Vienna has scrambled to dampen a row with neighboring Italy. Defense Minister Hans Peter Doskozil had told media he was ready to send some 750 troops to the Brenner Pass to "protect" Austria from any migrant influx.
Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern on Wednesday played down a recent row with Italy over border controls, dismissing the entire incident as a "misunderstanding."
"One must clear up misunderstandings like the ones that have evidently arisen with Italy," Kern said during a joint press conference with Austria's defense minister, Peter Doskozil.
It was Doskozil's comments in an Austrian tabloid on Monday that sparked the row with Rome. Speaking on Monday to Krone, Austria's top-selling tabloid, the defense minister said that Austria was ready to deploy 750 troops and four armored vehicles at the Brenner Pass on the border with Italywithin 72 hours to stem any potential influx of migrants.
While the passage is part of the route used by many migrants traveling through Europe, it is also a key gateway for Italy to reach its trading partners.
Rome reacted furiously to Doskozil's comments, summoning Austria's ambassador and accusing Vienna of undermining security cooperation between the two countries.
The comments also implied that Italy had lost control over the inflow of migrants, mostly sub-Saharan Africans, arriving on its southern flank.
The United Nations' migration agency this week estimated that number to have topped 100,000 since the turn of year. Italy has taken in nearly 85 percent of new arrivals and is pleading for more help from its European Union allies.
Austria warns: 'No repeat of 2015'
Kern played down any rift between the two countries, stressing "that cooperation with Italy is really good." The prime minister also said that despite the rising number of new arrivals crossing the border into Italy, there had been no noticeable increase in migrants crossing the Brenner into Austria.
However, in a joint statement also released Wednesday, Kern and Doskozil also made clear that Austria was preparing "for a possible worsening of the situation (in Italy)" and would indeed introduce controls at the border if there were a surge of migrants there. "One thing is clear: there cannot be a repeat of a situation like the one in 2015," the statement said.
The migrant crisis in Europe in 2015 saw Austria take in the equivalent of more than 1 percent of its population, many of them Middle Eastern asylum seekers, who had crossed into Europe through Greece and traveled over the Balkan route.
That lifted support for Austria's far-right, anti-immigration Freedom Party (FPÖ), which has only continued to rally in the polls since. With a parliamentary election scheduled for October, the FPÖ is projected to poll well in August and potentially even emerge as the most popular party.
dm/bw (AFP, dpa, Reuters)