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.
Austria unveils new border division
Austrian Vice-Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache of the far-right FPÖ told Bild:
Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz of the center-right ÖVP said:
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.
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.
aw/msh (dpa, AFP, AP)