The EU has launched infringement proceedings against Austria over its controversial slashing of child benefits for migrant workers by making them indexed to the cost of living back home.
The move was approved last year but only came into effect at the start of this year, with indexed child support benefits for all migrant workers resulting in payments being halved for people from many countries, including Romania and Bulgaria, yet an increase to other countries like the United Kingdom and Switzerland.
The EU decision to start infringement proceedings was announced by the Commissioner for employment, social affairs, skills and labour mobility, Marianne Thyssen, although a ruling by the European Court of Justice is unlikely before next year.
She said: “There are no second-class workers, and there are no second-class children in the EU.”
She said that the Austrian move would do nothing to stop benefit tourists who moved to certain countries in order to claim the benefits, but did impact on those who are contributing to the Austrian social system where there needs to be equal benefits for equal contributions.
Austria’s Federal Minister for Families and Youth, Juliane Bogner-Strauss, said she was relaxed about the European Commission’s infringement procedure which she said was nothing out of the ordinary, and welcomed the review.
She added: “We continue to believe that the solution we have chosen is compatible with European law.”
Experts predict the move will save around 100 million EUR per year.
Parents with a child aged between 10 and 18 years old living in Austria receive 141.50 EUR (127 GBP) per month, while someone with a child in Iceland of the same age is now entitled to 200.51 EUR (180 GBP), the highest rate in the new index system.
Those workers with children living in the UK also get more money under the new system as they are now indexed at 162.30 EUR (146 GBP) for the first child between 10 and 18 years old each month.
Migrant workers with children in Eastern European countries are however hit hardest by the new law as Romanians and Bulgarians saw their child support benefits decrease by more than 50 percent.
A Romanian worker will now only receive 69.76 EUR (62.6 GBP) for a child back home while a Bulgarian migrant gets even less at 63.68 EUR (57.2 GBP) a month.
The Romanian government, which took over the Presidency of the Council of the European Union from Austria for the next six months, has blasted the Austrian government in a strongly-worded statement.
According to the statement from the Romanian Foreign Ministry, the indexing of child benefits is “unfair” and “against EU values” as it discriminates against Romanian workers who are paying their taxes in Austria.
The statement read: “Romanian citizens who work in Austria pay the same taxes as citizens from that country, and they must be treated equally in terms of their rights in this regard.”
Since being sworn in as Chancellor on 18th December 2017, Sebastian Kurz has led Austria with a right-wing government made up of the conservative Austrian People’s Party (OVP) and the far-right Freedom Party of Austria (FPO).