Head of Austria's Freedom Party (FPÖ), Norbert Hofer | Photo: Reuters/L.Foeger
Head of Austria's Freedom Party (FPÖ), Norbert Hofer | Photo: Reuters/L.Foeger

Foreigners living in Austria will no longer receive fewer benefits if they do not learn German, the country's Constitutional Court has ruled. The decision overturned a law from the previous right-wing government.

Austria's Constitutional Court ruled on Tuesday that several provisions of a controversial law passed by the coalition of the center-right People's Party (ÖVP) and far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ) would be overturned, including measures to reduce welfare money aimed at immigrants.

The court argued that the provision for benefit claimants to prove proficiency in German or English was unconstitutional, as it discriminated against people with learning disabilities, or people who manage to find jobs for which they do not need German.

The law had meant that those with an insufficient level of German or English could receive a cut of €300 ($334) in benefits from the normal minimum of €863.

The law was explicitly designed by the ÖVP and FPÖ in 2018 to make Austria less attractive to potential immigrants. The crackdown on immigration was a central message for both parties.

Read more: Opinion: Austria's election hasn't changed anything - yet

Impact on large families

Another measure, which gradually reduced payments to families for each additional child they had, was also ruled a violation of the constitution.

"This regulation creates a disadvantage for families with several children. It is objectively unjustified and therefore unconstitutional," the court said in a statement.

The cuts could lead to "the necessary living conditions for families with multiple children not being guaranteed."

The court found this provision could have a particularly negative impact on migrant communities as they tend to have larger families than Austrians.

Church groups and activists had also criticized the measures when the previous government announced them last year.

The right-wing coalition government, led by former Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, collapsed in May over corruption allegations against the vice chancellor and far-right leader Heinz-Christian Strache. The corruption scandal resulted in new elections in September.

Kurz and the ÖVP are currently negotiating with the Greens about forming a new coalition government.

mvb/aw (AFP, dpa)

First published: December 17, 2019

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