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A legislative proposal to reform legal advice for asylum seekers has been approved by the Home Affairs Committee (PK0691/19 June 2024)

A legislative proposal to reform legal advice for asylum seekers has been approved by the Home Affairs Committee (PK0691/19 June 2024)

Vienna (PK) – Legal advice for asylum seekers from the Federal Welfare Agency (BBU) was discussed in the Interior Committee. According to the Constitutional Court (VfGH), the independence of legal advice for asylum seekers and strangers by the BBU is not adequately protected under the law. The right to an effective remedy is violated.

The Green Party and the ÖVP presented a legislative proposal to guarantee the independence and freedom of education of legal advisers (4130/A). Green Party MP Agnes Sirka Brammer “never imagined” that “something good” could come from the BBU, she explained in committee. However, practice shows that this works “very well”. The current request aims to remove the weaknesses identified by the Constitutional Court. It is planned to establish a separate department for legal advice at BBU. The proposed law also includes special regulations on protection against dismissal and dismissal of legal advisors. The Quality Advisory Board should also become legally binding.

There are no additional costs due to the Quality Advisory Board

FPÖ Commissioner Philipp Shrangel also testified that the BBU did a good job. He asked about any additional costs that might arise from establishing the Quality Advisory Board. An expert from the department explained that there would be no additional expenses because the Quality Advisory Board had already been established.

While Ernst Gödel (ÖVP) welcomed the fact that it was now possible “so quickly” to clean up the mentioned “weak points”, SPÖ Commissioner Reinhold Inwallner criticized the fact that the change in the law was introduced through an initiative proposal. Although NGOs active in the asylum sector did not have the opportunity to participate in the evaluation process, Enwallner expressed his approval of the request on behalf of the SPÖ.

Georg Borstmeyer (Greens) interrupted, saying that stakeholders and NGOs had been involved in developing the initiative proposal. He also noted that good legal advice for asylum seekers also serves all other people seeking legal protection, as unnecessary procedural delays can be avoided. Stephanie Crisper (NEOS) was pleased that “the government parties were able to reach an agreement” and stressed that NEOS “has always been concerned” about the independence of legal advice.

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The coalition proposal was accepted without a vote by FPÖ deputies.

Disaster relief agreements with Serbia and Georgia

However, there was consensus when voting on state treaties with Serbia and Georgia for disaster relief. In order to ensure the legal basis for assistance in the event of natural or technical disasters, Austria has concluded disaster assistance agreements with several countries. The coalition has now introduced two international treaties for such an agreement with Georgia (2,411 dB) and Serbia (2,562 dB). Andreas Minich, commissioner of the Austrian People's Party, stressed that “non-bureaucratic assistance” should be “easily possible.” He explained, “Our auxiliary staff enjoy better insurance coverage in the affected country.”

The “Truth Effect” against the radicalization of youth and children on TikTok

A proposal was also adopted by Resolution (4128/A (E)) from the coalition parties regarding protection from extremism on TikTok.

Georg Borstmeyer (Green Party) explained that TikTok is a platform “particularly suitable for youth radicalization.” Reports repeatedly suggest that terrorism suspects have been “radicalized,” and TikTok is often mentioned. The proposal proposes an attack to “reveal the truth” that would raise awareness of “how dangerous it is.” Borstmeier emphasized: “We are calling for a first interim report in this legislative period.” SPÖ MP Katarina Kocharowitz welcomed the initiative. She stressed that it would make sense for the aforementioned report to be “sustained” and “ongoing” in the next legislative period so that it can be discussed in committee and “perhaps publicly as well.” Christian Reis, FPÖ Party Commissioner, stated that he sees responsibility for this with the Minister of Digitalization. For the FPÖ, it is not clear why only TikTok and not other platforms are being discussed. He stressed that crimes – regardless of the channel – must be clearly defined and punished. He is convinced that “this will help us move forward.”

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The Freedom Party did not agree to this proposal. The Green Party and the ÖVP received support from NEOS and SPÖ. However, a motion from NEOS calling on MPs to take measures against extremism has been postponed again (3674/A(E)).

FPÖ is against Bulgaria and Romania joining Schengen

One of the concerns of the Freedom Party of Austria is that Bulgaria and Romania will not become members of the Schengen Area (3284/A(E)). Protection of external borders is cited as a reason. Hannes Amesbauer wanted to know from the minister whether he would uphold his veto power against accession at the European Union level. ÖVP Commissioner Minich spoke. The veto showed that “something was wrong” and the focus was on joint protection of the external borders. “Good work was done there,” he stressed. Minisch included figures on the Burgenland border to emphasize the “successful path” that existed. There were 290 attacks this year, compared to 16,482 attacks in the same period in 2022. However, Stephanie Crisper (NEOS) criticized the veto used by Austria. It also rejected the Freedom Party's request. With the accession of Romania and Bulgaria, there will be continuous external borders for the European Union. The MP expressed his conviction that control could be implemented “together”, adding that “only cooperation can enable effective border management.” The FPÖ initiative was postponed by the coalition parties. A proposal to issue a resolution calling for readmission agreements with Syria, Iraq, and Bangladesh, among others, was postponed again (2291/A(e)).

NEOS sets residency requirements for those entitled to asylum

Stephanie Cresper argued in committee why a residence requirement was also needed for those seeking protection whose asylum procedure had a positive result (4020/A(E)). The number of refugees is unevenly distributed in Austria. While Vienna is “exceeding its self-imposed quota”, most other federal states are not meeting theirs. Many people remained in Vienna after the trial, while others moved to Vienna. CRISPR sees the distribution as “reasonable in terms of integration policy” and calls for “uniformly strengthening integration measures in the federal states” and thus “introducing a residence requirement.” Barbara Sirka Brammer (Green Party) stressed that such a policy “does not make sense at the moment.” However, it makes sense to stick to quotas. It will also be important to take integration measures starting from the point where refugees are accommodated in the neighbourhood. You have to “see how you can integrate them into the city. How can I get them into the clubs or the fire department?” Brammer says. She is convinced: “Once people establish a foothold there, they will not venture out anymore.” The proposal was postponed by the coalition parties.

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NEOS for Citizenship Reform

Karl Arthur Arlamovsky (NEOS) called for citizenship reform in Committee (3832/A(E)). The initiative aims, among other things, to reduce “bureaucratic obstacles.” The “method of calculating the required proof of income” must be changed and “inconveniences” in calculating the length of stay should be removed. He also criticized the current citizenship test; Because Arlamovsky is convinced that an in-depth oral conversation would make more sense than “testing the million-dollar offer.” ÖVP MP Klaus Fürlinger replied: “We are not alone in this world. If we give a pass, it is also an entry ticket to somewhere else.” He explained that this issue is not a priority for this legislative session. “It's not in the government program.” Fürlinger's proposal for postponement was accepted.

Recently, committee members discussed two proposals from the SPÖ on measures to address the shortage of police officers (4019/A(E)) and the implementation of a deepfakes action plan ahead of the National Council elections (3979/A(E)). These were on the agenda again. ÖVP Commissioner Wolfgang Gerstle made the request for postponement because, among other things, it had been discussed in the committee “only 14 days ago.” Colleagues in the parliamentary group and members of the Green Party agreed to this. (Continuing Interior Committee) Map