January 21, 2016 / 7:01 PM / 4 years ago

Austria says refugee cap is 'wake-up call' for Brussels

Austrian Minister for Europe, Integration and Foreign Affairs Sebastian Kurz gestures during a joint news conference with Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, November 26, 2015. REUTERS/Faisal Al Nasser

DAVOS, Switzerland (Reuters) - Austria’s decision to impose a cap on the number of refugees it accepts is a “wake-up call” for Brussels and raises the chances of a swift deal between European countries on the migrant crisis, Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz said.

“I am of the view that our measures could help Europe to get an agreement quicker,” said Kurz, whose portfolio also includes European affairs and migration. “The steps we have taken are a wake-up call for Brussels that things need to move faster.”

Speaking to Reuters in Davos, Kurz rebuffed criticism of the move from Berlin, saying Germany had helped prompt the decision by sending migrants at its border back into Austria.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is under intense pressure at home to introduce a similar ceiling, has called the Austrian move “unhelpful” and her Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere criticized Vienna on Thursday, questioning whether it could even be implemented.

Austria announced on Wednesday that it would cap the number of people allowed to claim asylum this year at 37,500, less than last year’s total, and reduce that ceiling annually to 25,000 by 2019.

Its chancellor said border controls would be stepped up “massively”, although Kurz said nothing had changed at the border with Slovenia yet.

“The fact that Germany sent refugees on its border with Austria back presented us with an even bigger challenge,” Kurz said. “In that sense this was a factor, if you will, that led to higher rather than lower figures.”

“Every state must decide for themselves,” Kurz added. “I respect the path Germany is going. But I also ask for understanding that we, with 90,000 refugees in the last year, have accepted more per capita than Germany. We are simply overwhelmed.”

Reporting by Noah Barkin; editing by Andrew Roche

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