1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

Austria plans benefit cuts for non-German speakers

May 28, 2018

Austria's right-wing coalition has unveiled plans to limit benefit payments for foreigners, including refugees, who cannot speak German. The move risks legal challenges from the European Union.

Österreich Kanzler Sebastian Kurz (Ausschnitt)
Image: Reuters/L. Nieser

The plan announced on Monday by the Chancellor in Vienna would bar all foreigners from claiming the main benefit payment for five years.

"The fundamental rule we will introduce is that German will become the key to accessing the full minimum benefit," Chancellor Sebastian Kurz told a news conference. "That means that whoever has insufficient language skills will not be able to claim the full minimum benefit."

Kurz said that most people on the minimum welfare payment were in Vienna. Roughly half of them were foreign citizens, he said, something he described as "frightening."

Kurz's government which came to power last year in coalition with the far-right, has taken a hardline stance on immigration and asylum-seekers and cutting benefits is seen as a deterrent to people thinking of coming to Austria.

Read more: Austria's Sebastian Kurz wants to use EU border guards in Africa

Sebastian Kurz — at 31 — became Europe's youngest national leader following an election victory last year
Sebastian Kurz — at 31 — became Europe's youngest national leader following an election victory last year Image: picture-alliance/APA/H. Neubauer

Under the plan, a single person's main benefit payment would be capped at €563 ($656) a month, rising to the €863 per month available to Austrians once the individual passed a German-language test. Child allowances would also be reduced.   

Clash with Brussels?  

Under the EU's freedom of movement directive, Austria is required to treat EU citzens equally to Austrian nationals.

"Freedom of establishment is the freedom to work in all of Europe. Freedom of establishment is not the freedom to seek out the best social benefits system and in that sense this waiting period is in my opinion a step in the right direction," Kurz said.

When asked if the new plans were legal, Kurz said that would be decided elsewhere. "We are not the Constitutional Court," he said. In March, the court struck down the reform which stated anyone claiming the main minimum benefit must have lived in Austria for five of the last six years. 

Austria takes over the EU's rotating presidency in July.

Read more: Austria shifts further to the right with hardline asylum policy

Each evening at 1830 UTC, DW's editors send out a selection of the day's hard news and quality feature journalism. You can sign up to receive it directly here.

kw/jm (dpa, Reuters) 

Skip next section Explore more