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1ST LEAD Next EU president Austria seeks to protect bloc's borders and economy By Matthias Roeder and Albert Otti, dpa

By our dpa-correspondent and Europe Online    auf Facebook posten  Auf Twitter posten  
Vienna (dpa) - Austria plans to use its EU presidency to make a push for guarding the bloc in terms of its security, economy and strategic influence, the government said Friday.

"We want to create a Europe that protects," Chancellor Sebastian Kurz told reporters as the cabinet presented the agenda of Austria‘s presidency that will run from June to December.

This includes securing the EU‘s external borders, a focus on economic competitiveness as well as bringing Western Balkan countries closer to the EU.

Vienna will advocate a stronger EU influence in south-eastern Europe, Foreign Minister Karin Kneissl said, pointing to China‘s efforts to build ties in the region by granting large loans.

Austria is a strong backer of the EU accession process for both Serbia and Montenegro.

Kurz said that the fight against irregular migration would play a big role during Austria‘s EU presidency.

"We want to push this topic in a massive way," he said.

He stressed that aid policies in countries of origin must be a key element of the EU‘s future strategy.

The key question that needs to be discussed is whether refugees that are rescued in the Mediterranean will be brought to central Europe, to their own countries or to other safe regions, according to the conservative leader.

Kurz has previously cited Australia‘s controversial internment of migrants on offshore centres as a possible model.

Looking at the financial repercussions of Britain‘s exit from the EU, Kurz is advocating a reassessment of EU-financed projects.

"We must ask the question whether much of what‘s happening still makes sense," he said, criticizing excessive bureaucracy.

"We have an undergrowth of agencies and firms that have specialized in advising institutions how to collect subsidies," he said.

In May, the European Union plans to present its future financial framework, which will exclude contributions from Britain.

Kurz does not expect any budget decisions before the end of this year.


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