Sebastian Kurz Gears Up For Austria’s EU Presidency

Michael Peel and Mehreen Khan in Brussels

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Don’t call them camps. That’s one takeaway from the EU all-night summit deal last week to create so-called “controlled centres” to send migrants around Europe for their asylum claims to be processed. The last thing the bloc’s diplomats want is comparison with Australia’s Pacific island detention facilities, where reports of squalor and abuses flourish.

Little else is clear about the voluntary EU plan. We don’t know where the centres would be, how they would be organised — or where either successful or failed asylum seekers would ultimately be sent. The leaders’ accord bought headlines and political time — but it’s another big migration idea that will be tough to turn into reality.

Enter Sebastian Kurz. The Austrian chancellor has already signalled migration will be a big focus of his country’s six-month presidency of the EU, which started on Sunday. Now he has a chance to shape a highly fluid agenda, starting with an appearance at the European Parliament in Strasbourg on Tuesday. His government has already scheduled a special informal summit on migration in September.

Vienna will doubtless feel it has the political wind behind it. EU countries are divided on fundamental aspects of migration policy, but united in the desire for action.

Austria has already embraced an emerging axiom of the bloc’s approach: to keep migrants at bay outside the EU’s borders where possible. The bigger story of the summit deal is its endorsement of a broadly-supported plan to create “disembarkation platforms” outside the EU. The facilities — again, definitely not camps — would receive migrants rescued from the dangerous journey across the Mediterranean. Diplomats say the structures would probably be in countries in Africa (which received a rather gushing paragraph of tribute in the summit conclusions).

Mr Kurz and his Danish counterpart Lars Løkke Rasmussen last month proposed a variation on this theme of outsourcing migration. Their notion was to send people whose asylum claims have failed to camps — it’s hard to see what else they would be — in Europe but outside the EU. Other countries appear to have given the plan short shrift for now, over questions about its legality and where the people dispatched there would end up.

There lies perhaps the biggest obstacle to Mr Kurz’s ambition on migration: whether he will be trusted in the traditional neutral broker's role the presidency is supposed to fill. He may be travelling in the direction much of the EU wants to go, but perhaps too far and too fast for some. Especially as distaste still runs high in many quarters for his coalition partners, the far-right Freedom party, whose leader (and Mr Kurz’s deputy) Heinz-Christian Strache has warned of Austria’s “Islamification”.

The 31-year-old chancellor now has centre stage in the EU. Expect drama on migration — and a possible coup de théâtre from Vienna.

The Seehofer Transit

The crisis is over in Berlin. Horst Seehofer probably surprised even himself on Monday with a miraculous conversion that ended his rebellion against Angela Merkel, the German chancellor. Read the full FT report.

Seehofer started the day threatening to resign as interior minister and leader of the CSU, Ms Merkel's Bavarian sister party. He ended it with a deal on transit centres (definitely not a camp) on the Austrian border, an idea championed by Mr Seehofer back in November 2015. Peace reigns.

This falls short of Mr Seehofer's original demand: to empower police to immediately return asylum seekers who enter Germany having first registered in a different EU member state.

But whatever the operating terms, the deal highlights Merkel's journey from championing wir schaffen das to running a government with an ever-tougher approach to migration. For a vivid account of what that means, read Guy Chazan's report from a transit centre that already exists in southern Germany.

Chart du jour: Greece isn't there yet

The countdown to Greece's formal August bailout exit has begun but predicting the country's economic outlook is an uncertain game.  Kerin Hope in Athens reports on cautious optimism among businesses and investors (see chart above) but with some serious health warnings about a rising tax burden and commitment to decades of austerity to come.

Trans-Europe Express

Inside Denmark's ghettos

The New York Times reports from one of Denmark's state designated "ghettos" — low-income, migrant populated areas where "ghetto children" must undergo mandatory "Danish values" education from the age of one and whose inhabitants could face double punishments for crimes.

May's third way

Still no signs of unity in the government as Theresa May gears up to reveal a "third way" customs plan at a crunch Chequers meeting on Friday (BBC). But Tory party rifts are bigger than ever with cabinet members complaining they are being "left in the dark" about her plans. ( FT).

Boris Johnson on Monday backed arch rebel Jacob Rees-Mogg who was accused of behaving with "insolence" after saying he would reject a Brexit deal that kept Britain tied to EU rules and judges (PoliticsHome). The foreign secretary said the Tory MP was a "principled and dedicated MP who wants the best for the country".

Jersey model is not good enough for the UK

Alan Beattie lays out the political and economic hurdles to the UK winning a pick-n-mix EU trade deal resembling the "Jersey model"( FT):

If the UK gets its Jersey option, quite a few other EU member states might be wanting one too. Part of the reason France is such a fierce opponent of the Jersey model is almost certainly that its leaders fear the domestic reaction.

Rutte in the White House

The laconic Dutch PM and free trade champion took his straight talking to Donald Trump on Monday. Transcript via Bloomberg's Jennifer Epstein. Here's the vid.

Trump [on trade]: "If we do work it out, it'll be positive and if we don't it'll be positive also."

Rutte: "No, not positive"

Meet Arron Banks

The Washington Post interviews the defiant pro-Brexit millionaire who loves Trump and compares his insurgency against the establishment "favorably, to the Viet Cong".

EU v Poland latest

Brussels has opened a new front in its battle with Warsaw, launching infringement proceedings related to the country's contested supreme court overhaul ( FT).

Trump is doing the Europeans a favour

Gideon Rachman on why the US president's "divide and rule" strategy will misfire:

Just at the time that internal tensions are building among the 28 member states, the US is reminding them of the importance of a collective defence of European interests. European leaders are intensely aware that America’s EU strategy (as well as China’s and Russia’s) is likely to be an effort to “divide and rule”.


Twitter: @Mikepeeljourno


Twitter: @mehreenkhn

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Sebastian Kurz gears up for Austria’s EU presidency
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