Austrian Chancellor Faymann 'Memories of Our Continent's Darkest Period'

In an interview, Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann discusses Germany's reaction to the refugee crisis, his disappointment in Hungary's response and his idea of sanctions for Eastern European countries that aren't sharing the burden.

Police officers guard a local refugee camp in the village of Röszke at the Serbian-Hungarian border on Sept.  4: "Orbán is acting irresponsibly."

Police officers guard a local refugee camp in the village of Röszke at the Serbian-Hungarian border on Sept. 4: "Orbán is acting irresponsibly."

SPIEGEL: Mr. Chancellor, is Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán right when he says that Germany bears some responsibility for the refugee crisis?

Faymann: No. On the contrary, Angela Merkel has shown a great sense of responsibility. Unlike most European Union countries, Germany, Austria and Sweden recognize that there are refugees fleeing from war. We abide by the right to asylum. Orbán is acting irresponsibly when he declares everyone to be an economic refugee. He is consciously leading a policy of deterrence. To put refugees in trains with the belief they will go somewhere else brings up memories of our Continent's darkest period. (Editor's note: On Sept. 3, refugees in Budapest boarded a train they believed was heading toward the Austrian border, but were instead stopped about 35 kilometers from the Hungarian capital in Bicske, which is home to a camp for asylum-seekers.)

SPIEGEL: The Christian Social Union (CSU), the conservative Bavarian sister party of Merkel's Christian Democratic Union, has criticized decisions by the German and Austrian governments to allow 20,000 refugees from Hungary to travel to Munich. They're warning that it will have the effect of attracting more refugees.

Faymann: I don't think a humanitarian operation is going to sharpen the "attraction effect." Before that point, 300,000 refugees had already come to Germany and about 50,000 had come to Austria. The things that most attract refugees are the economic power and prosperity of a country. We wouldn't want to destroy those things so that less refugees would come, would we? Bavaria has also been unable to prevent refugees from entering its borders. That would only work if barbed-wire fences and watchtowers were erected everywhere in Europe -- that's the only way to deter people who have fled for their lives. But then Schengen would be dead -- and with it, the Europe of open internal borders. I would hope that the CSU doesn't want that either.

SPIEGEL: Your interior minister also issued a directive in June not to process any new asylum applications.

Faymann: We weren't anticipating such high refugee numbers. Under the Dublin System, countries like Hungary are committed to protecting the external EU borders, registering all refugees and reviewing their right to asylum. So far, about 150,000 people have crossed the borders into Hungary, but Orbán only has space for a few thousand in initial reception centers. Those who traveled onwards are reporting that they received almost nothing to eat and were provided with very poor medical care.

SPIEGEL: The European Commission, the EU executive, is recommending refugees be distributed according to a strict quota. Does that suggestion make sense?

Faymann: That was overdue. When I pushed for the quota in 2013, all were against it, including Germany. The number of supporters is growing, but there is still no certain majority for the proposal. Countries like Hungary are acting as if Dublin works. Orbán is building a fence to Serbia, but isn't saying where the people who have a right to asylum should go. We need to keep those who are shirking from winning in the end.

SPIEGEL: Many Eastern European governments claim that a massive influx of Muslims would place too much of strain on their society.

Faymann: The idea of classifying human rights based on religion is intolerable. According to estimates, about 7.5 million people may come to Europe in the next several years. That would be 1.5 percent of the EU population. Nobody has been able to convince me that we cannot properly handle this. Of course we also need to send those who have no right to asylum back. That's what the planned hotspots at the external EU borders are there for. But without a fair quota, this won't work on the long term.

SPIEGEL: Is it even imaginable that the quota system will be able to be pushed through in the EU by majority decision?

Faymann: The opponents of the quota should not have a false sense of certainty. If they are not open to compromises, we should try to push through the quota with a qualified majority. But we should also think about sanctions, by which we, for example, cut money from the Structural Fund, from which all Eastern European member states profit.

SPIEGEL: The Eastern Europeans say that the one has nothing to do with the other.

Faymann: It is all tied together. It is one and the same European Union. In the past, it was about addressing economic and social inequality. Now it is about humanitarian inequality. Germany and Austria, after all, have been showing solidarity for years -- both countries are net payers (meaning they pay more into the EU than they got back in subsidies). There are, for good reasons, penalties against budget offenders who don't abide by the criteria of the Stability and Growth Pact. In order to cope with the movement of refugees we need penalties against those who violate principles of solidarity.

SPIEGEL: During the Greece negotiations, Merkel presented herself as a hardliner. Now she is being celebrated as an ideal European. Is Germany too dominant in Europe?

Faymann: No. But Germany often waited too long during the euro crisis. I also always criticized that. In contrast, the German Chancellor reacted quickly and properly to the refugee issue.


