Austria holds border exercises in response to Germany | News | DW | 26.06.2018

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Austria holds border exercises in response to Germany

As Germany's government bitterly debates border protection, Austria is undertaking a large-scale border operation. Austrian leaders say the German squabble and possible changes to European policy triggered the move.

Austria held border patrol training exercises on Tuesday. The country's leaders told German newspaper Bild that they came in response to a rift in the German government over migration.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) have been locked in a heated debate over plans by their Bavarian coalition partners to intercept refugees at the German border.

Read more: EU leaders meet as divisions cloud asylum and migration talks

Austria tests border defense on Slovenian border

Austria unveils new border division

Austrian Vice-Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache of the far-right FPÖ told Bild:

  • "On Tuesday there will be a major police and army exercise in Spielfeld, during which the new Puma police border protection unit will also be inaugurated."
  • "With this exercise on the border between Austria and Slovenia, we want to prepare ourselves for all developments and send a clear signal that there will no longer be a loss of control and free passage like in 2015."
  • "The reasons for this are the debate about intra-European border closures, triggered by Germany, as well as current developments on the refugee routes in the Balkans."

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz of the center-right ÖVP said:

  • "We will be prepared and will do everything necessary to protect our borders. That would mean securing the borders at Brenner [at the Italian border], but also in many other places."
  • "But I want to cooperate so that it will not come to that. We must ensure that illegal migrants no longer make it to the European Union in the first place, because then we would not need intra-European border controls."

Germany's situation: Horst Seehofer, who leads the CDU's conservative Bavarian sister party the Christian Social Union (CSU), has given Merkel a July 1 deadline to find an EU solution to limiting refugee numbers. He has threatened to use his authority as interior minister to halt refugees at the German border if they have already registered in other countries. The move would potentially have drastic repercussions for freedom of movement in the EU. Nonetheless Seehofer enjoys the backing of the Austrian government.

Read more: Bavarian conservative leader shuns Angela Merkel in German state election

EU negotiations: Merkel met with EU leaders on Sunday to discuss potential EU-wide reforms to the asylum system. The meeting raised several potential responses, but most will take longer to implement than Seehofer is hoping for. President of the European Council Donald Tusk and Spain's new Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez were due in Berlin on Monday to discuss the issue ahead of an EU leaders' summit later in the week.

The exercises: The Interior Ministry was testing out its new Puma border control unit, simulating different responses to scenarios similar to the 2015 migrant crisis.  More than 500 police officers and 220 soldiers took part in the exercise, intercepting police students acting as refugees trying to cross the border. Very few refugees have actually attempted to cross the Spielfeld border recently.

Nationalist praise: Martin Sellner, who head's Austria's Identitarian movement, commended authorities for using the same #proborders hashtag favored by his nationalist youth movement to publicize the drills.

Pressure grows on Merkel over asylum policy

aw/msh (dpa, AFP, AP)

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