The European Union is riven with “too many tensions”, Austria’s chancellor said on Monday before hosting EU leaders later this week to try and close a major rift on immigration policy.
Sebastian Kurz, whose country holds the rotating presidency of the European Union, said during a trip to Paris that Austria aimed to “support all those that want to be bridge-builders.
“There are far too many tensions in the European Union, between the east and west and north and south,” he said at the start of a meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron.
“We can all agree that the European Union can only be successful if we work together and if we act together.”
Previous weeks have seen a gulf between anti-immigration governments in eastern Europe, led by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, and western members erupt into an open war of words.
Orban and Italy’s far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini have labelled Macron as their main adversary in the fight against illegal immigration, while Macron sees them as betraying European values.
There are also underlying tensions caused by a French push for a new budget for the eurozone area, which could result in more funds distributed from the wealthy north of the bloc towards the poorer south.
Kurz and Macron both said that the 28-member bloc, soon to be 27 when Britain leaves, had made progress on the contentious issue of increasing taxes on US-based internet giants such as Amazon and Google.
The companies take advantage of EU tax law by moving revenues between high-tax countries to low-tax nations such as Luxembourg and Ireland, paying little corporate tax in areas where they derive most of their income.
An EU-wide tax regime has been under negotiation for over a year, but progress has been slow due to objections from low-tax countries who fear losses.
“I really think that it is possible to find a solution this semester,” Macron said.
Kurz added: “We are both happy it was possible to make some progress on the taxation of internet giants at the meeting at the finance ministers in Vienna last week and I hope we will reach this goal before the end of our presidency” on December 31.
EU leaders will be meeting at an informal summit in the Austrian city of Salzburg on Wednesday and Thursday.