On Saturday, Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto responded to the comments made by Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann in his SPIEGEL interview. Szijjarto described Peymann's remarks as "mindless slander" that is "unworthy of a 21st century leading European politician," according to the Wall Street Journal. The current Hungarian government has resisted the imposition of a quota system that would redistribute refugees around the continent and Prime Minister Viktor Orban has argued that the number of Muslims arriving in his country represented a threat to Hungarian society.

Szijjarto added that Faymann had been leading a "smear campaign" against Hungary over the past weeks and that by feeding the dreams of economic migrants, he was imperiling any chance at European consensus. Szijjarto also said in response to the interview that he would be summoning Austria's ambassador in Hungary for a meeting.

Austrian Chancellor Faymann is also expected to meet with Angela Merkel in Berlin on Tuesday to discuss the refugee crisis and Germany's decision on Sunday to close the border to Austria.

Interview conducted by Horand Knaup and Christoph Schult

Discuss this issue with other readers!
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Inglenda2 09/14/2015
1. Not stupid, but naive.
For many of us who lived though WW2, it has become quite obvious, that the pebbles of truth in the presentation of those years, have long since been washed away by the waves of anti-German propaganda. In both Austria and Germany, we now have governments, whose members have no live experience of the war years. The historical education they have received, is one based on material, which has often been provided and manipulated by their former enemies. How else could they be so surprised by the refusal of east European countries to accept refugees. It was after all, Poland and Czechoslovakia, who deported millions of legitimate residents from the former German areas of central/eastern Europe during the post war years. These countries will certainly not be now inclined to fill the areas confiscated, with persons of a yet more unaccustomed culture, than those who were so violently removed.
Kris Sibinski 09/14/2015
2. Bullshit
If you think Poland and Czechoslovakia, confiscated these territories you know nothing about history. Poland borders changed because leaders of Russia, Great Britain and USA agreed to move them (so that Russia could get part of polish land). German residents then went back to Germany as they were no longer living on german territory. I would suggest going back to history books or maybe buying some other ones if the ones you already have don't include those information.
svetistephen 09/14/2015
3. Faymann's Critique
Austrian Chancellor Faymann's outrageous comparison of the present "migrant crisis" to "Europe's darkest hour" trivializes the Holocaust and the massive dislocation of European populations --both the product of a systematic program by the Nazi state and is allies. He is also fooling himself if he believes that there is no "attraction effect" or that Chancellor Merkel's open-borders' policy has not been complicit in greatly increasing the size of the "migrant" flow from the Mideast and elsewhere. As an American immigration specialist who has watched our own government's open-borders' policy play out with Mexico, there is no question that effectively erasing borders and gutting enforcement is the equivalent of hanging a gigantic WELCOME sign on the frontiers of one's country. It is also critical to remember that this crisis is not the responsibility of Europe -- nor is its solution. Saudi Arabia, just one wealthy Muslim state, has a tent city near Mecca with air-conditioned tents that can accommodate three million people! This vast facility is used just five days a year during the Haj. Do the rich Muslim states have no responsibility or any attitude of compassion? Let us also add that the GREAT MAJORITY of the people crowding into Germany and Austria ARE NOT REFUGEES. Most are coming from refugee centers; they are not people in danger. They are coming to Germany to enjoy the benefits of your welfare state. We also recognize that 3rd Country Resettlement (1st is going home, 2nd is relocating the people in a country adjacent to their home country and one with a similar culture) is the WORST option. Successful settlement is rare and conflict among the "migrants" and between the migrants and the native population -- especially in this case where there is so profound a civilizational clash -- is inevitable. Should Germany and Austria continue on this ruinous path, they will destroy the entire concept of a knowable community. There is also something blackly ironic in the fact that Chancellor Fraymann cites the "darkest years in Europe's history" as a rationale for admitting these "migrants." He should know that one commonality among the Muslim migrants is a profound hatred for Jews. To put it mildly, it would be an act of absurd theatre for Germany and Austria to "atone" for those dark years by increasing the already high levels of anti-Semitism in Europe.
bob.jenning 09/14/2015
4. Protected Syrian zones
I support Angela's idea on a unified European military unit and now would be a great time to get into Syria and develop a Protected Zone to keep more immigrants from leaving that country. It would be nice to see Russians actually helping out in this area rather than always playing the Odd man out and creating problems to build on Putin's ego.
Harry Rogers 09/14/2015
Inglenda 2 seems to try to rewrite history. He says he lived through it so I assume he must be in his late 80's. "Poland and Czechoslovakia, who deported millions of legitimate residents" These German "residents" were given the spoils of occupation by the Third Reich and never purchased any freehold property so they became "refugees' when their hero was defeated. No need to recall what happened to the legitimate Polish, Czech etc residents as they were simply killed in the thousands. Its called invasion!
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