-racism initiatives and acknowledge the work by volunteers who stand up for refugees.

Summary of main positions:

  • Criteria-based selection system for those seeking to study or work in Austria
  • Reintroduction of the option of filing an asylum claim abroad at embassies
  • Joint initial reception centres for asylum seekers that arrived on EU territory
  • Relocation of refugees within the European Union among all 28 member states
  • Speedy and affordable access to language courses
  • Passing of a law that would ease the recognition of qualifications
  • Introduction of the right to vote for third country nationals at the local level (after several years of living in Austria)

NEOS 

Searching for a coherent policy approach

Here’s the link to the manifesto of the Neos.

The NEOS manifesto sees solutions neither in “left-wing dreams” nor in “right-wing hatred.” It then goes on to list a few specific measures. First, it promises a more coherent approach to integration. To achieve this, the party envisions a new department focussed on integration. Its responsibilities would span from kindergarten to labour market entry.

Second, the manifesto calls for faster and more efficient asylum procedures. To this end, they set a time frame of 180 days for a decision on an individual’s asylum case. Persons fleeing from war immediately ought to have the chance to apply for subsidiary protection — a status valid for a certain time. (Instead of first having their application for refugee status denied and then being considered for subsidiary status.) Those applying for asylum would have the duty to reside in their assigned town or city for as long as they are dependent on social spending (Residenzpflicht).

While a positive asylum decision ought to come with support for the integration process, a negative decision is grounds for immediate deportation. Therefore, NEOS seek to negotiate binding return agreements with the relevant countries of origin. In exchange, these countries would see their development aid significantly increased.

In the European context, the party reaffirms the importance of the free movement of people for EU citizens. At the same time, the manifesto states that countries unwilling to take part in the “alliance of responsibility” with regard to refugee migration no longer ought to reap the benefits of the Schengen area.

Summary of main positions:

  • Found a department dedicated to integration, developing solutions from kindergarten age to entry to the labour market
  • Faster and more efficient asylum procedures
  • Option to immediately apply for subsidiary protection
  • Binding return agreements with countries of origin
  • Requirement for asylum seekers to live in their assigned town
  • Benefits of Schengen area only for those who share responsibility within the EU

A note on the parties covered: This post only covers five of the 16 parties standing for election on 15 October 2017. Selected were only those parties that are already represented in the parliament. The order is based on the result of the last national election in 2013. Omissions of relevant sections and simplifications are possible, but not intended. For a complete picture, please see the linked manifestos.


*About the author: Klaudia Wegschaider graduated with an MSc in Migration Studies from the University of Oxford, where she focused on the intersection of migration and democracy. She now works for an independent German foundation and volunteers for the Oxford Monitor of Forced Migration. Klaudia is not affiliated with any political party.


Sources and further reading:
SPÖ Consultant Silberstein organized a right-wing Facebook page [in German], Profil, Sept. 2017
Austria’s Election Has Been Upended Over A Shady Meme-Posting Facebook Page, Buzzfeed, Oct. 2017
Campaign Platforms [all in German]
SPÖ: Plan for Austria: The Program for prosperity, security and good mood
ÖVP: Part 1: New Fairness and ResponsibilityPart 2: Awakening and prosperityPart 3: Order and Safety
FPÖ: Austrians Deserve Fairness
Die Grünen: This is Green
NEOS: The future manifesto for a new Austria 
Header Image: Austrian Parliament via SPÖ-Parlamentsklub  on Flickr, http://bit.ly/2gC1mQA (CC BY-ND 2.0)

 

 

 

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