Austria Declines to Sign Global Migration Pact Over Concerns About Sovereignty

October 31, 2018 Updated: November 5, 2018

WARSAW—The Austrian government says that it won’t sign a global compact on migration, citing concerns about national sovereignty.

Austria on Oct. 31 joined neighboring Hungary in shunning the United Nations-brokered agreement, formally known as the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration.

Conservative Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache said Austria won’t sign the document or send an official representative to Morocco in December, when the agreement is expected to be signed, the Austria Press Agency reported. The lawmakers cited, among other things, fears about a possible watering-down of the distinction between legal and illegal migration.

“There are some points that we view critically and where we fear a danger to our national sovereignty,” Kurz said.

“Some of the contents go diametrically against our position,” added Strache.

“Migration is not and cannot become a human right,” Strache said. “It cannot be that someone receives a right to migration because of the climate or poverty.”

Austrian politicians
Austria’s Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, Austrian Vice-Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache and President Alexander Van Der Bellen, from left, attend national holiday celebrations in Vienna, on Oct. 26, 2018. (AP Photo/Ronald Zak)

Curbing Illegal Immigration

Kurz took office last December as part of a coalition with the nationalist Freedom Party. The country currently holds the European Union’s rotating presidency, and Kurz has made curbing illegal immigration a priority.

“Our migration policy,” Austria’s governing parties declared as a general principle in a coalition agreement, “should be such that the population would be able to support it.” Policy pledges have included capping benefits for refugees and shutting off migrant routes to Europe.

“Austria continues to offer every opportunity for integration,” the government program says, according to Bloomberg. “Those who don’t take these opportunities and reject integration must expect sanctions.”

In May, Kurz announced a new policy that would allow immigrants to access a higher benefit, only if they demonstrate sufficient language skills.

“The fundamental rule we will introduce is that German will become the key to accessing the full minimum benefit,” Kurz said during a news conference on May 28. “That means that whoever has insufficient language skills won’t be able to claim the full minimum benefit.”

Questionable Objectives

The migration agreement, which isn’t legally binding, was finalized under U.N. auspices in July. It’s due to be formally approved at a meeting in Marrakech, Morocco, from Dec. 11-12.

The compact came about after 193 U.N. member states adopted the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants on Sept. 19, 2016. The agreement provides a framework for facilitating safe and orderly migration globally, with an effort to deal with migration “in a holistic and comprehensive manner.”

European Council President Donald Tusk speaks at a podium
European Council President Donald Tusk speaks at the meeting on addressing large movements of refugees and migrants in New York on Sept. 19, 2016. (Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images)

It also sets out a range of actionable commitments, which could possibly influence legislation and policymaking for member states.

The compact has 23 objectives that seek to boost cooperation to manage migration, and includes such aims as to “strengthen the transnational response to smuggling of migrants” and “combat and eradicate trafficking in persons in the context of international migration.”

Some of the objectives of the pact, however, such as to “manage borders in an integrated, secure and coordinated manner,” have been challenged on the grounds of supposedly giving trans-national bodies an inordinate voice in how any given sovereign country manages its borders.

Other Countries Reject Migration Compact

The United States was the first country to leave the agreement in December 2017, with the Trump administration saying that the agreement, which was recognized by the Obama administration, is inconsistent with national sovereignty.

Nikki Haley, then-U.S. ambassador to the U.N., said at the time, “America is proud of our immigrant heritage and our long-standing moral leadership in providing support to migrant and refugee populations across the globe.”

“But our decisions on immigration policies must always be made by Americans and Americans alone. We will decide how best to control our borders and who will be allowed to enter our country,” she said in a statement.

Following the United States’s lead, Hungary announced its withdrawal to the agreement on June 18.

Hungary’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Péter Szijjártó said in a statement that the agreement is “totally at odds with the country’s security interests.”

“The primary issue for us is the security of Hungary and the Hungarian people,” Szijjártó said in the statement. “According to the government’s position, the U.N. Global Compact for Migration is in conflict with common sense and also with the intent to restore European security.

“Hungary does not regard the goals and principles declared by the Compact as valid guidelines with regard to itself. In addition, the document does not deal with the truly existing fundamental human rights of people who want nothing else than to be able to live in peace and security in their own homelands,” he said.

Szijjártó added that although the fundamental premise of the agreement is a “good and unavoidable phenomenon,” the document itself is “dangerous, extremist, biased, and an encouragement to migration.”

“It could serve as an inspiration for millions to set out from home,” he said.

In July, Australia said it wouldn’t sign the U.N. global migration deal “in its current form,” with Immigration Minister Peter Dutton saying that it’s not in the nation’s interest to sign the agreement.

A spokesperson for the immigration minister told The Australian on July 24 that Australia was still considering its position on the agreement and would “respond later in the year,” leaving open the door for the Turnbull government to withdraw from the deal if needed.

Dutton insisted that the Turnbull government won’t “sign a deal that sacrifices anything in terms of our border protection policies.”

“We’re not going to surrender our sovereignty. I’m not going to allow unelected bodies to dictate to us, to the Australian people,” he told 2GB.

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