‘Why does everything I do get so overblown?’: Kurz
In a Der Spiegel interview, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, 32, talks about his goals as holder of the rotating European Council presidency, the fight against illegal immigration and his relationship with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Mr. Chancellor, Austria is the current holder of the rotating European Council presidency. The motto you have chosen for your six-month tenure is “A Europe that Protects.” Who is supposed to be protected from whom?
A: In the coming months, we want to strengthen all those things that embody our Europe. The focus will be on security, order and the collective protection of our external borders. But we also have to work on our competitiveness amid the global competition in order to defend the prosperity we have attained. My generation often takes Europe and its successes for granted.
Please answer our question. Who is supposed to be protected from whom?
A: Our prosperity, our economy, our social security and values, and, if you want to narrow the focus to the question of migration, one of my priorities is the protection from human traffickers, who earn their money with refugees and their suffering.
What do you hope to achieve on the refugee issue by the end of the year?
A: That the trend reversal we have put in motion will continue. At the last EU summit in June, the heads of state and government agreed for the first time that unlimited admission (of refugees) in Central Europe was not the correct path, and that we need effective protection of our external borders and must expand the amount of assistance provided there. Now, this trend reversal, which has already taken place in our minds, must be implemented in practice.
You are proud of the fact that the EU has adopted your restrictive, closed borders approach to migration, aren’t you?
A: All 28 heads of state and government agreed on the resolutions together. But I was certainly among those who were in favor of a policy change early on.
You are demanding that refugee ships be prevented from docking in Europe and that the external border protection regime be strengthened. The question as to how refugees should be distributed in Europe is no longer on the agenda?
A: That isn’t entirely accurate. I am saying that it should not be the case that every ship full of migrants is able to dock in Europe. Our goal should be that of destroying the human traffickers’ business model. And it will be destroyed if someone who paid a trafficker to come to Europe isn’t automatically brought to Europe once they are saved at sea.
Currently, the Mediterranean countries are arguing among themselves about which EU country should accept each migrant ship carrying a couple of hundred people. The distribution question remains unresolved.
A: I have a different priority. Egypt is already prepared to accept the return of people who launch from Egyptian shores. That is exactly what we must now implement with Libya, Morocco and Tunisia -- by way of stronger cooperation with each country’s coast guard, for example. I want to get to the point where the refugee ships don’t even embark on the voyage to Europe.
The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has warned about dire humanitarian conditions in Libya. Should Libya be seen as a safe country of origin?
A: When people set out from Libya on the way to Europe and already begin running into trouble in Libyan coastal waters, then it is a good thing when that country’s coast guard saves them and brings them back to Libya.
For as long as most North African countries are unwilling to take people back, the decisive question remains: According to what rules will asylum-seekers be distributed across Europe?
A: If it were up to me, those who clearly have no right to asylum should not be allowed into the EU at all but should be sent back to their countries of origin or to transit countries as quickly as possible.
The European Commission and the UN Refugee Agency argue in favor of assembling refugees deserving of protection in camps in North Africa before distributing them throughout the EU.
A: I have a different position. I think it would be much better for us to bring people to us directly from their countries of origin once we decide to accept them. And that they don’t end up in a North African refugee camp where they have to spend months waiting for a decision to be made about their application.
How do you intend to get to the point that migrants no longer embark on the journey north?
A: It is a mistake to believe that the migration question can only be solved through development cooperation. During our council presidency, we want to embark on new, more innovative paths. By the middle of the century, 2 billion people will be living in Africa. As such, we want to strengthen economic cooperation, create channels for private investment and establish vocational training programs for young people. We hope to take a decisive step forward in December at an EU summit with African countries.
How is your current relationship with Italy? When it comes to migration, you hold similar views to Matteo Salvini, head of the far-right party Lega and Italy’s interior minister. But Rome is now threatening to stop paying its EU contributions. What are your thoughts on that?
A: I don’t like such threats. But it is also clear that we cannot abandon those EU member states that are under pressure due to migration. In the last several years, countries like Germany, Austria and Sweden were more strongly affected by the refugee crisis. In the meantime, however, the pressure has become greater elsewhere.
Regarding the issue of the future lead candidates for the office of European Commission president, do you think Germany’s Manfred Weber, the CSU politician who recently threw his hat into the ring, is the right person for the job?
A: I know him and have high regard for him. He is a dedicated European who has made a significant contribution to the European Union as a whole.
At the informal EU summit on Sept. 20 in Salzburg, Brexit will be the main topic of conversation, not migration. Does that fit with your agenda?
A: I hope that we are able to make some progress on Brexit. The most important challenge during the Austrian council presidency is the orderly preparation of Brexit. Should Britain’s exit be messy, it would result in massive harm to both sides, including us in the EU-27. It would be good if in Salzburg we already had a European Commission proposal for finding an agreement with Britain this fall.