Alarm is growing in Austria over the Bavarian state premier's plans to reduce the number of migrants crossing the border. Austria had grown accustomed to its role as a transit country, Alison Langley writes from Vienna.
It's the domino effect: What Austria does affects Hungary, Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia. The humanitarian corridor is based on the philosophy that countries can't force people to stay where they don't want to be.
So, when Bavarian State Premier Horst Seehofer announces his intent to slow or even stop the flow, the backlash from Austria grows in proportion to the backup of people trying to pass through to Germany.
"I can't tell you how the situation would develop if we brought people who want to stay in Germany back to Austria," Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner told the national broadcaster ORF. "We would have to assume that there would be resistance and above all a backlog in Austria."
There is a certain strategy behind that statement: People who simply pass through don't have to be schooled, integrated, taught German. The policy of allowing those who wished to continue their travels has suited Austria just fine.
Long delays at the border and constant traffic jams
Austrian officials, especially in the border city of Salzburg, have expressed alarm over the possibility that Bavaria might change the rules. The border area already had a taste of what could happen when Germany stopped train traffic during Oktoberfest, causing hours of delay at the border and large crowds stations, frustrating not only commuters and tourists, but also the economy.
With Oktoberfest over, trains across the border from Salzburg are running again. But local officials are very clear about what they would want were Bavaria to stop the trains again.
"It would mean that our government must also take the same analog measures as Germany," Wilfried Haslauer, a spokesman for Salzburg's mayor, told ORF. "We can't support and care for hundreds of thousands of refugees."
Caught in the middle
Austria feels caught in the middle: With illiberal Hungary to the east threatening to close its fence and now Bavaria on its western front, Austria does not want to be the new hot spot.
On Friday alone, about 6,000 people were expected to pass through Austria. Those who have not asked for asylum but want to travel on have found a dry, warm place to lay their heads in stadiums, emptied parking garages and the basement of Vienna's new main train station. The temporary quarters, while not fancy, have so far sufficed - as long as one is only passing through.
As a rule, only about 10 percent apply for asylum. And the country of slightly more than 8 million is trying to accommodate them. From January to August, 46,133 people asked to stay.
Support for the far right
Despite the low number of applications, Austria has had trouble accommodating migrants, with many towns and villages refusing to take people in. The government has passed a law to allow it to distribute migrants as needed, which has only increased the right-wing backlash - especially with Vienna-area elections coming up on Sunday.
In September, the far-right Freedom Party, which has called for a border fence, saw a surge in support in Upper Austria, and it now has the chance to win the most votes in the capital.
Austrian officials say they do not see how State Premier Seehofer can implement his plan, especially if German Chancellor Angela Merkel opposes it.
"You have to look at this practically," Josef Ostermayer, minister for arts, culture and constitutional questions, told ORF. "If you want to force someone onto a bus in order to send them back, what kind of reaction will that bring to people who have more than 2,000 kilometers of journey behind them?" He added that Bavaria's actions appear to be "against the law, against human rights and against the EU."
Still, Austrian officials say they have a strategy ready to clamp down on their borders with Slovenia and Hungary if Germany closes its. The plan can be put into place within hours.