September 7, 2017 / 6:03 PM / 10 months ago

Austria's Freedom Party criticizes ECJ ruling on migrant quotas

VIENNA (Reuters) - The leader of Austria’s far-right Freedom Party (FPO) on Thursday criticized the European Union’s top court for upholding Brussels’ right to force member states to take in asylum-Seekers, calling the quota system an “immigration program”.

FILE PHOTO: Head of Austrian far-right Freedom Party (FPO) Heinz-Christian Strache delivers his speech during an election campaign rally in Vienna, Austria, September 1, 2017. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger

Heinz-Christian Strache, whose anti-immigrant party could become kingmaker in next month’s parliamentary election, took sides with Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

“It simply cannot be that states lose their right to self-determination and decision-making when it comes to receiving (asylum-seekers),” Strache said in a panel discussion in Vienna.

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) dismissed complaints by Hungary and Slovakia against the quota system on Wednesday. The European Commission said it might seek fines at the ECJ within weeks for Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic unless they take people from Italy and Greece.

“The (EU) program is not a refugee program but an immigration program,” said Strache, who has repeatedly called for “zero and minus immigration”.

The veteran party chief drew attention to remarks by U.N. peace talks mediator Staffan de Mistura.

“The U.N. Special Representative pointed out the war in Syria is over,” Strache said.

“We all know, asylum is a temporary protection, which applies for as long as there is persecution. But if that’s no longer the case, one actually has to take care of going back home.”

The Freedom Party’s popularity rose to a high during Europe’s migration crisis in 2015, when it denounced the government’s decision to open Austria’s borders to hundreds of thousands of migrants.

It led polls for more than a year, until Sebastian Kurz took the helm of the conservative People’s Party in May.

Kurz, who also has a hard stance on migration, has been leading polls ahead of the Oct. 15 election with just over 30 percent. The Freedom Party and center-left Social Democrats trail with around 25 percent each.

Austria’s system of proportional representation is likely to produce another coalition government, and observers say Kurz’s and Strache’s parties are likely to join forces.

Reporting by Kirsti Knolle; editing by Andrew Roche

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