VIENNA (Reuters) - Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said on Thursday that European Union states that have taken in many migrants and have large debts “gladly take our money”, while pushing his plan for the EU to penalize countries that are lax on those issues.
Kurz has proposed overhauling the EU treaty spelling out how the bloc works to introduce measures such as penalties for member states that do not register migrants properly or increase their debt, apparently targeting countries such as Italy and Greece. Austria has clashed with both on those issues before.
Kurz said he plans to push his proposal at an EU leaders’ summit in Romania on Thursday even though there appears to be little appetite for treaty change, which would require unanimity among member states, ratification in their parliaments and, in some countries, national referendums.
Asked by Austrian broadcaster ORF about his proposals on migrants and debt, he said: “We are talking here about countries that gladly take our money and are fully prepared to cash in.”
Although he did not name any countries, his comments were clearly aimed at southern EU member states, which often come under fire in more northern nations like Germany for their weaker economic performance.
Austria was also among the more vocal critics in the EU of Italy’s budget plans this year. Kurz’s conservatives govern in coalition with the far right, with whom they have made reducing national debt a priority.
Many economists and some politicians in southern Europe argue that the wealthier north has a responsibility to redistribute more money in its direction, which is anathema particularly to a German political establishment devoted to fiscal orthodoxy.
Kurz said his plan for EU treaty reform, which includes shrinking the European Commission and scrapping the European Parliament’s headquarters in Strasbourg - which France has steadfastly opposed - had some support from his counterparts.
“Many, above all the younger heads of government, know that we must change the European Union if we want to reserve it,” Kurz, an immigration hard-liner, told ORF. “Various heads of government among the liberals but also within the (conservative) European People’s Party have a similar view to me.”
Reporting by Francois Murphy; Editing by Hugh Lawson