Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz has warned that Germany's new migration deal could force the Alpine country to impose stronger border checks on Italy and Slovenia. The deal ended a bitter German government crisis.
"Securing the external border is the basis for securing internal mobility [in the EU]," Sebastian Kurz said in a speech to the European Parliament. Austria, he added, would work towards that goal as part of its six-month EU presidency, which began on Sunday.
"Should this agreement become the German government's position, we see that as prompting us to take action to prevent negative consequences for Austria and its population," he said in a joint statement with his far-right vice chancellor, Heinz-Christian Strache, and interior minister, Herbert Kickl.
"The [Austrian] government is therefore prepared in particular to take measures for the protection of our southern border," Kurz said without elaborating. Austria shares its southern border with Italy and Slovenia.
Thousands of migrants seeking to enter Germany have passed through Austria in recent years, and many entered Austria through Slovenia and Italy.
On Monday, Merkel agreed to her interior minister's demand to set up transit centers on the Austrian border to ensure that asylum seekers already registered elsewhere in the EU are swiftly deported to that country.
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker appeared optimistic about the German deal, which he described as being an "agreement of two parties" rather than one at a federal government level. "I have not studied it in detail but at first glance — and I have asked the legal services to look at it — it seems to me to be legally compliant," he told reporters in Strasbourg.
But the deal could cause tensions with Austria, which fears that migrants could be held up on its territory if the German plan, which still requires approval from the CDU/CSU's coalition partner, the Social Democrats (SPD), goes ahead.
Analysts have warned that other EU countries may mimic Austria's reaction by beefing up their borders to ensure migrants are stopped before entering their territory. The resulting domino effect would raise questions about the future of the EU's border-control-free Schengen zone and could harm cross-border trade.
Seehofer, for his part, said that he had called Kurz on Tuesday morning, and would like to travel to Vienna "as soon as possible" to discuss a "sensible solution" with Austria's chancellor.