Austria will continue to Block Bulgaria and Romania for Schengen until it sees a Drop in Asylum Seekers

Austria will maintain its veto on Schengen expansion, which it imposed on Bulgaria and Romania, until it sees a "sustained decline" in the number of asylum seekers, said Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg in an interview cited by Politico.

Asylum applications in Austria (not including Ukrainians) almost tripled last year to around 110,000 - the most per capita in the EU - prompting the government to block the Schengen expansion in December.

"What is important for us, if we have to be completely honest, is that the number goes down and there has to be a sustained decline," Schallenberg said, calling the veto a "warning signal" to Brussels. "One has to understand that when we have over 100,000 asylum applications every 12 months, it is difficult for us as Austria to just let this dysfunctional system move forward."

Schallenberg declined to set a time frame for when Vienna might lift its veto on Schengen expansion, but given that refugee arrivals continue to rise — the EU's asylum seeker agency reported a nearly 60 percent year-on-year increase in January — a solution to the impasse around Schengen seems unachievable in the short term.

Schallenberg said his government was encouraged by the EU's "action plan" to tighten border controls and speed up asylum procedures, but needed to see much more progress.

"As a country in the heart of Europe, Austria is very benefited by Schengen and we want it to work," said the minister.

The main reason Austria has so many refugees is that other EU countries along the so-called Balkan route - notably Hungary - refuse to register most asylum seekers, a step that under EU rules would allow Vienna to send them back to this country after...

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