Victor Orban and Sebastian Kurz
Victor Orban and Sebastian Kurz

The EU migrant redistribution scheme "isn't working," Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said while welcoming Hungary's Viktor Orban in Vienna. The two leaders called for opposition to illegal migration to Europe.

Austria should work to ease tensions between western and the eastern EU members, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said in Vienna at the joint press conference with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban on Tuesday.

The countries of the so-called Visegrad group — Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic — have repeatedly clashed with other EU states over the migrant crisis, which reached unprecedented levels in 2015. Hungary's Orban has been especially vocal in his rejection of EU migrant quotas, which would see some of the newcomers relocated in central Europe.

Read more:

- 'You wanted the migrants, we didn't,' Orban tells Germany

- Rising nationalism and the EU's split with the East

Orban calls for protecting 'Christian culture'

On Tuesday, Kurz seemed to back Orban by saying that the quota scheme "isn't working" and called for a new asylum-granting system.

"We have to stop illegal immigration in order to ensure security in Europe," the 31-year-old Kurz said. "I am glad that there has been a change in thinking in many European countries in recent years."

Read more: The EU quota scheme - what you need to know

In turn, Hungarian leader Viktor Orban said that migration was "the biggest danger today to the hopeful future of central Europe."

"When I say that the future needs to be protected I mean that we have a culture, a Christian culture... We have a way of life, and we want to protect this way of life," Orban said.

Read more: With friends like Sebastian Kurz, Angela Merkel doesn't need enemies

Both leaders called for more protection on the EU's external border. At the same time, Kurz and Orban denied recent speculation that Austria might join the Visegrad group.

"Our great aim in Austria is to be a bridge-builder in this respect between the Visegrad states and the countries in western Europe," Kurz said.

Vienna and Budapest clash over nuclear plant, child benefits

Later on Tuesday, Orban was scheduled to meet Austrian Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache from the far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ) which serves as a coalition partner for Kurz's conservatives. Both parties called for a hard stance on immigration during last year's election campaign.

Read more: Austria's FPÖ draws ire over refugee internment plan

While the governments of the two neighboring countries seem to have similar views on immigration, Vienna and Budapest remain divided on several other issues.

Most notably, Austria plans to sue the EU Commission for allowing Hungary to expand its Paks nuclear power plant.

Another contentious issue is the Austrian government plan to cut child benefits for people working in Austria whose children live abroad. This could affect thousands of Hungarian workers in Austria, who take about €80 million ($99 million) in child benefits each year.

On Tuesday, Orban said that cutting child benefits would amount to "discrimination." Kurz, however, said the proposed changes were "about justice."

dj/jm (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)

First published: January 31, 2018

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