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Austrian Chancellor Kern pledges in Berlin to work with Merkel on refugees

Austria's new chancellor says his country and Germany will work together on refugees. Christian Kern made the remarks alongside Angela Merkel at a press conference in Berlin.

Beside Angela Merkel in Berlin,

new Chancellor Christian Kern

said their countries were aligned on

refugees.

The leader of Austria's Social Democrats (SPÖ) is on a meet-and-greet tour following his inauguration last month. He came to Germany fresh from discussions with EU colleagues in Brussels on Wednesday.

Angela Merkel & Christian Kern in Berlin

Press conference with Chancellors Angela Merkel and Christian Kern in Berlin

"In the past months, we have had intensive conversations on the theme of migration," Kern said at the press conference on Thursday. "We know that we need secure escape routes to Europe," he added.

Other topics on the agenda for Merkel and Kern included industry and its negative effects on the environment and the vote on the EU referendum underway in the United Kingdom.

They both expressed hope that the UK would remain an EU member, and Kern even fit in a reference to the 19th-century American writer Mark Twain. "The report of Europe's demise is greatly exaggerated," he told the press pack in Berlin.

The chancellors appeared to double-down on a controversial deal on migrants between the EU and Turkey. "Both countries support the agreement with Turkey," Merkel said on Thursday. She added that both countries were "naturally for a fair distribution of refugees within the European Union" but that the chancellors "know that this is still a long way off."

Official welcome for Chancellor Christian Kern in Berlin

Official welcome for Chancellor Christian Kern in Berlin

Change of course?

Kern took over as Austrian chancellor in May, after his embattled fellow Social Democrat Werner Faymann stepped down as Austria's right-wing political parties attempted to use a racist backlash against refugees for political gain.

That preceded

a razor's edge presidential runoff

in which Austria became the first European country to elect a Green party president, with voters very narrowly rejecting the candidate for

the far-right Freedom Party

(FPÖ).

The SPÖ had ruled out entering into a coalition with the right-wing People's Party, but after his inauguration, Kern said the party would not reject collaboration with the FPÖ out of hand. The statement came even after the FPÖ accused Kern, in his former role as the state rail chairman, of engaging in human trafficking by allowing "uncontrolled and unregistered people" to ride the trains as part of Austria's refugee relocation policy.

In May, Kern had said he would treat refugees with respect while addressing the concerns of citizens. In the past year, Austria has reinstated border controls with Slovenia and

Hungary,

a clear deviation from the frontier-free Schengen Agreement that covers much of the European Union and associated countries.

In Brussels on Wednesday, Kern appeared to have backed down on Austria's latest threat, saying he did not see an immediate need to implement controls at the Brenner Alpine border with Italy.

mkg/jm (AFP, dpa)

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