Sebastian Kurz speaks during a meeting of the Austrian National Assembly at Vienna Castle on December 20. Image Credit: AFP

Berlin: Austria’s new Chancellor, Sebastian Kurz, called for an end to “failed” attempts to achieve a quota system for distributing asylum seekers around the European Union (EU) and urged new efforts to help refugees in their country of origin.

When he was foreign minister, Kurz, a conservative now governing in coalition with the far-right Freedom Party, was a strong critic of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision to open Germany’s borders to more than a million fleeing migrants in 2015.

Since becoming Chancellor this week, he has aligned himself with central European neighbours such as Hungary and the Czech Republic in opposing German-backed proposals to distribute asylum seekers around EU member states.

“Forcing states to take refugees doesn’t take Europe any further. The discussion makes no sense,” he told Germany’s Bild am Sonntag newspaper. “Migrants who set off for Europe don’t want to go to Bulgaria or Hungary. They want to go to Germany, Austria or Sweden.” Instead of doubling down on what he termed a “failed” policy, Kurz called for the EU to support, “perhaps militarily”, efforts to help migrants in their countries of origin or in neighbouring states.

“If that isn’t possible, then they should be helped in safe areas on their own continent,” he said. “The EU should support that, perhaps even organise it, and back it militarily.” It was not clear from the interview extracts, published by the newspaper, what kind of military support he envisaged.

But European leaders have on occasion suggested the EU contribute to peacekeeping operations to stabilise conflicts in Africa.

The question of how to deal with streams of migrants fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and Africa also divides Merkel’s conservatives and the Social Democrats (SPD) as they prepare for talks on forming a new government.

Hard-line members of Merkel’s conservative camp demand tight absolute caps on the numbers of refugees allowed to enter Germany each year, while a senior SPD official on Saturday suggested local authorities around Europe be paid to house refugees.